"One-stop laptop chop shop" - The Economist Covers Openbay

http://www.economist.com/blogs/schumpeter/2014/07/bidding-car-mechanics

STEAMING engines and loose brakes are a worry for any driver; almost equally worrisome is finding a reliable mechanic who won’t take a sharp intake of breath and utter the age-old dictum: “This will cost you”. The caricature of the shady car mechanic is a common one the world over. But fed up drivers are using the power of the internet to fend off the cowboy car-fixers. Rob Infantino came close to being ripped off when a routine wheel alignment for his BMW, which should have cost no more than $120, was estimated by one greasemonkey at $4,000.

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5 Cool Tips for Keeping Your AC Working all Summer Long

Summer’s here and the time is right… for blasting your AC. But just because it’s hotter than heck outside doesn’t mean you should use your car’s air conditioner willy-nilly. There are actually a handful of best practices that you can employ to get the most out of your AC, ensuring longevity of life and peak performance. Here are five tips you should add to your daily summer cruising repertoire.

 

  • Turn your AC off before you kill the engine. There are a couple of practical reasons why this is a good idea. For one, it helps acclimate your body to the external temperature so you don’t get hit with an overwhelming heatwave as you step outside of your car. But on an entirely different level, leaving your AC engaged could greatly reduce the life of your battery because of the added current that’s drawn when you go to restart your car.

  • Keep your windows cracked when parked on extremely hot days. Having an AC is a great luxury in the heat of summer, but extending its life depends on taking steps to ensure it doesn’t have to overwork itself to do its job. Leaving your car windows open - even if just a half-inch - can cut back dramatically on the heat buildup inside your car, thus ensuring your air conditioner’s rapid effectiveness.

  • Give your car a few minutes to air out before you get in. Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of cracking their windows open, especially if they have to leave their car parked in public for extended periods of time. We don’t blame you. As an alternative, consider throwing open your car doors and rolling down all windows for a few minutes to let the hot air out before you get inside. Dropping the internal temperature, even if by just a few degrees, can also lessen the strain on your AC.

  • Run your AC for at least ten minutes, once a week, regardless of the weather. Keeping your car’s AC system at peak performance requires routine exercise that acts as a preventative against moisture and mildew buildup. To ensure it will be in tip-top shape when you really need it, perform this year-round.

  • Kill your AC and roll down your windows when stopped at red lights and when driving in stop-and-go traffic. Running your air conditioning puts a serious strain on your engine and can take a huge bite out of your car’s fuel efficiency, especially in city driving. Taking this step can not only extend the life of your AC but can also save you quite a few dollars at the gas pump. But when you’re traveling at highway speeds, your car is more susceptible to wind drag. Under these circumstances it becomes more fuel efficient to roll your windows up and crank the cool air.


As a rule of thumb, you should have your car’s air conditioner recharged every two to three years to ensure optimum performance. Not sure if your AC is working properly? Check out this post, which could clue you in on potential problems - and solutions - you may not even be aware of. If you’re overdue for service, visit Openbay today to find the nearest mechanic who can take care of that for you.

photo credit - high-tech dad -  Flickr.com

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How To Know When You Need Brakes

We all know that the brakes will need to be replaced at some point, but because the life of brakes varies so greatly with the type of driving, we never know when is when. Here is a short primer for all drivers to understand the signs that brakes need replacement.

What to look (or listen) for…

If you need brakes, over time, your brake pedal may be lower than it used to be, or the pedal will need to be pressed slightly harder than before. Most drivers may not realize this – the process is so gradual that we adapt unconsciously.

Instead of trying to remember how things used to be, let’s put several of our five senses to work.

Listen for the common noises of worn brakes:

  • A high-pitched squeal when not braking is usually the pad-wear indicator or “squealer” hitting the rotor. This is a small tab of metal that is meant to scrape the rotor when the brake pad is ready for replacement.

  • A squeaking sound, which happens when you apply the brakes. This squeak is usually an indication that the brake pads have not been installed properly, causing them to move around and make noise.

  • A grinding sound when applying the brakes means your brake pad is completely worn out and the pad mounting surface is grinding into the rotor. At this point, the brakes need immediate attention.

Look for indications of worn brakes.

  • Many newer cars have a dash light that comes on when the brake pads need to be replaced. 

  • Taking a look on the outside, you may notice a heavy buildup of brake dust that will darken the wheels and hubcaps, which could be an indication of worn brakes.

  • In addition, on some cars you can look through the wheels and see the amount of pad remaining.

Feel anything different? Look for these signs, which may point to what needs to be replaced:

  • If the brakes pulsate when applied, meaning that the pedal bounces up and down, that’s a sure sign of bad brakes.

  • If the car pulls to the right or left when the brakes are applied, then brakes are not working correctly and need to be repaired.

  • If the brakes are “dragging” or not letting go when the pedal is released, that’s yet another reason why the brakes will need to be examined.

  • Most importantly, if the pedal feels soft or spongy, or if it hits the floor with minimal resistance, then a trip to the garage needs to be planned immediately.

So What Do I Really need?

Much of what you will need to repair the brakes depends on how worn the components have become and the overall age of the car.

  • Brake Pads: usually brake pad replacement is needed when the pad has approximately 1 to 2 millimeters of friction material remaining.
  • Rotors will need to be replaced if there is any indication of overheating, dramatic rusting, or any uneven surface that may cause the brakes to pulsate. A clean rotor surface – either by installing a new rotor or machining the old one – gives a nice mating surface for the new pad, and will guarantee full braking efficiency. Many times a new rotor is more cost effective than turning the old rotor, although the quality of this new rotor should always be equivalent to the original equipment installed at the factory. In some cases, these new, cheaper rotors are made with lower quality materials and will not dissipate heat as well leading to less effective braking and less life from the brake pads.

  • The hydraulics in the braking system, namely the calipers and cylinders, are changed under two circumstances. First, and most commonly, any failure in these components need to be addressed, which means if the caliper or cylinder is leaking, or if any part does not move as designed and cannot be freed up and lubricated, then replacement is required. Replacement in pairs, where the caliper or cylinder on the opposite side, especially as the car ages, is a good idea. This will provide more balanced braking. Second, can be replaced when they reach between 80,000 and 100,000 miles. Though the upfront costs may be expensive, this will prevent any problems from arising at the wrong time, and could prevent a tow and a more expensive bill in the future.

Keeping on top of it all

The more you know about the condition of your brakes, the more you can plan for the replacement of the right parts. If you are unsure of what to look for, or just don’t want the responsibility, have the brakes looked at when you head to the shop for regular maintenance, such as an oil change or tire rotation. Most shops will look at the brakes for free, and give you an idea of how much time or mileage may be left. The sooner you address brakes that are worn, usually the less money you will spend, and the less likely the chance the car ends up on the side of the road.

Image credit: Rob Sutton, Flickr.com

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My car is overheating. What do I do now?

The dog days of summer are approaching, and with high temps and your AC pumping away, your car may be more likely to overheat, sending your car’s temperature gauge (and your blood pressure) off the charts.  If you’re on the highway, in the middle of nowhere, or stuck in heavy traffic, you start panicking, wondering what your options might be.

Here are a few steps to follow to safely get your car off the road, to your garage or final destination.

Do not let the needle crawl up into the red. This could cause more damage than is already done. Although it may be uncomfortable, try turning on the heat; this may help reduce engine temperature. If you can keep the temperature hovering just above the halfway point, you may continue driving to a garage or your destination.

Cool it down. If the needle keeps edging closer to the red mark, pull the car over and let it cool down as much as possible. If the temperature seems to be taking time to reach the upper limits, you may drive the car in stages until you arrive at a garage.

Do not take the radiator cap off when the engine is hot. The cap is under some pressure, and if that pressure is relieved too quickly then hot coolant and water will spray out, potentially causing burns. Wait until the engine is close to ambient temperature. When you can, safely and slowly add some water or coolant. Remember: in older cars, it is a good idea to carry a gallon of water or pre-mixed coolant as part of your break-down kit.

Check under the car for a coolant leak. You may see coolant pouring out, or significant wetness, or the leak might be rather small if coolant has been lost over a longer period of time. If the coolant leak is large, calling a tow truck will be the best solution. With a smaller leak, filling up the coolant may allow you to nurse the car to a garage, home, or at least off the road.

If there are no visible leaks, and if the coolant appears at the appropriate level, then the overheating problem is likely mechanical in nature. The thermostat could be stuck closed, not allowing coolant to flow to the radiator. Maybe the water pump has stopped working, or maybe the head gasket is leaking, letting exhaust gas in the coolant. In all of these cases, the best solution would be to call for a tow truck.

Remember: the idea here is to avoid damaging the car with prolonged, severe overheating. No one likes to wait - or to pay -for the tow truck, but be smart. If you can keep the temperature down close to the halfway point on the gauge, nursing the car to someplace (other than the side of the road) can be done safely.

Image credit: Nate Christenson, Flickr.com

Electric Motorcycles: The Future is (Almost) Here

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This man built a 48-cylinder motorcycle. We suspect he may not be ready to give up this beast for the quiet of an electric motorcycle!

With all the talk about hybrid and electric cars – including the recent news that Tesla Motors has decided to make its patents available to the public – it’s almost easy to overlook the fact that electric motorcycles sales are starting to gain traction. In a recent USA Today article, it was predicted that e-motorcycle sales would increase by 30 percent between now and 2023 in North America alone. While this may not excited two-wheel enthusiasts who still prefer their Harleys, there are plenty of people out there who are champing at the bit to hop onto the back of the vehicle of the future.

Here are a few facts you may not know about electric motorcycles.

They’re not cheap. With an average sticker price between $10,000 and $17,000 some may have cause to pause when considering the actual affordability of owning an electric motorcycle. On the flipside, you’ll never have to spend a dime on a drop of gas – which could render it a long-term investment worth making.

They’re automatic. Currently, all e-motorcycles use single-speed transmissions. This means no clutch and no need to change gears. While hardcore motorcycle devotees might find the reality of a fully automatic bike to be less than desirable, the ability to “throttle and go” is one that could be quite appealing if you’re interested in a simpler way to get around.

They’re quiet as a whisper. Ever have the desire to ride a motorcycle but just aren’t down with the idea of riding such a noisy beast? Buying an electric motorcycle could bring you quite a few benefits – not the least of which includes being able to enjoy your surroundings a bit more when you’re zipping through the countryside, or being better capable of hearing other vehicles around you so that you can experience a much safer ride.

They have to be re-charged every two to three hours. If you’re the kind of easy rider who likes to spend an entire day on the road with pit stops few and far between, the present-day reality of having to re-charge your ride after just a few hours could be a joy killer. On the other hand, if you’re in the market for a motorcycle to get you back and forth from work on your daily commute and you don’t live far from home – or, better yet, if you have the ability to charge your bike at your destination – owning an e-motorcycle could score huge on the convenience scale.

If you’re still not sure if electric motorcycles have the gusto you’re looking for, check out this impressive video of legendary rider John McGuinness piloting his electric ride. It goes to show how far e-motorcycles have come.

Would you ever consider owning an electric motorcycle, or are you far too devoted to your traditional “hog” to give up the smoke and noise? Let us know what you think by leaving your comments in the box below!

Image credit: Insomnia Cured Here, Flickr.com

Is Hands-Free Talking and Driving Safe?

Everybody knows that texting is one of the most dangerous things you can do while driving. That’s why it’s against the law in 44 states. And there are also a growing number of states now prohibiting people from talking on their cell phones while driving. This has led to an explosion in the manufacture and purchase of hands-free devices like Bluetooth headsets that enable drivers to keep both hands on the wheel while fielding phone calls from friends, family and co-workers. Currently, 12 states prohibit drivers from using a hand-held phone while driving and have made it mandatory to wear a headset for those who insist on yapping while cruising. But is talking on a headset while you’re driving as safe as you think it is?

Studies tell us that there isn’t much of a difference at all in the level of distraction that drivers using hands-free devices experience versus those using a hand-held device. In one University of Utah study performed in 2006, it was found that there was zero difference. To top it off, study results also showed that test drivers operating under the influence of alcohol were actually less likely to have an accident than those talking on the phone.

If that’s not enough to scare you into turning off your phone when you slide behind the wheel, there are even more statistics that back up the fact that hands-free driving isn’t as safe as you may have been led to believe. The National Safety Council says that talking while driving (either hands-free or otherwise) accounted for 1.1 million crashes in 2010 – or 21 percent of all accidents that year.

Many people argue that talking on the phone with a Bluetooth headset is no different than talking with the person seated in the car next to you. But there are others who theorize that talking on the phone creates a cognitive impairment strong enough to make you a danger behind the wheel without even realizing it.

It makes sense when you think about it – when you’re chatting with someone in the passenger seat, you also pick up on gestures and other non-verbal cues that make communication all the more effortless. But when you’re simply using your voice to talk to someone who’s not there, it requires a bit more thinking to get your message across and “read” the other person accurately. For more on that, check out this report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

What do you think? Does using a hands-free headset really make driving while talking safer? Have any insight or experiences to share? We’d love to hear all about it. 

Image credit: Nate Flu, Flickr.com

What to Do if a Friend is About to Drive Drunk

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MADD fact: In 2011, 226 children were killed in drunk driving crashes. Of those, 54% were riding with the drunk driver.

Drunk driving kills thousands of people every year in the United States. According to the Bureau of Transportation, three people die in alcohol-related accidents every two hours. With statistics like these, it’s incumbent upon every single one of us to do what we can to prevent drunk driving from ever taking place. This includes keeping your friends from driving when you know they’ve had one too many. Naturally, this is often easier said than done – but it is possible! Here are some tips on how to handle the situation if it ever arises.

Drive them home yourself. Note: this only works if you haven’t had anything to drink yourself. Playing the part of the responsible adult and assuming the role of DD (designated driver) isn’t always as fun as tying one on with a group of friends – but if you’re steadfast and determined to keep those you care about from harm, consider refraining from drinking so that everyone gets home safe and sound, and lives to party another night.

Offer them a place to crash. Having a group of friends over to your house entails certain responsibilities that include making sure nobody leaves who can’t make it home safely. As a rule, always be prepared to allow a few overnight guests. It may not make for the most comfortable situation if your place is tiny, but having a few couch-and-floor surfers is much more preferable to the alternative scenario of having to live with guilt.

Call them a cab. Better yet, offer to pay for the ride yourself. Sometimes, the decision to drive when intoxicated can be the result of someone being too frugal for his or her own good. If your friend is three sheets to the wind and is unwilling or unable to spend the night on your couch or spare bed, offer to “treat” them to their own personal yellow checkered limousine ride home. If you dress it up like that, they may just get excited over the idea and not put up a fight!  Alternatively, call on a friend, parent or spouse who’s not present at the party. Chances are they won’t mind you calling in a late-night favor once they see the state of your inebriated friend.

Take their keys. Snatching someone’s car keys – drunk or sober – can be seen as a “fighting move.” Especially if you’re dealing with someone who’s had so much to drink that they’re bordering on belligerent. But removing the very tool that will enable them to climb behind the wheel of their car is absolutely critical to keeping your friend (and other people) safe. In this case the best course of action is to distract them with something else while you hide their car keys someplace where they won’t be found until much later. Thinking ahead is also a smart move: if you’re inviting friends over to your house and there’s going to be booze involved, try instituting a rule that requires all party guests to turn over their keys at the beginning of the evening so you won’t have to play pickpocket-pro later on.

Be assertive and call in help. Drunk people are often unreasonable. This is more often than not the case of the “alcohol” doing the talking instead of your friend. If you encounter resistance or hostility when trying to prevent someone from driving drunk, be assertive. Don’t just give in to their wishes. If necessary, rally some of your friends to step in to help you calm the situation down. It’s not always easy to talk sense into someone who’s inebriated, but there’s power in numbers.

There have been numerous reported cases of people being held criminally liable for damage, injury or death if they’ve knowingly let their friends drive drunk. Keeping your friends from hitting the road in any other condition than sober could therefore not only save them and others from a potentially tragic situation, but you as well.

Have you ever had to stop a friend from driving drunk? What are some of the methods you employed to prevent it from happening? Please share your success stories with us, and please drive sober and safely.

Image credit: Andras Müller, Flickr.com

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