High tech cars equal high cost repairs


schematic of headlight depicting costly technology in cars

It used to be that when you opened your car’s hood, you could look straight down and see the pavement beneath the engine. There was room to get your hands in there; to change a belt, tighten a hose clamp, pull a spark plug, or swap out an air filter. Try that with a new car and you’re in for a frustrating time: every gap under the hood is filled, every available space crammed with technology. Our cars are no longer simple mechanical chariots of iron and fire. They’re sleek, smart, and integrated into the wider world in ways that would sound like science fiction to the shade-tree mechanics of yesterday.

A new car runs on average 100 million lines of code. That’s more software than the Large Hadron Collider, the Mars Rover, and the Hubble Space Telescope – COMBINED. Everything from braking and the firing of pistons to the temperature of the seats and the mix of air in the passenger compartment is regulated and monitored by software.

Higher repair costs translate to higher insurance rates

All those sensors add up. As vehicles get more complex, the costs to repair them are rising. This, of course, increases insurance rates. Nationwide, the average cost of auto insurance went up from $915 in 2015 to $980 in 2016.  By 2017 the average cost of auto insurance was $1,060. This is expected to climb to $1,150 in 2018, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

An important contributing factor is where these expensive sensors are placed: they’re often on bumpers, front grilles, and side mirrors, the same spots that see the most incidental damage. Even an undamaged sensor can get knocked out of calibration in a seemingly minor fender-bender, affecting everything from adaptive cruise control which relies on front-facing radar to automatic headlight-dimming that uses tiny cameras to “see” oncoming traffic.

“The insurance industry is very focused on the repair costs associated with these new technologies,” said Matt Moore, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “When the reduction in the crash risk associated with any advanced driver assistance system is greater than the increased repair costs then insurance premiums will likely go down,” Moore said. But in the short term, he expects the dollar value of collision claims to rise approximately 2% per year.

Of course, not factored into this accounting are all the injuries and deaths that these expensive safety features prevent. Maybe paying a little more for repairs now is worth it, when you consider that now drivers are walking away unscathed from accidents that in the past would’ve meant disability or death. It’s up to us as responsible drivers to use the tools we’re given to drive smart and drive safe – and when we do that, everybody wins.

Harness technology to curb distracted driving


Thanks to advances in technology, cars are safer than ever. But the number of road fatalities have increased significantly. The reason why is in your pocket: your smartphone.

Drivers distracted by their phones were involved in more than half the accidents tallied in a recent study by Cambridge Mobile Telematics (CMT) that assessed data from hundreds of thousands of accidents on US roadways.

Many states have passed laws limiting or even banning smartphone use while behind the wheel, but the results of these restrictions have been marginal at best. The Insurance Information Institute says smartphone use while driving is still increasing, especially among younger drivers, who are also the group at greatest risk of being involved in a crash. The National Safety Council estimates 11 teenagers die every day in the US in vehicle accidents involving texting while driving.

But let’s face it: we’re not going to keep our phones in our pockets while we’re on the road. For all the dangers they present, they’re also hugely useful. We use them to navigate, to inform us of road construction and detours, and to warn us of weather hazards. Smartphone apps are even used as electronic keys on some recent high-tech vehicles!

Phone manufacturers and software developers are aware of these issues. Android users can install Android Auto, an app developed by Google which features voice support, oversized buttons, and the ability to send an automatic text to incoming callers or texters letting them know you’re on the road. Apple’s iPhone users have a similar set of tech tools at their fingertips: CarPlay integrates with many modern automotive software suites. For those of us with older vehicles, the iPhone’s Do Not Disturb menu allows you to shut off distracting calls and notifications.

There are a slew of third-party apps designed to reinforce good driving habits and discourage fiddling with your phone while at the wheel. Some rely on the smartphone’s sensors, some require additional hardware. CMT’s DriveWell, EverDrive by EverQuote, AT&T’s DriveMode, Bouncie, Cellcontrol, and SafeRide are among the many options to choose from in this ever-growing niche.

Many car insurance carriers offer monitoring equipment that rewards good driving habits with lower premiums – ask your independent insurance agent about details.

So put technology to work for you! Dock your phone or lock your phone, keep your hands at ten and two, turn on voice commands, relax, and enjoy the (safe and undistracted) drive!

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The importance of back-seat safety belt use


back seat safety belt being fastened by a woman passenger

The last time you used a taxi, a ride-hailing service or jumped in the backseat of a friend’s car, did you buckle up? If you did, good for you, but you are in the minority. Four out of 5 adults surveyed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) say they don’t bother to use a seat belt for short trips. Even more troubling, many who responded said that one of the reasons they don’t buckle up is the false idea that the back seat is safer; others say they simply forget. False assumptions and forgetfulness can have tragic results: IIHS says that more than half of the people who die in passenger vehicle crashes in the U.S. each year are unbelted. Safety belts saved 13,941 lives during 2015.

Drivers: Require rear seat belt use

Many front seat riders have gotten in the habit of seat belt use because it is mandated by law in most states, but back seat use is only required by law in 29 states. Plus, many cars have reminders, warnings and alerts for front-seat use, but such reminders usually aren’t available for back seat passengers. If you’re a passenger, try to make this a habit. If you are the driver, it’s up to you to enforce it with your passengers.

If you are uncomfortable requiring your backseat passengers to belt up, be aware of this: Unbelted backseat passengers are a safety hazard to the driver.

“The odds of death for a belted driver seated directly in front of an unrestrained passenger in a serious head-on crash was 2.27 times higher … than if seated in front of a restrained passenger. In contrast, a belted driver seated in front of an unrestrained passenger in a driver-side lateral-impact crash had no increase in mortality over a driver with a restrained rear-seat passenger…”

If you are buckled in as the driver, but the passenger who is riding behind you is not, they can be very dangerous. In an accident, their body can be propelled into you or other passengers, causing severe, preventable injuries. As a driver, you should mandate backseat safety belt use – if the passenger complains, tell them it is not only for their safety, but for your safety and the safety of others in the car, too!

Used car buyers beware: Don’t get hosed by flood-damaged cars


flood damaged cars partially submerged on a street

Used car buyer beware! That shiny used car with low mileage might look like a good deal, but take care that you aren’t buying a flood damaged car. It’s estimated that some half million vehicles were flooded in Texas and Louisiana during Hurricane Harvey, and there are sure to be many more after Irma. Resellers can be pretty good at the cosmetics so you could be deceived – engine and electrical problems may not be readily apparent.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) defines a flooded vehicle as one that has been completely or partially submerged in water to the extent that its body, engine, transmission or other mechanical component parts have been damaged.

According to Ronny Pucino, a body shop owner in Rhode Island, there are three main elements in a car that are affected by flooding: the upholstery, the engine and the electronics. The extent of any damage depends largely on the level of water that the car experienced. Cars that have had wheel-top level damage may be able to be salvaged if the owner acted quickly to address the damage. But when water reaches as high as the dashboard, it is more likely that the engine and the electronics have been compromised and the car will be unsalvageable.

Being alert for flood-damaged cars should be of concern to all used car buyers, regardless of geography. Often, damaged cars are professionally refurbished and shipped to other parts of the country to be sold. Experts say that flood-damaged cars end up going to places where consumers won’t be likely to be on alert. Even when cars “clean up nice,” they may well have electrical or engine damage. Flood-damaged vehicles often surface in auctions and “for sale by owner” scenarios.

Edmunds.com offers good tips on how to avoid buying a flood damaged car. They present 6 tell-tale tips, which we’ve summarized, but click on the article for more detail.

1. Get a vehicle history report.
2. Be alert to unusual odors.
3. Look for discolored carpeting.
4. Examine the exterior for water buildup.
5. Inspect the undercarriage.
6. Be suspicious of dirt buildup in unusual areas.

The NICB has released this list of Flood Vehicle Fraud Prevention Tips:

  • Select a reputable car dealer.
  • Inspect the vehicle for water stains, mildew, sand or silt under the carpets, floor mats, headliner cloth and behind the dashboard.
  • Check for recently shampooed carpet.
  • Inspect the interior upholstery and door panels for fading.
  • Check for rust on screws in the console or areas where water normally doesn’t reach.
  • Check for mud or grit in the spare tire compartment, alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses, around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.
  • Check inside the seatbelt retractors by pulling the seatbelt all the way out and inspect for moisture, mildew or grime.
  • Check door speakers as they will often be damaged due to flooding.
  • Have a certified mechanic inspect the vehicle prior to purchasing it.
  • Ask about the vehicle’s history. Ask whether it was in any accidents or floods.
  • Inspect the title and ownership papers for any potential or questionable salvage fraud.
  • Conduct a title search of the vehicle.
  • Look under the hood for signs of oxidation. Pull back rubber boots around electrical and mechanical connections for these indicators: Ferrous materials will show signs of rust, Copper will show a green patina.
  • Aluminum and alloys will have a white powder and pitting.
  • Trust your instincts: If you don’t like the answers or the deal sounds too good to be true, walk away!

CARFAX offers more tips for detecting and avoiding flood-damaged cars. They also offer vehicle history reports for a fee, which could be a worthwhile investment if you find a car you’re thinking of purchasing.

One other consumer service is the NICB’s VINcheck, a free service provided to the public to assist in determining if a vehicle has been reported as stolen, but not recovered, or has been reported as a salvage vehicle by cooperating NICB members. You must have the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to perform a search, and a maximum of five VINCheck searches can be conducted within a 24 hour period.

DMV.org talks more about VIN checks, offering a diagram showing where you can typically find a car’s VIN. They note that although there are many free VIN services, if you want a detailed report, you may have to pay a fee. We think you should also invest the cost for having a mechanic check over a used car before you buy it. Both steps could be a worthwhile investment to save you from later headaches. A good VIN check can tell you these things about a vehicle:

  • Past ownership.
  • Any liens held on the vehicle.
  • Vehicle maintenance.
  • Title history blemishes.
  • Faulty odometer settings.
  • Flood damage.
  • Accident history.
  • Car title check.
  • Whether a vehicle was determined to be a lemon.
  • Airbag deployments.

Vehicle modifications and the “right fit” can help protect aging drivers


two women in car. An older woman driver with a younger woman.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, drivers age 65 and older accounted for 18% of all traffic fatalities, higher rates of fatal crashes, based on miles driven, than any other group except young drivers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 40.1 million licensed older drivers in 2015 — a 33% jump from 10 years earlier. To understand how remarkable that spike is, consider that the general population of drivers only increased by 8% in the same time.

Older drivers are often very safe drivers: more likely to wear seat belts, less likely to speed and less likely to drink and drive. But when involved in accidents, they are generally more fragile than younger drivers and more susceptible to serious injuries. The good news is that there are ways for cars to be adapted and to help older drivers reduce their risk of injury during a crash.

CarFit is a free educational program created by the American Society on Aging and developed in collaboration with AAA, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association. It offers older adults the opportunity to check how well their personal vehicles “fit” them, and it provides information and materials on community-specific resources to enhance their safety as drivers and increase their mobility in the community. CarFit offers local events, but if there are none scheduled near you, they also offer tools, videos, information and resources.

You can download a helpful Carfit brochure (PDF) with tips to find the right fit and ways that cars can be adapted. An article from AARP talks more about Carfit, offering an excellent video that shows the checklist used to help get the right fit for older drivers.

Other resources to help older drivers

The American Occupational Therapy Association has a variety of tools and resources related to driving and mobility for seniors. You can also search a database to locate a Driver Specialist for driver evaluations or Drive Safe and Adaptive Driving programs near you.

The Clearinghouse for Older Road User Safety or CHORUS – search for older driver resources by state.

State Drivers License Renewal Laws Including Requirements For Older Drivers – scroll to see a chart that summarizes laws related to age by state.