Car Care Auto Repair

Before winter sets in is a good time to check your cabin air filter, after it’s been working hard all spring, summer and fall. Cabin air filters clean the incoming air and remove allergens, and according to the Car Care Council, should be replaced every 12,000 to 15,000 miles, or per the owner’s manual.

The cabin air filter helps trap pollen, bacteria, dust and exhaust gases that may find their way into a vehicle’s air conditioning and heating and ventilation systems. The filter also prevents leaves, bugs and other debris from entering the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) system.

A dirty or clogged cabin air filter can cause musty odors in the vehicle and cause contaminants to become so concentrated in the cabin that passengers actually breathe in more fumes and particles when riding in the car compared to walking down the street. A restricted cabin air filter can also impair airflow in the HVAC system, possibly causing interior heating and cooling problems, important for staying comfortable this winter. Over time, the heater and air conditioner may also become damaged by corrosion.

Most filters are accessible through an access panel in the HVAC housing, which may be under the hood or in the interior of the car. An automotive service technician can help locate the cabin filter and replace it according to the vehicle’s owner manual. Some filters require basic hand tools to remove and install the replacement filter; others just require your hands. Filters should not be cleaned and reinstalled; instead, they should be replaced.

“Many people don’t even know they have a cabin air filter in their vehicle and most others aren’t aware of the health benefits of changing it,” said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “Checking the cabin air filter is a simple preventive maintenance step that goes a long way toward protecting passengers, as well as the vehicle’s HVAC system.”

The cost of airfares has taken off and the price of gas is steadily declining, making travel by car the way to go this holiday season, says the Car Care Council.

According to a recent Wall Street Journalstoryairfares on tickets sold for Thanksgiving week have risen 9.4 percent compared with 2012, and the average price of airline tickets sold for Christmas week is up 7.3 percent over last year. On the other hand, CNN Money reports that gas prices are falling with nearly 20 percent of gas stations nationwide charging less than $3 a gallon.

“With no relief in sight for escalating airfares and gas prices dropping below $3 per gallon in some parts of the country, more and more travelers are realizing the economic and hassle-free benefits of driving to their holiday destination,” said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “Going by car offers a number of advantages over flying and since a family of four can travel 1,000 miles round-trip by car for about the cost of one airline ticket, driving is the sensible option.”

In addition to direct cost savings, travel by car offers a number of practical advantages over flying including:

  • Leave when you want, from where you want.
  • Pack whatever and as much as you want, including wrapped gifts.
  • No airport parking.
  • No waiting in long ticket counter and security lines.
  • No weather delays.
  • More and better meal options.
  • No rental car or taxi expenses.
  • More legroom and overall comfort.
  • Stop and stretch any time.
  • No strangers sitting next to you.
  • Convenience and ease of taking your pet with you.
  • Better able to enjoy the ride.

The last thing any driver needs is to break down in cold, harsh winter weather. A vehicle check now before winter arrives is a sensible way to be car care aware and avoid the inconvenience of being stranded out in the cold and with the unexpected expense of emergency repairs, says the Car Care Council.

“Winterizing your vehicle before the temperatures drop is a wise idea,” said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “An investment of an hour or two to have your vehicle checked is all it takes to have peace of mind and help avoid the cost and hassle of car trouble during severe weather.”

The Car Care Council recommends the following steps for winterizing your vehicle:

  • If you’re due for a tune-up, have it done before winter sets in. Winter magnifies existing problems such as pings, hard starts, sluggish performance or rough idling.
  • Have the battery and charging system checked for optimum performance. Cold weather is hard on batteries.
  • Clean, flush and put new antifreeze in the cooling system. As a general rule of thumb, this should be done every two years.
  • Make sure heatersdefrosters and wipers work properly. Consider winter wiper blades and use cold weather washer fluid. As a general rule, wiper blades should be replaced every six months.
  • Check the tire tread depth and tire pressure. If snow and ice are a problem in your area, consider special tires designed to grip slick roads. During winter, tire pressure should be checked weekly.
  • Have the brakes checked. The braking system is the vehicle’s most important safety item.
  • Have the exhaust system checked for carbon monoxide leaks, which can be especially dangerous during cold weather driving when windows are closed.
  • Check to see that exterior and interior lights work and headlights are properly aimed.
  • Be diligent about changing the oil and filter at recommended intervals. Dirty oil can spell trouble in winter. Consider changing to “winter weight” oil if you live in a cold climate. Have your technician check the fuel, air and transmission filters at the same time.

Motorists should also keep the gas tank at least half full at all times to decrease the chances of moisture forming in the gas lines and possibly freezing. Drivers should check the tire pressure of the spare in the trunk and stock an emergency kit with an ice scraper and snowbrush, jumper cables, flashlight, flares, blanket, extra clothes, candles/matches, bottled water, dry food snacks and needed medication.

Chrysler Group LLC has added four banks to help underwrite its proposed initial public offering, as the U.S. automaker looks to launch the deal as soon as early December, according to people familiar with the matter.

Barclays Plc, Goldman Sachs Group, Morgan Stanley and UBS AG have been appointed as bookrunners in the offering, which is being led by JPMorgan Chase & Co and Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the people said on Wednesday.

The IPO could price in December, the people said, declining to be identified because the information is private.

Chrysler declined to comment. Representatives for the banks either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.

Chrysler, which is majority owned by Italian automaker Fiat SpA, filed paperwork for an IPO in late September after Fiat was unable to reach a buyout deal with Chrysler’s second-largest shareholder, a retiree healthcare trust affiliated with the United Auto Workers union.

While the IPO could happen within weeks, analysts have said that the healthcare trust and Fiat will come to terms on a buyout before the first shares are sold.

Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of both Fiat and Chrysler, has said he wants to merge the two companies to create the world’s seventh-largest carmaker.

Chrysler has come a long way from being nearly dead in 2009 when Marchionne, along with the U.S. Treasury and the UAW, agreed to a restructuring deal that left Fiat with 20 percent ownership.

Chrysler is now a profit center for Fiat, which has been hurt by the sagging sales for automobiles in Europe while Chrysler’s home North American market has seen sales rise nearly 50 percent since 2009.

Fiat’s ownership has grown to 58.5 percent and the UAW-affiliated health care trust for retired Chrysler workers owns 41.5 percent.

The VEBA healthcare trust and Fiat so far have remained far apart on valuing the No. 3 U.S. automaker. Some analysts have said the company is worth around $10 billion.

Analysts have said that Fiat and the VEBA will come to terms ahead of the IPO, even just hours before the launch of the offering, because by then a market value for Chrysler will be set.

In October, Marchionne said he hoped the IPO process would give a clear sense of Chrysler’s worth.

“One of the things I hope is that it will become very clear exactly what the markets think Chrysler is worth, which is the only real reference point,” Marchionne said on Oct. 3 in Italy.

“There’s a pretty clear process that leads to the IPO, and it places clear road markers that can be recognized by both sides,” he said.

UAW trusts for retired auto workers were set up in 2007 at Chrysler, as well as at General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co as a way for the financially struggling U.S. automakers to offload their obligation to pay retiree healthcare benefits.

The trust was initially supposed to be funded with cash. But as part of the 2009 financial crisis, the union agreed to take stakes in GM and Chrysler in lieu of cash.

With signs that sales of its Chevrolet Volt battery car could be coming unplugged, General Motors is offering potential buyers as much as $5,000 in incentives – making it the latest maker to try to cut prices in a bid to boost lagging demand for electric vehicles.

Whether the move will work remains to be seen, as GM has already trimmed the price on the Volt plug-in hybrid. But rival Nissan has had some clear success after cutting the price on its own Leaf battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, earlier this year.

Both vehicles were introduced to high expectations nearly three years ago, but they have so far consistently missed sales targets. Only a handful of battery-based vehicles have come close to meeting expectations, most notably the Tesla Model S.

That might be enough to convince a maker to pull the plug on a vehicle like Volt. But manufacturers like GM and Nissan are under heavy pressure to make their electric vehicle programs a success – at almost any cost – in part because of pressure they face in the nation’s largest state, California, where regulators require all major makers to offer a minimum number of so-called Zero-Emission Vehicles.

A California buyer can now purchase a Chevrolet Volt for as little as $28,495. The base price for the plug-in is $39,995 but all buyers qualify for $4,000 off on a 2013 model and $5,000 off for a 2012 Volt. They also can get an extra $1,000 if they are currently leasing a non-GM vehicle. Meanwhile, the federal government provides a $7,500 tax credit while the state kicks in another $1,500.

A number of other states now offer incentives to buyers of qualifying battery vehicles, as well.

Chevrolet also is now reducing lease pricing for the Volt to $269 a month for 36 months, with a $2,399 down payment.

Initially, demand for the Chevrolet Volt outpaced all its rivals but still fell short of its 10,000-unit U.S. sales goal in 2011 and an even more ambitious target of around 45,000 last year.

For the first five months of this year, GM has sold only 7,157 of what it prefers to call an extended-range electric vehicle, or E-REV. May sales, in particular, fell 4.3 percent, to 1,607. By comparison, the overall U.S. automotive market was up 8.2 percent for the month.

According to a report by Inside EVs, Chevy dealers have more than 9,000 Volts clogging inventories, vehicles they need to clear out before the 2014 models start rolling in.

The downturn in demand presents other problems for GM. The maker had high hopes for its electrification program and has been planning to use the underlying platform for additional models. So far, only two have been identified publicly. The Opel Ampera, a near twin of the Volt, is already on sale in Europe, China and a few other markets.

Meanwhile, GM plans to roll out a more lavish – and significantly more costly – plug-in model next year, the Cadillac ELR. There has been an ongoing debate within General Motors over the original decision to go to market with a relatively mainstream battery-car like the Chevrolet Volt, rather than focus on up-market customers with something like the ELR.

That’s the strategy Tesla has taken with the Model-S for which demand exceeded the start-up maker’s expectations during the first quarter, and which is now outselling the Volt. A well-equipped Model S with a 300-mile battery pack can top the $100,000 mark, yet Tesla has found demand for its high-end version so strong it dropped the least expensive, 160-mile model recently.

Among mainstream makers, however, price is clearly an object of resistance among potential buyers. That prompted Honda last month to reduce the lease price on its new Fit EV by a third, to $259 a month. Nissan, meanwhile, effectively reduced the price of the Leaf by 18 percent, or $6,000, when it launched a new, stripped-down model at the beginning of the year.

That followed 2012 sales that fell well short of target, acknowledged Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, calling it, “a disappointment for us.”

Makers like GM and Nissan have promised to reduce battery car prices as the cost of the underlying technology – especially their lithium-ion batteries – falls. GM officials have hinted the next-generation Chevy Volt could be “thousands” less.

But despite the high price tags for current models, buyers are still getting a bargain. Industry analysts have estimated it actually costs GM as much as $75,000 to build each Volt, or nearly twice the base price. While the maker won’t discuss such details, Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has publicly confirmed that the company will lose at least $10,000 for each of the Fiat 500e electric vehicles it recently introduced.

When that “check engine” light come on, there’s a good reason to get worried. Even if it doesn’t leave you stranded in an unfamiliar part of town after dark it’s likely to take a bite out of your savings, especially as recent studies have indicated automotive repair costs rose by about 10 percent last year.

That is, of course, an average that varied significantly by region. Vermont saw repair costs decline last year, according to a new study by automotive service site CarMD, making it America’s most affordable place to take your car in. At the other extreme was New Jersey where the typical visit to a service shop cost almost 50 percent more than in Vermont.

Traditionally, the West Coast is the place where repairs have been most expensive. But in its latest annual car-repair cost survey, CarMD found California among the Top Five, with the rest of those spots filled by states along the Eastern Seaboard, including not only The Garden State but North Carolina, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Read more: Hyundai Readying EV for US Market

Repairs in the Northeast rose 11.6 percent in 2012, faster than the rest of the country, according to a study of 161,000 repairs.

“In 2012, we saw a dramatic shift in the top five most expensive states for average car repairs, as many drivers along the East Coast incurred rising auto-repair costs, while they simultaneously contended with Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath,” CarMD CEO Leon Chen noted. “Car owners in many states also continued to put off small repairs, contributing to cumulative failures with increased repair costs.”

Apparently, the “superstorm” was not only the cause of serious, flood-related damage but led many East Coast motorists to discover other problems that needed repairs.

Read more: GM May Buy Back More Stock, Revise Dividend

While New Jersey was the most expensive place for repairs — at an average $392.99, including parts and labor — Washington, D.C. saw the biggest overall increase, with repair costs jumping 20 percent compared to 2011

“This is partially attributed to the type of repairs being made,” noted CarMD. “Time-consuming repairs that cost over $1,000 accounted for nearly 10 percent of D.C. repairs in 2012, as compared with 7 percent in 2011, while quick-fix, gas cap-related problems were down five points.”

Though repair costs, on the whole, were up last year, there were a few notable exceptions, such as Vermont. In Wyoming they fell, on average, by 17 percent.

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Anytime you go to the service shop you’ll wind up having to pay for a mechanic’s time. Colorado topped the list there, with an average $150.75 per visit. Vermont had the lowest labor cost, on average, at $115.90.

If you needed parts, the survey found that you likely paid a stiff premium in New Jersey, at an average $256.28, compared to Vermont, which had the lowest average, at just $153.82.

The state-by-state gap was especially apparent when it came to new hybrid vehicle technology. Replacing a battery in Nevada ran an average $4,409.94 last year. Jersey motorists actually caught a break here, however, with the lowest cost to replace a hybrid battery, on average just $2,005.05.

Incidentally, two of the states with the lowest average repair costs – Iowa and South Dakota – were found in the Midwest while two were located in the South or Southeast, Delaware and West Virginia.