Buying a used car? Don’t get scammed by title washing


used car lot

You see a nice used car at the local dealership that would be great for your college-bound son. You buy the car, and a few weeks later, you get a call that your son is being held by police on a charge of car theft. What!?! You spend considerable time to prove he is not a criminal and that you recently bought the car. You clear things up for your son but the issue of the car is not so simple. You are the victim of title washing. The car is indeed a stolen vehicle so you won’t get that back.

If that sounds like a far-fetched scenario, it’s not. It’s exactly what happened recently to a Chicago couple who suffered a $24,000 loss on a used car they’d recently bought. Both they and the car dealership where they bought it were victims of a title washing ring that is now under investigation.

A title washing scam might seem like a relatively obscure thing, but it’s not. It’s estimated that used car buyers are scammed up to $30 billion a year in what the National Association of Attorneys General calls the worst problem used car buyers face. Experts say that as many as 1 in 44 titles in some states have been washed.

In simple terms, title washing is a scam in which the paperwork for stolen vehicles is faked or forged. But it’s not just stolen cars – title washing is also a way to clear a troubled car’s history, a common way to re-market cars that have been totaled, salvaged or flood-damaged. This article offers a good overview of the practice: Title Washing in America – Lemons without the Lemonade  It includes a handy list of red flags to look for when buying a used car, which we’ve reprinted below.

One lesson to be learned from this is not to rely solely on the title when buying a used car. In buying a used car, be sure to check if it has been declared stolen or totaled by searching the car’s VIN:

Of course, there are other best practices beyond just checking the title when buying a used car. See these sources for more tips:

red flags for buying aused car

How to avoid hydroplaning – and what to do if it happens


tire idriving through hevy rain to illustrate hydroplaning

We all think about tire safety in winter when the roads are snowy or slushy and we adjust our driving accordingly. But what about in the rain? Wet, slick roads with water buildup can be quite hazardous, too. Many drivers are rather cavalier about  adjusting their driving in the rain  and are caught short when something goes wrong, such as hydroplaning.

Hydroplaning – also sometimes called aquaplaning – is losing traction over water while driving, and actually skimming or sliding on the surface of that water. Losing contact with the road is a frightening experience because it results in loss of control of the car. The formula for hydroplaning is speed, tire tread depth and water depth. It’s important to maintain your tires and slow down when it rains. Even a light rain can be hazardous, particularly in the first few minutes as rainfall mixes with oils on the road surface.

Edmunds offers excellent Tips for Driving Safely in the Rain. Also, check out these two videos that talk more about what hydroplaning is and what to do should it occur.

 

Technology helps, but is not a substitute for caution
While driver-assist technologies such as traction control, anti-lock brakes and lane assist technologies can help keep us safer, don’t rely on them. Be cautious and be prepared:

  • Maintain your tires – make sure the tread is good and that they are properly inflated.
  • Slow down when it rains. Many experts suggest reducing speed by about one-third.
  • Avoid standing water.
  • Disable cruise control on wet roads and when raining.
  • Increase the following distance between you and the car ahead.
  • If you do hydroplane, stay calm, ease off the accelerator, and don’t make any sudden moves that may cause a spin out.

Cellphone driving laws: Florida and Massachusetts


Florida has a new law that prohibits texting while driving, which went into effect July 1. It’s called the Wireless Communications While Driving Law. From now until January 1, 2020, drivers who break the law will get a warning, but after that, a $30 fine will be imposed for a first offense, and a $60 fine for a second offense. But that’s actually just the tip of the iceberg – there are court costs, insurance surcharges and more that can make breaking the law quite costly. Florida Today explains why your $30 ticket becomes way more expensive, breaking down additional court costs and fees that bring your actual first-time penalty to $119 in Brevard County. (Each county’s fees may differ)  In addition to that, your auto insurance rates could cost you up to 25% more per year for three years. That means that a quick text could be very costly!

Local 10 offers a recap of what you need to know about Florida’s new texting while driving law. There are some exceptions, which they list as:

“Some exceptions apply. The law does not apply to vehicles that are stationary or to a driver who is:
– Performing official duties, such as operating an emergency vehicle (i.e., law enforcement, fire service professionals, and emergency medical service providers).
– Reporting an emergency, a crime or other suspicious activity to law enforcement.
– Receiving messages that are:
a. related to the operation and/or navigation of the motor vehicle; b. safety-related information (emergency, traffic, and weather alerts); c. data used primarily by the motor vehicle; or d. radio broadcasts.
– Using the device in a hands-free manner for navigation purposes.
– Using the device in a way that does not require manual entry of characters, except to initiate a function or feature.”

Massachusetts cell-phone ban law in the works

Massachusetts residents take note: In June, Boston.com reported that a driver hand-held cellphone ban moves closer to becoming law. The Senate and the House have both approved versions of the law and must now reach agreement on a compromise bill. But be aware that proposed fines are costly:

The bill calls for a fine of $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $500 for a subsequent offense. Those who commit a second or subsequent offense would be required to complete a program that “encourages a change in driver behavior and attitude about distracted driving.”

A third or subsequent violation would also be a considered a surchargeable incident under car insurance policies. The bill would allow an exception to using cellphones in the case of an emergency if no one else in the car is able to make the call.

Driving & cellphone use laws by state

Here’s a handy tool to bookmark: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) maintains a summary of cell-phone use laws with maps and a detailed chart listing of cellphone use laws by state.

They summarize three types of prohibitions for cellphone use laws:

  • Hand-held ban laws: Bans on hand-held phone conversations while driving are widespread in other countries and are becoming more common in the U.S. In 2001, New York became the first state to ban hand-held phone conversations by all drivers. Now 20 states and the District of Columbia have similar laws.
  • Texting ban laws: Texting is banned for all drivers in 48 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Young driver phone ban use laws: 38 states and the District of Columbia restrict cellphone use by young drivers.

What’s an insurance deductible?


couple revieiwing insurance policy

Like many other industries, insurance has its own unique jargon that can sometimes make shopping for coverage seem overly complicated. Your local independent insurance agent is always happy to break things down for you and explain any language or terms that you don’t understand. One term that is commonly used in auto, health and in other insurance policies is “deductible.”

In simple terms, a deductible is the amount of money that you, the insured, must pay for a claim before your insurance will kick in.

If you have a deductible, it means that you will be responsible for any losses or payment of services up to the stated dollar amount in your insurance policy. Usually, deductibles are defined as a dollar amount, but they can also be defined as a percentage.

Deductibles can be beneficial both for the insured and for the insurance company. For the insured, it can be a way to are a way to reduce the cost of insurance: The more risk for loss that you, the insured, agree to pay before the insurance kicks in, the lower your premium. For the insurance company, it is a way to avoid the cost of processing and paying a high volume of small claims. Talk to you insurance agent about what deductible options are available to you and how they will affect the cost of your coverage.

Let’s look at an example: You are in an auto accident and your car’s damages are assessed at $1250 in damages. If your insurance policy has a $500 deductible, you will have to pay the first $500 of the damages to your car out of your own pocket and the insurer will pay the remaining $750. Generally, once the deductible is met, any future losses that you might have during the term of that policy will be covered in full.

The Insurance Information Institute has a great article on understanding your insurance deductibles that explains how deductibles work to prevent surprise costs and save money. It’s a good introduction with clear examples. They also discuss homeowners disaster deductibles for hurricane, wind/hail, flood and earthquake coverage. (Reminder: your homeowners insurance does not automatically cover you should your home be damaged by flood, earthquake, and other natural catastrophes – talk to your insurance agent about what your homeowners does and doesn’t cover.)

Businesses can also opt for deductible plans for certain types of business coverage such as workers compensation programs.

Many people are familiar with deductibles through their health insurance coverage. Learn more about health insurance deductibles at HealthCare.gov.

As with all insurance matters, you need to check your own policy. Insurance can vary by state law, by type of coverage, and by individual policy. It’s a good idea to read your policy and to ask your insurance agent to explain any terms that you don’t understand.

 

Motorcycle Mania: Your spring guide to insurance, safety, training, laws and more


Despite the good news that motorcycle fatalities are trending down in recent years, motorcycle riders still represent a disproportionate share of traffic fatalities. May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, a good time for riders and those who share the road with motorcyclists to double down on safety as we all get ready for the warmer weather and summer road trips. Here’s a guide to important information that you need to be prepared and to ride safely, as well as to comply with licensing, insurance and other legal requirements. .

Motorcycle Laws

If you operate your motorcycle on public roads, you must register it with your appropriate state authority and must be licensed to drive it.

AAA Digest of State Motor Laws – Motorcycles

State-by-State Guide to Motorcycle Laws – helmets, headlights, passengers, noise restrictions and more

III: State Motorcycle Helmet Use Laws (chart form)

State Highway Offices

Motorcycle insurance

Most states require that you carry at least a minimum insurance coverage – Florida, Montana and Washington are exceptions. Those states that do require insurance vary as to coverage requirements; most require a minimum of liability insurance to cover bodily injury and property damage.

Whether required or not, we think it’s pretty risky to go without coverage. Should an accident occur resulting in an injury or property damage, without insurance, you are on the hook. In fact, it is generally worth looking into expanding your coverage beyond the minimum. Options to consider are comprehensive and collision, which would cover other potential losses, such as replacement if your bike were stolen or damaged.. In some states, uninsured/under-insured motorist coverage is required; in others, you may be required to have specific coverage for passengers.

Motorcycle owners sometimes ask if they can cancel insurance in the winter when they aren’t riding but that can be risky and leave you exposed if the bike is stolen. Some insurers offer winter lay-up insurance options.

Talk to your independent insurance agent, who will be able to recommend the best coverage for your local requirements and your particular circumstances. Be sure to ask if there are any discounts that you may qualify for, such as for bundling multiple policies, for being a safe driver, for having participated in training, or any other circumstances.

For more, see the Insurance Information Institute (III): Find the right coverage for your bike

Motorcycle Safety

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation is a valuable resource. It is a not-for-profit resource, internationally recognized for comprehensive, research-based, Rider Education and Training System (RETS), which promotes lifelong-learning for motorcyclists and continuous professional development for certified coaches and trainers. MSF also actively participates in government relations, safety research and public awareness campaigns.

Check for available trainings and download their popular guide, You and Your Motorcycle: Riding Tips. Check out their other guides for three-wheelers, scooters, off-highway riding and more.

III: Background on: Motorcycle crashes

NHTSA: Motorcycle Safety

Choose the right helmet – how to find the right fit for safety

Helmet safety ratings – Make sure your helmet has the DOT symbol on the outside back; this means it meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218.

Motorcycle Industry Council Tire Guide

NHTSA: Safety Issues and Recalls – search by VIN

Additional Resources

How to Prepare your Motorcycle for Spring

Consumer Reports: Motorcycle Buying Guide & Ratings

Motorcycle Club Listings