Category Archives: Studies

For Safer Driving, Forget What You Know

safe driving with airbagsOlder drivers were taught to drive safely before the use of airbags. But now that airbags are common and are installed in every new vehicle before it is sold, you may be driving wrong. That’s what safety experts are saying.

The new case study makes mention of two specific driving habits that are outdated: The placement of your hands on the steering wheel and the movement of your hands when turning your vehicle.

Drivers used to be taught that you should place your hands at the 2 o’clock and the 10 o’clock positions on the steering wheel. Now, safety experts are saying to place your hands at the 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions. Why the change?

The reason is because placing your hands higher on the steering wheel can put them in the way of your airbag. If your airbag deploys during an accident, then it could push your hands into your face and break your nose or injure you in some other way. So you should place your hands lower on the steering wheel to keep them out of the deploying airbag’s natural path.

For the same reason, safety experts are saying that the old turning method of using hand-over-hand maneuvering to turn your steering wheel is no longer valid. That method puts your hands in front of the airbag. Again, that’s a safety hazard.

Instead, drivers should push up with one hand and down with the other. That way, your hands stay clear of the airbag should it deploy and you are more likely to avert any serious injury to your face due to your airbag pushing your hands into it.

Safety Technologies Contribute To Decline In U.S. Highway Deaths

auto safety technologiesThe Department of Transportation (DOT) has reported a decline in U.S. highway deaths for the first time since 1949. This news has some people and organizations encouraged.

The updated traffic fatalities report indicates that traffic deaths in 2010 were the lowest they’ve been with 1.10 deaths per 100 million vehicles on the road. In 2009, that number was 1.15.

In the same year the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the DOT agency that reports on traffic fatalities, started reporting a new category of traffic fatality – Distraction-Affected Crashes. This category measures how many traffic deaths are a result of a distracted driver. Distractions can be anything from cell phone usage to non-driver related distractions.

The Association of Global Automakers attributes the decline in traffic deaths to the auto industry’s focus on safety technology. This safety technology includes items such as Brake Assist, Electronic Stability Control, lane departure warning systems, active front head restraints, and collision mitigation systems.

Of course, technology can play a part in saving lives and making cars safer, but there is no substitute for driver-learned behaviors.

When it comes to safe driving, keep your speed down, don’t text and drive, and refrain from applying make up, shaving, talking on the phone, playing with the radio, or engaging in other risky behavior that takes your mind off of driving and your eyes off of the road.

Luxury Brands Rank Highest in 2011 Pied Piper Prospect Satisfaction Index


The 2011 Pied Piper Prospect Satisfaction Index U.S. Auto Industry Benchmarking Study is an annual independent study that ranks auto dealerships based on feedback from mystery shoppers. The 2011 study shows that luxury auto dealers perform the best with specific kudos to dealers that sell Mini, Infiniti, Buick, Jeep and Scion for making the most strides to improve, with Mercedes-Benz dealers topping the list.

For the past five years, Pied Piper indicated the best performing brands for sales effectiveness as measured by PSI have also tended to be brands with more exclusive dealerships and higher sales throughput per dealership.

Improvement in PSI by brand has on average also tracked improvement in market share by brand.

For anyone in the auto industry, this should come as no surprise. Luxury brand automobiles have an exclusive albeit a well-defined target market. Mercedes-Benz drivers, for instance, tend to be loyal drivers and rarely switch brands. Still, you have to credit the dealers with keeping their heads up during an economic downturn.

Mercedes-Benz ranked the highest among the dealers that were visited by the mystery shoppers.

While the auto industry itself has declined in sales from last year, it’s notable that some dealers have actually done better. And in the case of luxury dealers, the fact that they are still doing well when the economy isn’t, well, that says something about the dealers, and about their prospects.


Experiment Shows How to Save on Gasoline When You Drive


Fuel mileage may be affected by the smallest of changes. Chevrolet recently decided to run an experiment between two drivers to prove this using the same vehicle – a Chevrolet Cruze LT, and to see what little difference can affect fuel efficiency. The results are telling, and we have them here for you to see.

  • Drive A: averaged 37 mpg
  • Drive B: averaged 21 mpg

The two drivers were tracked as they completed normal activities on a morning commute to see the difference between each driver’s fuel economy. The estimated fuel economy for the Cruze LT is 24 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. Conditions included driving for 20 minutes, city and highway, as well as a stopping for coffee.

Engineer A drove with efficient driving habits while Engineer B did not. Based on 15,000 a year and $4 a gallon for gas, the difference in driving habits means Engineer A would spend $1,621 per year on gas while Engineer B would spent $1,236 more with a total of $2,857 per year in gas accumulated by both drivers.

After studying both sets of driver data, here are some fuel mileage best practices and what not to do while driving

Five Best Practices

  1. Turn off the engine whenever possible. Fifteen minutes of idling burns through an average of a quarter of a gallon.
  2. Drive smoothly. Accelerating quickly and hitting the brakes can lower gas mileage by 20 percent.
  3. Drive 70 mph instead of 80. The 10 mph difference can save up to four mpg on the highway.
  4. Use cruise control on the highway to maintain efficiency. Speeding up and slowing down lowers the efficiency of the vehicle.
  5. Keep windows rolled up on the highway. The increased air pressure with the windows down means the engine works harder, so it consumes more energy.

Five What-Not-To Dos

  1. Let tires drive with low pressure. Although air pressure lower than recommended will not change the drive, it will cause the vehicle to work harder. Ten pounds of pressure lower can take more than three percent of fuel efficiency away.
  2. Leave car decorations/ornaments up while driving. Up to a third of fuel is used to overcome wind resistance, so any added change will shift the aerodynamics in a big way.
  3. Carrying heavy or extra items in the trunk. Every 100 pounds of weight reduces the fuel mileage by two percent, so remove any unneeded items from the vehicle when traveling.
  4. Ignore the ‘check engine’ light. Serious engine problems can cause fuel economy to decline up to 40 percent.
  5. Not running errands together and spreading them out. A cold engine is 50 percent less efficient

According to Roger Clark, Manager of the GM Energy Center, in a General Motor press release, “With a well-maintained car, the best drivers get up to 25 percent more miles per gallon than average. When you combine a poorly maintained car with inefficient driving habits, the fuel economy of the worst drivers can be 50 percent below average.”

Clark added, “The fuel economy of every vehicle is greatly affected by how you drive, and how you care for your vehicle. Often, relatively small changes to your driving habits and vehicle maintenance can make the difference between being on the bottom, or the top, of the fuel-economy scale.”

As the experiment shows, fuel mileage can be increased with simple changes in driving. Small shifts may help create the most efficient driving routine possible for owners. It is important to take into account the driver’s actions, the vehicle and especially the exterior environment. Every little shift can cause a big difference in fuel efficiency.

What are you doing to help improve your fuel efficiency?

Does Gender Affect Vehicle Pricing?

A recent study by Carwoo has shed some light on the notion that men and women are treated differently on price when buying a car. The study showed that there is only slight difference in the way dealerships negotiate vehicle sales with different genders.  In 80% of the cases, no significant difference in price was determined.

The study was conducted in a single geographic area and based on same vehicle sales.  Carwoo’s criteria were:

  • Limited to one major metropolitan area in the U.S.
  • All deals were for the same make and model of vehicle.
  • The deals were started in same time frame within two to three weeks of each other.
  • Limited to a vehicle with a small option set.
  • Limited to new units with an MSRP of less than $40,000.
  • Limited to buyers where there was no ambiguity of gender, such as someone named Pat or Chris.
  • The same set of dealers was observed across the trial period.

The study showed that only 20% of dealers made offers of $500 or more based on gender.  According to one dealer, “It’s a negotiation, and you have to size up the person who’s across the table from you.  If I sense that person is going to be a strong negotiator, I might set my price higher.”

“What is surprising in this data is not the 20 percent of the cases where there is a significant difference. The eye-opener is that 80 percent of the time there is no difference at all. That is certainly not what people commonly believe or expect,” declared Peter Chiu, vice president of product management for CarWoo.

Although surprising, this study demonstrates the relevance of services such as Carwoo and Autotrader, which offer set prices on new and used vehicles and take out the process of haggling.  Both males and females alike can benefit from such services, which eliminate any disparity between the genders.

New Carmax Survey Indicates that Quality is #1

A new Carmax survey indicates some interesting trends in the automotive industry, and, now more than ever, consumers seem most concerned with quality.  The survey contacted over 1,000 adult Americans and was conducted between Aug. 19 and Aug. 22.  The survey, conducted via telephone, asked consumers, “Which of the following factors most influences your car-buying decision?”

Quality was the number one concern for new and used vehicle purchases for both males and females, with 43 percent of males and 34 percent of females stating that the quality of a vehicle model was their greatest influence.  Interestingly, a similar survey conducted online one year ago found that the number one influence for females was not quality, but price.

When asked about the survey, vice president of Carmax service operations for the Phoenix region, Rod Baker, stated, “We want consumers to get the most for their money, and buying a used vehicle is a great way to get more car for less.”  Referring to quality, Baker said, “It’s why we put our cars through a rigorous Certified Quality Inspection, checking more than 125 points to meet our high-quality standards.”

The Carmax survey breaks down as follows:

  1. 37% – Quality
  2. 28% – Price
  3. 22% – Safety
  4. 6% – Green or Environmental Factors
  5. 4% – Resale Value

Hybrid Savings Don’t Offset Higher Price Premiums

We all know there is a trend these days towards alternative fuel vehicles, hybrids at this stage being the post common. But before you consent to purchasing one, consider some of the facts.

According to a recent study from CarGurus, stronger resale values and lower fuel expenses in hybrids are typically not enough to make their ownership costs less expensive than traditional gas-powered models, contrary to popular belief.

The idea that hybrids cost less to own and drive via higher resale values and reduced gas expenses proved false in 76 percent of the cases examined.

Based on the analysis of 45 hybrid cars which have similar non-hybrid, gas powered models, on average the Hybrid models cost 25% or over $2,200 more to own and operate than their non-hybrid counterparts.

The study found two compelling pieces of evidence:

High initial MSRP premium is bad – If you do want a hybrid, pick a model where the initial price premium over a comparable non-hybrid car or model is not significantly large. In this regard, some of the worst buys are Hybrid Trucks, namely the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid and the GMC Yukon Hybrid, which have MSRP premiums over their non-hybrid counterparts of over $10,000.

High Gas Mileage differential is good – Look for Hybrids which have substantially higher gas mileage statistics than their non-hybrid counterparts. Along these lines, good hybrid investments found were Ford’s Escape and Fusion Hybrids. In both cases, these cars benefit from a low MSRP price premium and substantial gas mileage improvements (of up to 50% higher) over their gas-only counterparts. In both cases these cars have a lower cost of ownership than their gas-only equivalent models.

CarGurus looked at the total cost of ownership for 45 hybrid vehicles from the model years 2003 to 2010 that have similar non-hybrid versions. The total cost of ownership for the hybrid and non-hybrid models was compared for each vehicle to determine the total cost of ownership premium for hybrids. This total cost of ownership included the initial purchase price, lost value in terms of depreciation, and total gas costs over the time period analyzed.

While it is almost certain that the carbon-producing combustion vehicles have seen their day and are slowly but surely moving aside for alternative fuel vehicles, the economics of owning such vehicles must be realized in order for this trend to take off. This has been the primary reason we aren’t seeing hybrids take off at a mass scale like many experts predicted.

If you are doing research on your next vehicle and considering a hybrid or other alternative fuel vehicle, follow us on Facebook to keep up with information like this which we post on an almost daily basis.

What The Low Tire Pressure Signal Looks Like

low tire pressure signalIf you are driving a recent model vehicle then you could come across a signal that you’ve never seen before. Do you recognize it? You can see the symbol on the left.

This symbol is the low tire pressure signal. It looks funny, but the U shape is suppose to represent a car tire. You’ll have to imagine that the top of the tire is there to complete a full circle. Notice the treads? The exclamation point in the middle emphasizes that you are running low on tire pressure.

An article on the tire pressure symbol states that one out of three drivers don’t recognize it. So you are not alone.

The low pressure tire signal is a requirement on all vehicles manufactured in 2008 or later. It’s a warning signal that notifies you when one or more tires on your vehicle are at least 25% below the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure.

Tire pressure is important for safety and other reasons. Most drivers know that it affects your vehicle’s gas mileage. You could lose a mile or two in fuel economy if your tire pressure is too low.

But tire pressure affects other important driving factors as well. A low tire pressure, for instance, makes braking less effective and long-term low pressure could lead to more wear and tear on the brakes. Tire pressure is also important for turning corners. You’ll get better traction if your tires have the correct air pressure. And in inclement weather it could lead to a decline in driving safety, maybe even causing an accident due to less traction in the rain or snow.

Tire pressure can also affect acceleration and driving stability. In 2000, Bridgestone/Firestone found itself to be the center of a controversy surrounding tire pressure, which also led to some lawsuits. As a result, federal legislation was enacted to address tire safety issues and the low tire pressure monitoring system, along with the warning signal pictured above, was enacted.

The Best Cars For Teens And Seniors

Teens and seniors are special drivers. Teenagers, lacking experience, can often find themselves in tight spots with no way out. Or they may not have enough experience to make the best judgments. The type of vehicle you purchase for your teen should take into consideration these weaknesses and the maturity level of your teenage driver.

Seniors, while not lacking in experience, might have other issues. Deteriorating physical skills such as eyesight and hearing, not to mention a decline in reflexes, could mean a less-than-ideal driving situation for your beloved elders. If you are not capable of carting them around very often and they are not prone to giving up control then you should purchase a vehicle to compensate for their weaknesses.

Consumer Reports releases a study that identifies recommended vehicles for teens and seniors, with the Honda Accord as the right fit for young, old, tall, and small.

Good Models for Teen drivers: (ESC is standard or optional starting with the years listed below).

  • Small Sedans: Hyundai Elantra SE (2008-2010), Mazda3 (2007-), Scion xB (2008-)
  • Midsized sedans: Acura TSX (2004-), Honda Accord (2008-), Kia Optima (2007)
  • Small SUVs: Honda CR-V (2005-), Nissan Rogue (2008-)

Good Models for Senior drivers:

  • Minivans: Honda Odyssey
  • Small SUV: Subaru Forester XT Limited
  • Upscale sedan: Hyundai Azera
  • Family sedan: Honda Accord
  • Microvan: Kia Rondo

More information can be found in the September issue of Consumer Reports, available on newsstands August 3 and online at