The #*%#@! check-engine light

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We’ve all been there — driving along believing that everything is well in the world, and suddenly the check-engine light pops up on the dash. Boy does this light get us angry and frustrated. What does it mean, how much is this going to cost, and how long the problem will take to fix this time?

Assuming your check-engine light error is the result of something more significant than a loose gas cap (yes, that is often the culprit, so check it first!), here is a step-by-step agenda to fix the light for the right price.

  1. Read the Code. The check-engine light indicates that our emissions are not correct and that a code is stored to help aid repair. A good starting point would be to have someone retrieve the diagnostic code and offer some basic advice as to what a repair may entail. Many parts stores and shops will do this service for free, or if they charge a fee, that will be applied toward your repair. Remember, it could be as simple as a loose gas cap. The key here is to find out what’s going on, and whether the repair needs to be done right away* or if there is time to prepare and seek alternative proposals for the repair.


  2. Look for More Advice. After reading the code, look for additional advice and information. Never just change the part, especially if your parts store or shop person only pulled the diagnostic code. Some additional knowledge is needed, and at least a quick look should be performed before any recommendations are made. If you don’t feel comfortable, or you are confused with initial advice, try a different service location and compare notes. As an added supplement, many owners have turned to the internet to look up the code and have joined forums and discussions with other owners. Remember: you don’t have to make a decision yet, but it’s worth it to spend some time collecting information and advice.


  3. Arrange a Professional Diagnosis. This stage may require the most legwork, especially if you don’t have a regular shop. From your advice and information, you should have a good idea what kind of diagnostic time is needed. Some error codes only require confirmation that the component has failed. Other codes will describe a running condition (e.g. ‘lean’ or ‘rich’), rather than a component failure and will need more time to figure out. In these situations, there could be quite a few reasons or parts that could cause this condition. Here you’ll want to know the exact cause of the problem in a reasonable amount of time. Find a shop that has a good reputation for engine diagnostics, and also one that may negotiate the diagnostic fee.


  4. Get the Fix. Usually the repair will be done by the shop that performed the diagnosis, but don’t feel obligated, especially if the cost is higher than anticipated. You can always cross-shop for local auto repair, and just because you’re in the shop doesn’t mean you have to stick with that one. Most error codes are not indicating safety-related problems, so you most likely have time to shop around for price and quality. As always make sure the parts that are installed will fix the problem permanently. Sometimes an aftermarket catalytic converter, spark plug or oxygen sensor might turn that light off for a while but those aftermarket parts may not make for a permanent fix; sometimes it’s worth investing in pricey new parts.


  5. Follow Up. Most newer cars will have to go through “drive cycles” before everything is back up and running. This involves the driving of the car for several days while the computer checks to see that sensors and monitors are running correctly — think of it as rebooting a computer. If the check-engine light does not come on, usually your car is fixed, but not always. So a good idea is to return to the shop after a few days or a week, and have them recheck the codes to confirm that everything is normal, especially if you’ve got an emissions inspection to pass.

As you become more comfortable with your shop and technician, then you may skip or combine several of the above steps. It’s always helpful to collect information and advice in advance of repairing car, to reign in costs within a reasonable amount of time. What you’ll want here is to fix the car correctly the first time, in order to avoid changing the wrong parts, making return visits to the shop, or being left without wheels for too long.

* Caution: A blinking check engine light is very serious. Damage is being done to the catalytic converter and possible other parts of the motor. The car should not be driven, and should be repaired as soon as possible to avoid higher costs.

 Photo credit: iStockPhoto

The Demise of the All-American Road Trip, and What You Can Do to Save It

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Back in the good old days, when road trips were still a relatively new concept, things were different. Climbing into a car with your family to traverse vast distances across an endless ribbon of unfolding asphalt used to be an event. A bonding experience, even – just so long as you could keep the kids from killing one another and yourself from pulling over and wringing their necks. Alas, those days are long gone. Today it’s all about iPods and texting and Facebooking with friends. How did it all go so incredibly wrong?

You could blame it on the invention of the car stereo, but that would be unfair. Music means different things to different people, but there’s no denying its uniting influence. Back in the day, you could take a group of bickering kids and have them singing in unison within minutes just by tuning the radio to the nearest hit-machine.

Then along came the mobile revolution to throw a buzzkill over everybody’s favorite road trip activity. At least in the early days of personalized music systems, Walkman radio batteries only lasted so long and people (even kids!) would listen sparingly. Nowadays, there’s nothing to stop someone from losing themselves inside their private digital world for hours on end.

Of course, some might argue that allowing everyone (especially the kids) to slip into their own cocoons of silence is preferable to insanity-inducing alternatives like this. Or this. But does it really have to be one or the other? If you’re looking for ideas on how to drag your kids out of their zombie-like states and breathe some life back into the all-American family road trip, consider trying these no-fail road-trip tips.

  • Impose a no-mobile rule during certain times. This way, you’re not asking everyone to stow their smart phones and media players for the entire duration and you can prevent certain people from experiencing all-out emotional meltdowns.
  • Plan a certain activity during these mobile blackout times. Whether it’s an old fashioned sing-along or a classic game of “Spot the License Plate!” be sure the activity requires engagement and participation from all.
  • Make time to stop at roadside attractions. The road can be a boring place, but only if you don’t take time to smell the roses… or make a detour to check out that bizarre structure made entirely of Coca-Cola crates. By breaking up the monotony, you can bring a little fun into the situation and corral everyone back into the land of the living.

Now it’s your turn to put in your two cents’ worth. How do you keep your family actively engaged during long road trips? Got a success story, or some don’t-miss destinations? We’d love to hear ‘em!

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Photo credits: Tomyedo and Graela, Flickr.com 

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The Hows and Whys of Donating Your Car to Charity

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Is your car a planter? Maybe it’s time to consider a charitable donation.

Thinking about getting rid of that old clunker that’s been sitting in your driveway far too long? Are you itching to upgrade your existing ride to something a bit more contemporary? You’ve got plenty of options. You could slap a FOR SALE sign on the windshield, put an ad in the local paper, and see if there are any takers. Or, you could do something with more impact – donate your car to charity – and get some good karma in the process.

When to Donate Your Car

Deciding to donate your car instead of selling it can be an easy decision for some. Maybe you don’t have the time or energy to sell your car, especially if it’s currently inoperable.  Even if your car is nothing more than a permanently parked ‘planter,’ that donation can still be a great help since many charities have resources to get that car back up and running.

If you’ve got a favorite charity that you’re unable to support financially, donating your wheels can be a great option. In turn, the charities can either resell the car, and put the profits toward their programs, or give it to a family in need. Either way, donating a car is a great way to make a positive impact on your community.

When Not to Donate Your Car

There may be certain circumstances under which donating your car may not be the best choice. Ultimately, your decision will hinge on two crucial factors: whether you want to make money from your used car, and whether you want the burden of additional paperwork come tax time. It’s important to know ahead of time that donating your car won’t net you any cash. The only financial benefit you’ll reap from it is the ability to write your donation off as a tax deduction, which could get you a tax break. This can be a bit tricky, however, because the IRS only allows you to claim the “fair market value” of the car. This rarely aligns with its Blue Book value. You’ll also be required to keep all documentation of your donation, including paperwork received from the charity organization.

How to Claim Your Vehicle Donation on Your Taxes

The IRS has explicit rules and regulations about donating vehicles in order for you to be able to claim your car as a tax deduction. For example, the charity has to be a 501(c)(3) organization. Here’s an online tool the IRS provides to help you determine if the charity of your choice qualifies. Also, you’ll need to itemize your deductions. This means going a step beyond filing a simple Form 1040 and filing Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions. If the fair market value of the car is more than $500, you’ll have to complete Section A of Form 8283. If the fair market value is more than $5000, you’ll also need to complete Section B, which requires you to get the signature of an authorized person at the charity. You’ll also have to attach a written appraisal from a qualified appraiser approving the value you’re claiming on your return. Learn more by reading this. Of course programs, like Turbotax, will help make the process easier.

Time to Pick: Which Charity Deserves Your Car?

There are thousands of charities to which you can donate your car. Just about every one of them, from the Make-a-Wish Foundation to the American Cancer Society, accepts vehicle donations. But before you donate your car, be aware that there are many scam organizations out there. There are also many legitimate organizations whose methods are rarely effective at funneling the optimal value of your donated car to those in need. Prior to picking a charity, talk directly to the organization and ask some of the following questions: If you’re picking a lesser-known charity, here are some key questions to ask:

  • Will your car be given to someone in need?
  • If it’s instead fixed up and resold, how much of the profit will actually go to the charity?
  • Will the majority of the proceeds go to administrative costs, or into the hands of the needy?

Depending on the answers you get from different charities, you might decide that one organization will do more with your donation than another.

Photo Credit: Orestes Chouchoulas, Flickr.com

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What Nest did for households… a wave of companies’ technologies will do for the motor vehicle.

Rob Infantino, founder and CEO of Openbay.

Rob recently contributed his thoughts on “The Connected Car” to Intrepid Pursuits’ whitepaper, “9 Mobile Experts Tell All: What to Expect from Mobile in 2014 + Beyond.”

Check out the full whitepaper here, where Rob shares more intel on pages 10/11.

For a snippet on Rob’s vision of the ‘passive car’ as it relates to Openbay, see his interview with the BBC, published earlier this month, here.

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Image courtesy of Ford media from Ford’s study, ‘Cloud Computing in the Commute,’ with University of Michigan.

Astons, Maseratis & Porsches — Oh My! Our Picks at the NY Auto Show (Opening Today)

We took a spin down from Boston to check out the New York International Auto Show press days.  Here’s a peek at some of our favorite wheels. … 

Just when you thought the Swedes were neutral, check out this sinister looking Koenigsegg.

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Here’s to ignoring unwelcome advice!     

Ferruccio Lamborghini went into business building tractors from surplus WWII military hardware, growing his business into a big, successful one. He once complained to Enzo Ferrari that he should put a better clutch in his cars, and Ferrari curtly advised Lamborghini to stick to making tractors. In 1963, Lamborghini founded Automobili Ferruccio Lamborghini S.p.A, and the rest is history. 

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When you’re done checking out this Lotus, look at the logo behind it (not Volvo’s), and here’s a little trivia: The four letters in the middle of the logo stand for the initials of company founder, Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman. Don’t believe us? Wiki it!

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A Bugatti ranges in price from $1-2 million, and if you’re lucky enough to ever own one, please, please, please don’t do this.  If you ever want to hear and see these cars driving in the wild, head out to Monterey, CA around the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance sometime, and you’ll see them (and their owners), along with loads of other glorious new and classic cars, in abundance.

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Check out this Caddy Elmiraj concept. We love the name, love the look, and it reminds us of the meanacing Rolls Royce Wraith. If Cadillac chooses to bring it to market, it’ll certainly be a more affordable set of wheels.

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Here’s the BMW M4.  It looked smaller than expected in person, but we wouldn’t kick this 431hp beast out of our garage.

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Here are a couple of Mercedes’ AMGs — the new CLA 45 (red) has the most powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engine in series production anywhere in the world. The CLS 63 has a naturally aspirated V8 with an unmistakably gutteral exhaust note.  Both of these cars, like all AMGs, have engines hand-built by a single person (who then affixes a plaque with his signature on it) in Affelterbach, Germany.  

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We find Range Rovers irresistible, with all the luxurious, industrial qualities of a Wolf stove.  But much faster.  Faced with a choice, we’d pick the Range (Rover).

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Alfa Romeo is back, and while the 4C’s 237hp, 258 lb-ft of torque may not be the biggest numbers, this car has the critical weight-to-power ratio in spades: only 10lbs/hp.  Let’s go, or shall we say: Andiamo!

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Across the aisle from the 4C, an even more enticing Italian: the Maserati GranTurismo C MC.  The name isn’t very catchy, so they’ve got this badge on the dash, comfortably nestled between carbon fiber, leather and blue contrast stitching to match the stunning blue exterior.  We gave this car a lot of love, and it might have been the first one we’d driven off the stand, if given the chance. Hope you enjoy it, too.

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And now for something completely different: Toyota’s i-Road, an electric “personal mobility vehicle.”  

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Over at Porsche, they displayed the 918 Spyder. Sorry Prius, but hybrid never looked so good.

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Where to put your targa top? Pop it in front, of course!

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Clearly we’re partial — here’s more Porsche love:

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This Jaguar F Type coupe is looking pretty fierce, and the yellow brake calipers look great with the red paint color.

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Over to Bentley and its orange GT Speed Convertible. Did you know Bentley is the world’s largest manufacturer of 12-cylinder engines? Now you do.

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In its press conference, Bentley announced it will return to racing, in the Pirelli World Challenge, with its GT3 race car, shown here:

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Across the aisle, another brilliant English brand, Aston Martin. This Vantage GT made headlines for having a sub-$100,000 price tag. So you’re all going to head out and get one now, right?

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We think the yellow trim around the grill looks like a smile.  

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… As Annie once sang, “You’re Never Fully Dressed without a Smile,” and now driving this Aston may count.

With that, we send you off to have a great weekend.  

The NY Auto Show opens to the public today through April 27.

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If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said, ‘faster horses.’

Mark Fields, Ford's Chief Operating Officer, opened the New York Auto Show press days with a keynote speech, sharing this old Henry Ford quote.

In addition to the above, Fields said, “The most successful among us will fully anticipate consumers’ spoken wants and even more importantly their unspoken future needs. As we do all of this, the reward is not only massive business growth, but the chance to change the world.”

Press Release — We’re Recognized in Global Analysts’ Report!

Openbay Selected By Gartner as a ‘Cool Vendor’

Annual Analyst Report Recognizes Global Automotive Innovators

CAMBRIDGE, MA, April 16, 2014 – Openbay – an online and mobile marketplace for consumers to find, book and pay for local auto repair and maintenance services – was evaluated, among three other companies, in Gartner’s April 9, 2014 “Cool Vendors in Automotive, 2014” report.

“We believe it’s a privilege to be recognized by Gartner as an innovator in the automotive industry, where we’ve managed to disrupt conventional methods of cross-shopping for vehicle repair,” said Rob Infantino, Openbay’s founder and CEO. “Since launching nationally in October 2013, nearly half of Openbay’s users’ service requests originated on mobile devices. Customers are eager to make informed decisions, and we’ve enabled them to do so quickly.”  The average time between when a vehicle owner submits a request through Openbay and then books the service is only three days.

“Our web and mobile app take the hassle out of getting vehicles serviced,” said Infantino. Consumers tell us their vehicles’ needs or problem and we do the heavy lifting; Openbay gets offers from local shops, provides customer reviews, sets appointments and processes payment.” Openbay even maintains an easily accessible online record of all services completed on the vehicle, so there’s never any confusion about its maintenance history.

About Openbay

Openbay is a web and mobile app that is transforming the way consumers repair and maintain their vehicles and the way automotive service professionals transact business with consumers online. The company is headquartered in Cambridge, Mass. and is privately held. Openbay’s investors include Google Ventures, a16z seed, Boston Seed Capital, Stage 1 Ventures and several individual investors.

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Disclaimer:
Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

Are Vehicle Alarm & Security Systems Worth It?

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Between 2010-2012, America’s most stolen vehicles were all pickup trucks and SUVs, according to CNN Money.

Vehicle security systems come in all shapes and price ranges. You can get a car alarm that will go off if someone opens the door or breaks a window, or you can spring for the kind of alarm that will send out a loud scream to everyone within earshot at the mere detection of motion. There are security systems that include keyless entry, remote start, and even GPS-enabled tracking software to help the police locate it if it’s stolen. How do you know which – if any – is right for you? Here’s some advice to help you determine that.

The Average Cost of a Car Alarm

As you can imagine, the cost of a car security system can vary greatly depending on the technology used and the labor involved. Assuming that you’re going to have someone else professionally install it, you can expect to pay anywhere between $50 and $1500. That’s a wide price range, but it all depends on the kind of setup you choose. Basic car alarms that can be turned on and off by keychain remote average on the low end, while high-tech security systems that are capable of disabling your car’s engine and sending out a call to the police can cost you a pretty penny. Check out this recently published chart which provides a comparison of some of the most popular mid-range car alarm security systems.

Car Alarms: Worth the Cost?

The true value of a car security system depends on a lot of things. Namely, the book value of your car. If you’re driving around a 15-year-old beater that’s not worth much, sinking a few hundred dollars into an anti-theft alarm could be overkill. That all changes if you own a $75,000 car and suddenly become the envy of every potential car thief in the city. A solid insurance policy will cover you for theft, but having a security system installed can also lower your premium significantly because it makes you less of a risk in the eyes of your insurance provider.

Where you live can also play an important role in deciding if a car alarm is an absolute necessity or a superfluous expense. Auto theft rates are significantly higher in more densely populated areas than they are in lightly populated areas. This doesn’t mean car theft doesn’t happen everywhere, it just means it’s statistically less likely to happen if you live in a remote area. You can check car theft statistics for your area by reading the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s report which identifies the “hottest spots” by state. Always exercise common sense to protect your vehicle from theft. For some more tips, check out this educational video from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The Effectiveness of Car Alarms

Depending whom you talk to, car alarms are either an effective deterrent or a complete waste of money. The reality is, a motivated individual with all the right skills can disable the average car alarm in seconds. But this doesn’t mean it’s not a deterrent. In this ABC News report, an ex-car thief reveals that kill switches and alarms are among some of the chief deterrents to auto theft, so having an operational alarm can be enough to give a would-be car thief reason to bug off and leave you alone. In that case, it’s certainly money well spent.

Photo Credit: Media.Ford.com

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