Monday, February 17, 2014

Tips for Buying a Used Car

Buying a used car can be a great deal.  You can get a car that's almost as good as a brand-new one without paying for the depreciation that hits as soon as you drive a new car off the lot. New car values usually drop 20-30 percent within the first year.  That can mean big savings for you. But there are other good reasons to buy a used car:

  • Insurance may be cheaper.
  • Late model used cars can be as reliable as a new car.
  • Some used cars are still covered by the factory warranty.
  • Most new carmakers now sell certified pre-owned (CPO) cars, which include warranties.
  • You can easily access a vehicle history report with the VIN number.

1. Choosing the right car
Although you may have a good idea of what type of car you want, when it comes to used cars, availability may vary.  Make a list of three car models in the same class that you would like to shop for.  Look beyond the popular car models.  If you are shopping for the same car as everyone else, you will pay a premium for it. How much difference in price separates popular cars from their good but overlooked counterparts? More than you think. Popular vehicles like a Honda or Toyota can cost a few thousand dollars more than a comparable Chevrolet or Mazda. It pays to be flexible.

2. Research your prospective car
Check out prices, standard features, reliability and safety, fuel economy, photos, videos, known weak points, typical repair costs and resale values.  Make sure you run a vehicle history report on any used car you are considering buying. You can purchase reports from a company such as for about $40.  That’s a small price to pay for extra peace of mind.

3. How much can you afford and how will you pay?
Consider how you will pay for your car before you start shopping.  You typically have three ways to pay for your used car: cash, bank loan, or dealer financing (if buying through a car dealer). Whatever payment method you choose, make an informed decision that fits your budget. If you decide to finance your purchase, make sure you’re clear on the cost of the monthly payments and be careful not to get in over your head.

4. How much will insurance cost?
You should also consider the price of insurance for your new car. Contact your insurance agent for a quote before you purchase the car.  Vehicles with more safety features (ABS, the number of airbags, ESC, TCS, etc) can often lower your premium.  While vehicles which are more expensive to repair or more prone to theft will have a higher premium.

5. Where to shop?
The most common places to buy a used car are:
  • Private parties - You can usually get the best price if you buy a car directly from its previous owner. But an owner may not be aware of trouble signs that a dealership or service station would recognize.
  • The used-car section of new-car dealerships - Nearly all franchised dealers have a used-car department that sells vehicles they have taken as trade-ins, bought at auction or from another dealer, or that have come back at the end of a lease. Many dealerships offer CPO cars that have been thoroughly inspected and are backed by strong warranties.
  • Independent used car lots - These dealerships are apt to handle any car make, and the vehicles can run the gamut from the almost-new to several years old. If the dealership has been around for a long time and has a good reputation locally, that’s a good sign.
  • Used car auctions - You likely won't be able to do a pre-vehicle inspection with your mechanic, but you will have a good opportunity to save a lot of money. Although the car may require some repairs, you could still come out on top.  This option is best for people with more car knowledge.

 6. Shop around and compare options
There are lots of resources for finding used cars. Check the classifieds, which have thousands of vehicles from private parties and local dealerships, including the complete inventories of more than 30 dealerships.  Many times you can also search the used car inventory of new car dealerships right on their website.  Ask friends and relatives if they are selling any used cars and keep your eyes peeled for “For Sale” signs in car windows.

7. Save time
Once you find a prospective car, call the seller before you go to see the vehicle. Over the phone, you can ask questions about the car to eliminate cars that have problems and verify the asking price in the ad. While talking to the seller, set up an appointment for a test-drive. Also, ask for the VIN so you can run a vehicle history report.

Here is a list of some questions to ask the seller:
“How many miles has it been driven?”
“What are the features?”
“What is the car’s condition?”
“How about the body and interior?”
“Has it been in an accident?”
“Do you have service records?”
“Have you owned it since it was new?”
“Why are you selling the car?”

8. Test drive
By test driving the car, you can determine if it is a good fit for you physically and if it seems in good condition.  You should always arrange your test drive during the day, so you can get a good look at the car.  Keep the radio off during your test drive so you can hear the engine. Take your time and be sure to simulate the conditions of your normal driving patterns. If you do a lot of highway driving, be sure to go on the highway. If you go into the mountains, test the car on a steep slope. You don't want to find out after you've bought the car that it doesn't perform as needed.

On the test-drive, evaluate these additional points:
  • Should start without hesitation
  • Acceleration from a stop
  • Visibility (Check for blind spots)
  • Engine noise
  • Transmission shifts smoothly (should not jolt forward, hesitate while shifting, grind, clunk or whine)
  • Passing acceleration
  • Signs of smoke with hard acceleration (A little bit of white smoke is normal. Blue smoke means you're burning oil. Black smoke means the engine is clogged with carbon)
  • Hill-climbing power
  • Braking (No squealing or grinding)
  • Cornering
  • Suspension (How does it ride?)
  • Steering (If you point the car straight, does it go straight?)
  • Rattles and squeaks
  • Test all lights, signals, radio/CD, GPS.
  • Cargo space
  • Headspace and legroom

After the test-drive, ask the owner if you can see the service records. See if the car has had the scheduled maintenance performed on time. Avoid buying a car that has been in a serious accident or has had major repairs such as transmission rebuilds, valve jobs or engine overhauls. If you like the way the car drives, you should still take it to a mechanic for a thorough inspection. A private party will probably allow you to do this without much resistance. But at a dealership, it might be more difficult.

9. Negotiating the price
It is much easier to negotiate successfully when you have done your homework.

Follow these guidelines when negotiating:
  • Only enter into negotiations with a seller with whom you feel comfortable.
  • Make an opening offer that is low, but in the ballpark.
  • Decide ahead of time how high you will go and be prepared to walk away when your limit is reached. This is your strongest negotiating tool.
  • Be patient. Plan to spend an hour negotiating in a dealership, less for private parties.
  • Leave the dealership if you get tired or hungry.

Once you have a deal, make sure the transaction is completed according to the agreed upon terms.

10. Close the deal
When you buy a car from a private party, you will probably be asked to pay with a cashier's check or in cash. Before money changes hands, make sure the seller signs over the title to you in front of a notary (most banks have one).

If you are at a dealership, you still have to go through the finance and insurance (F&I) process. If any repair work is required and has been promised by the dealer, get it in writing in a "Due Bill."  

In either case, you need to make sure you have insurance for the car you just bought.  Contact your insurance agent as soon as possible to make sure the new car is added to your policy.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Fun Ways to Play with your Cat

If you’re a cat owner, there’s no better enjoyment than playing games with your cat. Whether they are kittens or adults, watching them chase, flip, run and jump can provide hours of entertainment for the both of you. It’s also healthy as they get lots of exercise and it keeps them happy while you get bonding time with them. There are lots of games you can play together but here are some all time favorites.

Pouncing games give your cat a chance to seek and catch. Move an object, like their favorite toy or something else that grabs their attention, along the floor or up and around the furniture and they will try to catch it. To make it more challenging, just as they are about to get the toy, move it away really fast and they’ll try again and again. Also whenever you change your bedsheets, be prepared for playtime. Your cat will jump all around the bed pouncing as you fluff the sheets.

These games give your cat a chance to use their natural instincts for catching prey. Once the toy is caught,  they pull it towards their belly and kick furiously with their back legs while shaking and biting their catch. Good toys for this game are catnip filled mice or a stuffed animal around their size. Sometimes when you rub a cat’s belly they go into bunny kick mode but they’re not necessarily being aggressive – they see it as playtime and normally wind up licking your hand while kicking.

These are the most fun. Kitty loves to wait and pounce.  This is why you wind up with a cat attached to your foot unexpectedly when you walk by.  Try getting down on their level and peek around the corner and you’ll notice each time you do they get closer and closer until you’re nose to whiskers with your furry friend. And yes, kitty will pounce from above too. So if you have high shelves be assured you could have a cat land on you from above.

These games involve waving a toy or a feather wand that requires your cat to leap high into the air and capture it with their front paws. You will be amazed how agile they are and how high they can actually jump.

For indoor cats, playtime is very important. They not only need it but they enjoy it. They only require maybe ten minutes a day, but playtime can last as long as you want it to. The best time to play is around dusk because you will tucker them out and they’ll sleep through the night instead of waking you early in the morning.  For hilarious playtime videos, check out YouTube and see how much fun playtime with your cat can be.

by Scott Goodblatt

How to Avoid Buying a Lemon

Buying a car is exciting.  But no one wants to buy a lemon.  

Wrecked cars, even after repaired, can have serious problems down the road.  And flood cars, which are becoming a large problem, are dangerous and should be avoided.  Here are some telltale signs that a used car has been in a flood or wreck:
  1. Paint that chips off or doesn't match indicates damage repair and poor blending.
  2. Paint over-spray on chrome, trim, or rubber seals around body openings reveals that the adjacent panel was repaired.
  3. A car can be repainted, straightened and buffed out. It might look good, but it could hiding damage. Run a magnet along the car and if the magnet drops, there's bondo under it. If it's a really large area, this is a car you don't need. If it's small, still question it.
  4. Misaligned fenders suggest a poor repair job or use of non original equipment manufacturer (non-OEM) parts.
  5. CAPA (Certified Automotive Parts Association) sticker on any part may indicate collision repair.
  6. Uneven tread wear reveals wheel misalignment, possibly because of frame damage.
  7. Mold or air freshener cover-up suggests water damage from a leak or flood.
  8. Silt in trunk may mean flood damage.  Another trick is to run your hand along the underside of the dashboard in the crevices and if you pull out a handful of dirt or dry mud, that's the best indicator of a flood car.
  9. Rust where it should not be is a sign of flood damage. If there is rust on the inside of the car for example on the door frames where the interior panel meets the frame that's not a good sign.
  10. Fresh undercoating on wheel wells, chassis, or engine strongly suggests recent structural repairs covered up.
  11. Door that doesn't close correctly could point to a door-frame deformation and poor repair.
  12. Hood or trunk that doesn't close squarely may indicate twisting from side impact.
  13. Dashboard lights, power windows, and other electronics with intermittent problems could be a sign of flood damage.
  14. Dashboard airbag indicator that doesn't light up could mean the airbag was replaced improperly--or wasn't replaced at all--after an accident.
  15. Big dents, kinks in structural components, or crimped or crunched fuel lines and pipes underneath are the easiest problems to find because re-builders assume you won't be looking there.
  16. Uneven surfaces on frame components could be filler, seam sealer, or welding beads.
  17. Damaged/gouged nuts and metal on top surface of strut tower (which connects the front wheels to the frame) in engine compartment may mean the frame was realigned.
  18. New metal on only one part of the hood apron shows section repair rather than replacement of the entire apron piece.
  19. Welding bead anywhere on heavy frame members underneath the engine suggests frame-rail sectioning or sloppy repair of a cutout made in the rail to perform repair work.
  20. Inconsistent welds around hood apron, door, door frame, or trunk exemplify a non-factory weld.
  21. Frayed safety belts or belt fibers that have melted together because of friction indicate a previous frontal impact above 15 mph.
  22. Missing car emblem or name on trunk may mean a non-OEM part was used.
  23. Missing VIN number plates.  Aside from the dashboard plate, every panel on the car has a manufacturers sticker with the VIN number. They are located on the underside of the hood and trunk lids, door jambs and on the bumpers.  If you notice any of them missing then the car more than likely was in an accident and the panel was repaired or replaced.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Do You Know What Your Dog is Really Trying To Tell You?

Our Dogs. They are for many of us a constant companion by our side. For others they may be valued more so for duties, that can only be completed by none other than the dog himself. But as we share our day to day lives with these one of a kind creatures, who scientists now believe may have began co-existing with humans over 15K years ago, we must ask ourselves if we really know our dogs as well as we think we do.

Dogs are generally social animals, meaning they often live in a group, pack or family, therefore making clear and effective communication a vital role in their ability as a species and as an individual to survive & evolve. Communication serves many important factors in our dogs day to day lives, including conflict resolution as well as a dogs ability to gain access to resources they want or need on a day to day basis. (Resources are anything & everything an individual dog may desire, such as food, water, toys, attention, etc).Although there is ongoing and fascinating research that is leading many top researchers in the field of canine cognition to believe that dogs are evolving to be “expert human behavior observers and manipulators”, dogs have yet to evolve to the point in which they communicate primarily through vocalization, which is ironically the way we as humans tend to try and primarily communicate with our dogs. Dogs primarily communicate through a series of artful, yet often subtle to the human eye, movements and body postures.

One of the most fascinating aspects of dog behavior, is the dogs ability to literally regulate stressful, exciting or over stimulating situations for themselves by using a series of what are called “Calming Signals”. Have you ever noticed your dog randomly doing a “shake off” (literally shaking his whole body, as if he just took a bath) after something exciting or maybe even something stressful happens? He may also, in these situations offer behaviors such as yawning, licking his lips, turning his head (looking away), stretching, randomly sniffing or scratching, or maybe even raising his paw.

These behaviors can be indicators that your dog may be feeling overwhelmed by a certain situation.

One behavior that is somewhat misunderstood, but is gaining a new understanding in the field of dog behavior research, is the tail wag. When your dog wags his tail, does that mean he is always happy?

While some wags are indeed associated with happiness, and positive emotions, other tails wags can indicate stress or fear. The newest research on this topic, has shown that a dog who wags his tail with a bias to the right, is generally in a more positive emotional state, while a dog who wags his tail more so to the left may be in a more negative emotional state. As well as the direction of the tail wag, look for specifics as to how high or low your dog may be holding his tail. Is it tucked tightly between his legs but slightly wagging? This may mean he is nervous. It is held very high & stiff with a slight but quick wag? This could mean he is on high alert, but not necessarily always mean he is “happy”. The best indicator that a tail wag is intending to communicate a friendly interaction, is that the tail is wagging in big swoops, set at half mast, usually accompanied by a loose body.

One point that I try to leave with all of my clients as I work with them to help resolve problems or teach their dog new behaviors, is that as much as we as the dogs owner want our dogs to “obey” and respect us, we must first respect and understand our dogs, in order to expect that our dogs will return the favor.

by Heather Polechio, CPDT-KA, CTC. MindfulMutz Training & Behavior Consulting.