Get that idle car back on the road in tip-top shape


car maintenance - man washing the tires

If you’re among the millions who have been hunkered down in your home to help flatten the coronavirus curve, your car probably hasn’t been getting too much use. But now as many states are beginning to reopen and ease restrictions on stay-at-home orders, it’s time to show your car a little love. And even though many restrictions may be lifted, it’s likely we’ll be seeing a “new normal” so you may still be keeping a little closer to home this year than in other summer seasons. If so, AAA offers some great tips for keeping your car maintained during a driving hiatus.

While a few of the tips might be well known – taking the car for a spin each week and keeping it clean and maintained – others may be things you would not think of unless you are accustomed to storing a car seasonally. Here’s one you might not think about – and it can happen even if your car is stored in a garage:

Depending where you park, there may be mice or other critters that want to call your vehicle home. These rodents can chew on wires and cause thousands of dollars of damage, make nests in your filters and cause other messes. I’ve even had one set up shop in my glove compartment! There are a variety of sprays and granules on the market to deter these animals. Some have the scent of a predator and others smell like mint — a scent rodents don’t like.

There are other good tips about lubricating locks and hinges, adding a gas stabilizer to your tank, and more.

Consumer Reports says that cars do not like to sit idle, and cite risks such as the battery losing charge, tires gaining flat spots, rubber components such as belts and wipers drying out, as well as the critter problem. They also have an excellent guide to Car Care and Maintenance During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

But don’t stop there – it’s time for a thorough spring maintenance. Whether you bring your car to a mechanic or are a do-it-yourselfer, here’s a spring car maintenance checklist:

  • Give your vehicle a good exterior cleaning, including a fresh wax.
  • Clean the interior thoroughly. To disinfect and deep-clean, consider a detailing or a steam cleaning.
  • Change your oil and oil filter.
  • Check and replenish fluids.
  • Inspect wiper blades and replace if needed. Refill your wiper fluid.
  • Test your battery.
  • Check and rotate your tires. Check the tire treads and pressure.
  • Check and clean your lights and mirrors.
  • Check filters, belts, hoses.
  • Check alignment and suspension.
  • Fix any winter body or windshield dings or damage.

And if you have a motorcycle, May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. Give your wheels a good checkup too – see our post on Motorcycle Mania: Your spring guide to insurance, safety, training, laws and more.

Wait for it … this could save your life.


This is a short post featuring a short, powerful video clip: Wait for it … this could save your life. We encourage you to watch it and share it – it’s just under 4 minutes. There’s a lot we could say about it, but we think it is more impactful to let the clip speak for itself.

Jacy Good, the young woman in the video who tells her story, is not an actress.  Here is more about how she became a passionate safety advocate.

Join 40 million other people: Take the It Can Wait pledge

Reminder: The new Massachusetts hands-free driving law is now in effect

Distracted driving – 5 seconds is all it takes

In the market for a new car? Calculate the full costs


dealer lot of new cars

If you’re in the market for a new car over the coming year, there’s a lot more to think about in terms of cost than just the sticker price. If you aren’t figuring in the associated financing costs, taxes, insurance, depreciation, gas and maintenance, you are only getting a partial picture of the true cost to drive a car. According to AAA, the cost of car ownership in 2019 was $9,282 or $773.50 a month. That’s 5% more – or $433 – than the prior year.

One of the key culprits to the costs? Finance charges, which AAA says average about 40% of the total costs.

“A key contributor to the increase was a large jump in financing costs. Rising federal interest rates and higher vehicle prices fueled a spike in finance charges, which rose 24% in 2019 from $744 to $920. It comes as long-term loans are becoming more common. Such loans offer lower monthly payments, but they ultimately cost the consumer more, meaning car buyers are paying more, and longer, for vehicles that lose value the moment they’re sold.”

Although long-term loans might seem cheaper, AAA says that they are ultimately costing the consumer more. They estimate that, on average, every 12 months added to the life of a loan adds nearly $1,000 in total finance charges.

One other key expense factor is that as new cars come equipped with more technology to make driving safer and more convenient, maintenance and repair costs go up. Sophisticated sensor in bumpers mean that a simple fender bender can require a costly replacement and recalibration of sensors. See our prior post on high tech cars equaling high cost repairs.

Because cars can be such a big budget item, it can pay to do advance research to ensure you make the best purchase and consider other factors than just the sticker price. Here are some car-buying tools to help you anticipate and calculate the total cost of ownership of various makes and models.

Talk to your insurance agent!

One other source for keeping annual costs of a new car down is to talk over auto insurance options with your insurance agent.  Be sure you are taking advantage of any available discounts, such as discounts for safe drivers, low mileage, seniors, good students, and more. Plus, bundling your auto and homeowners policies with one insurer can yield discounts on both.

New Massachusetts hands-free driving law to go into effect in February 2020


closup of sterring wheel and woman's hands holding a cell phone
You might have been distracted over Thanksgiving and missed the news: Massachusetts enacted a hands-free driving law, making Massachusetts the 21st state to ban the use of all hand-held electronic devices while driving. This follows quickly on a similar Maine law which went into effect in September. Other neighboring states — Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island — also have hands-free driving laws on the books.

The new Massachusetts law bans any hand-held device while driving motor vehicles and bicycles. There are limited exceptions to allow for emergency reporting provisions. The law will take effect until Sunday, February 23, 2020, 90-days after the law was enacted. For about the first month, first-time violators will be issued warnings, but after that, fines will apply.

In Massachusetts Has A Hands-Free Driving Law: Four Items Everyone Needs To Know, Agency Checklists offers more details on the law, including penalties for violation:

According to the terms laid out in the new Bill, a first-time violation with result in a $100 fine, a second offense will be a $250 fine, followed by a $500 fine for a third or subsequent offense. While a first or second offense is not categorized as a “surchargeable incident” under the statute, a third or subsequent office will be considered as such.

For more on the new law, see What You Need To Know About The New Distracted Driving Law In Mass.

Hands-free driving laws in the Northeast

Maine’s Hands-free Driving Law went into effect on September 19, 2019. It prohibits the use of mobile telephones, handheld electronic devices and portable electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle, unless specifically exempted by law. Violations will be subject to no less than a $50 fine for the first offense and not less than $250 for a second or subsequent offense. The Chief Judge set the fine amount of $230.00 for a first offense and $325.00 for a second and subsequent offense.

New York state has been on the forefront of the distracted driving issue since enacting the nation’s first statewide handheld phone law, which took effect in November 2001.

Connecticut has had hands-free driving laws since 2005, prohibiting the use of any hand-held mobile electronic device while operating a motor vehicle. Penalties range from $150 for first-time offenders to $500 for a third offense. Drivers may also be subject to demerit points on their driving record.

New Hampshire has had a hands-free driving law since 2015, prohibiting all motorists from using a handheld cellphone or other device to text message or talk while driving.

Rhode Island’s hands-free driving law went into effect on June 1, 2018. Drivers cannot hold a cell phone or other wireless device while operating a vehicle. The use of headphones or other accessories that cover both ears also is not allowed.

For laws in other states, the Governors Highway Safety Association offers a listing of Distracted Driving Laws by state (but note that most recent developments such as the MA law may not yet be reflected)

Thanksgiving on the road: best driving times & tips


illustration woamn driving with turkey tied ot the roof of her car

Will your Thanksgiving festivities entail traveling 50 miles or more? If so, you’ll be joining 55 million other folks, according to AAA, who predicts this will be the second-highest Thanksgiving travel volume since they began tracking in 2000, trailing only the record set in 2005. That’s up by about a million over last year. Of those travelers, 49.3 will be motorists.

If you will be driving to your destination, try to get your car checked now. Be sure to check windshield wipers and fluid, tire pressure and oil and gas levels. AAA predicts they will respond to 368,000+ calls for roadside assistance over the holiday, with the top three reasons being dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts. In addition to car maintenance, Gas Buddy will help you find the best gas prices wherever you are – and you can plan out expenses in advance using their Trip Cost Calculator. If you will be driving in states beyond your home state, brush up on traffic laws with the AAA Digest of Motorist Laws. This handy tool covers everything: headline use, distracted and impaired driving laws, accident reporting and more.

Best times for Thanksgiving road travel

If you’ll be on the road, AAA says that in the Boston metro area, avoid traveling between 4:30-6:30 PM. Google offers tools that might help you avoid the worst traffic times. Below, see the heaviest times mapped for major metro areas (click above link for larger). You can also use their calculator for avoiding traffic – enter the major metro departure city for various days to see predicted traffic patterns based on prior years.

chart illustrating worst traffic over Thanksgiving weekend
Here are some other safe Thanksgiving traveling tips: