Posts Tagged ‘Auto Repair’

Erin SteppORLANDO, Fla.,  April 5, 2011

Notable increases in gas, tires and depreciation drive up average costs for sedans to $8,776 yearly, 58.5 cents per mile; SUV costs up to $11,239 yearly, 74.9 cents per mile

AAA released the results of its annual ‘Your Driving Costs’ study today revealing a 3.4 percent rise in the yearly costs to own and operate a sedan in the U.S. The average costs rose 1.9 cents per mile to 58.5 cents per mile, or $8,776 per year, based upon 15,000 miles of annual driving.

“Despite seeing reduced costs for maintenance and insurance this year, there is an overall increase in the costs to own and operate a vehicle in the U.S. this year,” said John Nielsen, AAA National Director of Auto Repair, Buying and Consumer Programs. “The 2011 rise in costs is due to relatively large increases in fuel, tire and depreciation costs as well as more moderate increases in other areas.”
The overall findings of the 2011 ‘Your Driving Costs’ study include:

Based on Driving 15,000 miles annually Small
Sedan
Medium Sedan Large
Sedan
Sedan Average SUV
4WD
Minivan
Cost Per Mile 45.1 cents 57.3 cents 73.2 cents 58.5 cents 74.9 cents 63.3 cents
Cost Per Year $6,758 $8,588 $10,982 $8,776 $11,239 $9,489

 

In-depth findings of this year’s study, including a breakdown of specific costs for each category of vehicle and costs at different annual mileages are available at select local AAA branch offices or may be downloaded at AAA.com/PublicAffairs.

Tire Costs Up 15.7 Percent

Addition Resources

The cost of tires had the largest percentage increase, rising 15.7 percent to 0.96 cents per mile on average for sedan owners. The rise in costs of raw materials, energy and transportation has led to notable tire price increases in recent years and 2011 is no exception. Also contributing to higher average tire costs is a trend by automakers to equip their sedans with premium grade tires as original equipment.

Improved Fuel Economy Can’t Counter Increased Gas Prices

While several vehicles included in the ‘Your Driving Costs’ study had increases in fuel economy, it was not enough to offset the rise in gas prices which caused fuel costs to increase 8.6 percent to 12.34 cents per mile on average for sedans.

The 2011 ‘Your Driving Costs’ study began in December 2010 and calculated fuel costs when the national average price for regular unleaded gasoline was $2.88 per gallon at that time. “The study is meant to provide an overview of the yearly costs involved in owning and operating a vehicle. Some of those costs can fluctuate greatly at different points during the year, such as what we have experienced since the middle of February with the price of fuel, however these figures can still be used to compare categories of vehicles,” explained Nielsen.

“AAA understands that higher fuel prices have many concerned, and consumers in the market for a new vehicle may want to be cautious and determine its operational costs based on higher fuel costs. To assist them, AAA provides a worksheet in the ‘Your Driving Costs’ brochure that can be filled out to determine their personal costs for a specific vehicle.”

Depreciation Continues as Highest Annual Cost, Most Overlooked

Depreciation continues to be the largest cost for vehicle owners, and yet it is frequently the most overlooked by consumers determining the cost of owning and operating a vehicle. The 2011 AAA study found a 4.9 percent increase depreciation costs, averaging $3,728 yearly for sedans driving 15,000 miles annually.

Maintenance, Insurance Costs Fall in 2011 Study

Both maintenance and insurance costs are lower in the 2011 ‘Your Driving Costs’ study. Maintenance costs dropped 2.2 percent to 4.44 cents per mile on average for sedans, reflecting a trend by automakers to include some portion of scheduled maintenance in the purchase price and extending recommended maintenance intervals. All categories had lower costs for maintenance, but the minivan category had the largest drop with a 7.4 percent decline to 4.5 cents per mile.

Average insurance costs for sedans fell 6.1 percent (or $63) to $968 yearly. Insurance rates vary widely with driver, driving habits, issuing company and geographical region. AAA insurance cost estimates are based on a low-risk driver with excellent records, and for 2011, this group was rewarded with premium decreases that offset increases that took place in 2010. While all categories experienced declines, the large sedan and minivan categories had the largest cost savings.

61st Year of ‘Your Driving Costs’ Study

AAA has published ‘Your Driving Costs’ since 1950. That year, driving a car 10,000 miles per year cost 9 cents per mile, and gasoline sold for 27 cents per gallon.

AAA’s ‘Your Driving Costs’ study analyzes the cost to own and operate a vehicle in the U.S. Ownership costs factored into the study include the cost of insurance, license and registration fees, taxes, depreciation and finance charges. Operational costs in the study include fuel, maintenance and tires.

To conduct its study, AAA’s auto buying and auto repair experts compiled detailed driving costs for small, medium, and large sedans. Driving costs in each category are based on the average costs for five top-selling models selected by AAA. By size category, they are:

  • Small Sedan – Chevrolet Cobalt, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra and Toyota Corolla.
  • Medium Sedan – Chevrolet Impala, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry.
  • Large Sedan – Buick Lucerne, Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima and Toyota Avalon.

Though not part of the AAA composite average, SUV and minivan information is also included in ‘Your Driving Costs’ to help buyers estimate operating costs for these types of vehicles. Selected models include:

  • SUVs – Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner.
  • Minivans – Dodge Grand Caravan, Kia Sedona, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 52 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.com.

ORLANDO, Fla., March 3, 2011

Several new “greener” technologies from automakers join safety and performance features on 2011 list

Christie HydeAAA today released its biennial list of top picks for new vehicle technology. Developed by automotive experts at the nation’s largest motor club, the list features a variety of interesting vehicle technologies intended to improve safety, increase performance and reduce the environmental impact of some of the newest models on the market.
“Every model year, automakers find new ways to employ technology in their vehicles to enhance the driving experience,” said John Nielsen, AAA National Director of Auto Repair and Buying Services. “While many of the innovations continue to focus on safety and performance, we’re also seeing more new technologies that address the environmental impact of the vehicles we drive, which is evident in this year’s list.”

AAA’s experts warn not every new vehicle technology necessarily has a positive effect on function or safety. “Many technologies can distract drivers who end up multi-tasking behind the wheel, which takes their focus off the primary task at hand—safely driving their car,” Nielsen said.

Additional Resources

This year’s top picks by AAA for new vehicle technology include:

All-Electric Vehicles – While many automakers have electric vehicles in the works, the Nissan Leaf is the first to market from a major car brand. With an estimated 100-mile range between charges, the Leaf is a viable option for many commuters. It drives nicely, has a well-designed interior, and calculated on a cents per mile basis, the electricity that powers it costs less than half as much as gasoline in fuel-efficient cars.

Plug-In Hybrids – These cars provide the benefits of an electric car, while maintaining the same driving range as conventional vehicles. Vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt and soon-to-arrive, plug-in Toyota Prius operate in all-electric mode for a limited local range, after which a downsized gasoline engine is used to either power the vehicle or recharge the battery while the car moves.

Turbocharging and Supercharging These systems have long been associated with performance, but they also can produce enhanced fuel economy. Turbochargers and superchargers let automakers install smaller engines that burn less fuel during normal driving, yet offer the performance of a larger engine when acceleration is needed for passing or merging. Ford’s EcoBoost engines are an example of this technology, which was recently introduced into its F-150 models, with other manufacturers moving to follow suit.

Inflatable Rear Seatbelts – Both Ford and Mercedes-Benz are working with this technology that promises to bring a large measure of the airbag protection afforded to front-seat occupants to those who are buckled up in the rear. In a crash, the seatbelts inflate, spreading the force of the impact over a larger area of the body, which reduces the likelihood of injuries.

Start-Stop Technology – Common in other parts of the world, but only in limited U.S. use, start-stop technology is making its mainstream debut in America via Mazda’s i-stop feature. The technology shuts off the engine when the car is at a stop, and instantly restarts it when the driver takes his foot off the brake pedal. Common on gasoline-electric hybrids, more widespread application of the technology has the potential to save significant energy in non-hybrid vehicles, particularly in urban environments.

Variable Valve Timing – This feature was once limited to high-cost performance and luxury models, but is now available in nearly every price range of vehicle. Variable valve timing creates more engine power while delivering greater efficiency and lower emissions. The technology is now widespread in models from numerous automakers including Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda and BMW.

Enhanced Stability Control & Rollover Protection – Introduced in the 2011 Ford Explorer, curve control senses when a driver has entered a turn too quickly which can cause a crash, especially in SUVs, crossovers and pick-up trucks that have high centers of gravity. Curve control backs off the throttle and, if more assistance is needed, applies the brakes. Ford claims the system can reduce vehicle speed by 10 mph in just one second to help the driver maintain control in a curve.

Diesel Engines – While diesel engines have been around for decades, the days of smelly, noisy, smoke-belching and rough-running diesels are gone. Modern diesel engines are clean, quiet, refined and powerful. They also are economical, often providing a 30 percent boost in fuel economy with a corresponding decline in carbon dioxide emissions compared to gasoline engines offering comparable performance. Some top performers in this area include Volkswagen models with TDI diesel engines, and Mercedes-Benz vehicles with BlueTEC diesel power plants.

Alternator Recharging Programs – Some manufacturers, such as Toyota and BMW, limit the time the alternator recharges the battery to higher engine speeds and/or when the car is slowing down. The outcome for the driver is improved performance of engine while idling and better fuel economy.

AAA’s top picks for new vehicle technology are selected by AAA Auto Buying experts who review hundreds of vehicles each year. The list takes into consideration not only the first appearance of a new technology in vehicles, but also its availability to U.S. motorists in popular mainstream vehicles.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 52 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.com.

Erin SteppORLANDO, FLORIDA, April 8, 2010

Higher fuel prices among leading factors to drive increase in average cost for sedan owners to 56.6 cents per mile, $8,487 per year

AAA released the 2010 edition of its annual ‘Your Driving Costs’ study today revealing the average cost to own and operate a sedan has risen 4.8 percent to 56.6 cents per mile, or $8,487 per year, based on 15,000 miles of annual driving.

“Rising fuel prices are a key factor in this year’s ‘Your Driving Costs’ study. Paying more at the pump is not only increasing the operational costs of vehicles, but it’s also affecting depreciation values,” said John Nielsen, director, AAA Auto Repair and Buying. “With the growing appeal of more fuel efficient vehicles, small sedans are experiencing less depreciation and holding their value longer while we’re seeing notable rises in depreciation costs with categories of less fuel-efficient vehicles.”

Based on driving 15,000 miles yearly Small  Sedan Medium Sedan Large  Sedan Sedan Average 4WD SUV Minivan
Cost per mile 43.3 cents 56.2 cents 70.2 cents 56.6 cents 73.9 cents 62.0 cents
Cost per year $6,496 $8,436 $10,530 $8,487 $11,085 $9,301

The 2010 edition of AAA’s ‘Your Driving Costs’ brochure includes in-depth information on five categories of vehicles and is available at select local AAA branch offices or may be downloaded at AAA.com/PublicAffairs.

Rising fuel, tire and insurance costs contribute to increase in overall costs

Increases in the costs of fuel, tires and insurance were the primary factors causing a rise in all categories of vehicles. At the time of the ‘Your Driving Costs’ calculations, the AAA Fuel Gauge Report listed the national average cost of regular unleaded gas as $2.603 per gallon, 12.7 percent higher than the cost of fuel in last year’s study.

The average costs of full coverage insurance on sedans also rose 5.7 percent over last year, while tire costs increased an average of 8.7 percent.

Small Sedan Category Sees Smallest Increase in Costs

The small sedan category experienced the smallest increase of the five categories of vehicles, rising only 2.9 percent from last year to 43.3 cents per mile or $6,496 per year, based on 15,000 miles of yearly driving. The minimal increase was primarily due to the increased popularity of small sedans led by higher fuel prices. It resulted in the small sedan category being the only one where depreciation costs were lower than last year, falling 1.9 percent.

Rises in Depreciation Drive Up Ownership Costs for Large Sedans, SUVs and Minivans

As more consumers seek fuel efficient vehicles, categories of vehicles not known for good fuel economy were hit with sizable increases in deprecation. The SUV category experienced the largest increase with yearly depreciation rising 10.7 percent, or $484, to $5,003 yearly, based on driving 15,000 miles annually. Large sedans had a depreciation jump 6.1 percent to $4,828 yearly, while minivan depreciation increased 4.6 percent to $3,995 yearly.

60th year of AAA’s ‘Your Driving Costs’

AAA has published ‘Your Driving Costs’ since 1950. That year, driving a car 10,000 miles per year cost 9 cents per mile, and gasoline sold for 27 cents per gallon.

AAA’s ‘Your Driving Costs’ study analyzes the cost to own and operate a vehicle in the U.S. Ownership costs factored into the study include the cost of insurance, license and registration fees, taxes, depreciation and finance charges. Operational costs in the study include fuel, maintenance and tires.

To conduct its study, AAA compiled detailed driving costs for small, medium, and large sedans. Driving costs in each category are based on the average costs for five top-selling models selected by AAA. By size category, they are:

  • Small Sedan – Chevrolet Cobalt, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra and Toyota Corolla.
  • Medium Sedan – Chevrolet Impala, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry.
  • Large Sedan – Buick Lucerne, Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima and Toyota Avalon.

Though not part of the AAA composite average, SUV and minivan information is also included in ‘Your Driving Costs’ to help buyers estimate operating costs for these types of vehicles. Selected models include:

  • SUVs – Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner.
  • Minivans – Nissan Quest, Dodge Grand Caravan, Kia Sedona, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 51 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.com.

Orlando, Fla. – 10/27/2009


Erin SteppAs part of AAA Car Care Month, motor club warns foregoing maintenance and needed repairs can put drivers, passengers and those in surrounding vehicles in danger

Disregarding maintenance on your vehicle can definitely result in costly repairs. However, AAA reminds motorists that ignoring their vehicle’s upkeep also can put them, their passengers and others on the road in danger.

“Some motorists have cut back on maintenance or put off needed vehicle repairs due to tight budgets in this tough economy—especially if the vehicle remains drivable,” said John Nielsen, director, AAA Approved Auto Repair and Buying Services. “But, delaying certain repairs can be a dangerous gamble for motorists as some conditions can make their vehicles unsafe and at greater risk for a crash, a fire or a roadside breakdown.”

Five elements critical to safe vehicle operation are:

Traction — Maintaining good traction with the road is imperative, but when tires begin to lose their tread, traction in poor conditions is significantly reduced. Worn tires with little tread are much more likely to hydroplane on wet pavement or lose traction in the snow, resulting in a loss of braking power and steering control—two of the most dangerous situations in which drivers can find themselves.

Check the tread depth of a vehicle’s tires whenever it appears low. Insert a quarter upside down into a tire groove. If you can see above Washington’s head at any point, start shopping for new tires. Making a necessary investment in new tires when tread depth begins to recede is critical to vehicle safety.

Suspension & Alignment — Wheels, shock absorbers, springs and struts work together to keep vehicles moving in the direction they are steered with minimal pitch and body roll. Neglecting to maintain these components—especially struts and shock absorbers which wear out as more miles are driven—can lead to unsafe driving conditions, including loss of vehicle control during sudden turns or at higher speeds that can lead to a crash. A poorly maintained suspension and alignment also will accelerate tire wear reducing the available traction in adverse driving conditions,

Braking — Properly working brakes are essential for safe driving, but old brake fluid or low fluid levels can lead to brake fade or failure. Fluid contamination also accelerates wear and corrosion of various brake hydraulic system components.

Brake fluid hydraulically converts foot pressure at the brake pedal into stopping power at the wheels. An adequate supply of clean fluid is essential. Old, moisture-contaminated brake fluid, or a low fluid level that allows air to enter the system, can lead to brake fade or even a complete loss of braking power. Contaminated fluid also increases wear and corrosion in the brake hydraulic system, which can include expensive electronic anti-lock brake system (ABS) components.

Inspect the brake fluid level at every oil change. If the level has fallen below the “low” mark on the fluid reservoir, it usually indicates major brake wear or a leak somewhere in the system; have the brakes inspected as soon as possible. Most vehicle manufacturers recommend that brake fluid be replaced every two years or so to flush moisture and contaminants from the system. Check the vehicle owner’s manual for specific recommendations.

Fluids — Leaking fluids are a sure sign of needed maintenance. They also can be a dangerous fire hazard. Oil, power steering fluid, transmission fluid and brake fluid are all flammable and can burst into flame when contacting a hot engine or exhaust component. Each year fire departments answer more calls for vehicle fires than for house fires. Fluid leaks are the primary culprit. Have fluid leaks inspected and remedied as soon as they are detected.

Vision — Motorists’ ability to see where they are going and spot any obstacles in their way is vital to safe driving. Rain, insects, grime and other debris on the windshield will compromise vision if the windshield wipers cannot remove them.

If the wiper blades are worn, cracked or rigid with age, they will not adequately remove rain, grime and other debris that can obscure motorists’ vision. If the wiper blades are sufficiently deteriorated, the metal wiper blade frame could contact and permanently damage the windshield. Where mud or other debris is being thrown up on the windshield, a good spray of the proper type windshield washer fluid will aid the wiper blades in removing containments.

Check a vehicle’s wiper blades at each oil change or whenever they fail to wipe the glass clean in a single swipe. The life of a rubber insert is typically six to 12 months depending on its exposure to heat, dirt, sunlight, acid rain and ozone. Streaking and chattering are common clues that the rubber is breaking down and needs replacement. Check the washer fluid reservoir monthly and more often if the washers are used frequently. Top it up with a washer solution formulated to aid in the removal of insects and other debris. In winter, be sure to use a product with appropriate antifreeze protection.

Certified technicians at AAA Approved Auto Repair shops can be trusted to provide motorists with guidance on what repairs are critical to their vehicles safety. AAA inspects and certifies more than 8,000 auto repair shops across North America as a free public service to all motorists. Shops can be identified by the AAA Approved Auto Repair sign, or by searching online at AAA.com/Repair.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 51 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.com.

 

As part of AAA Car Care Month, the motor club reminds motorists to attend to frequently overlooked maintenance items when preparing their vehicles for winter weather

(Orlando, Fla. – 10/20/2009) When there is a chill in the air, it’s time for motorists to prepare their vehicles for the upcoming cold-weather season, AAA says. There are key components that frequently come to mind when thinking of winter car care such as antifreeze and the vehicle’s battery. But there are other components that are susceptible to wear or failure when the temperature drops that are too frequently overlooked.

“Properly preparing your vehicle for upcoming winter weather is essential for safe driving and will greatly decrease the chances of your vehicle leaving you stranded in the cold,” said John Nielsen, director of AAA Approved Auto Repair and Auto Buying Services.

As motorists prepare their vehicles for winter weather, AAA offers the following list of frequently forgotten maintenance items that should be addressed:

Antifreeze Protection

Antifreeze protection is the first item that comes to mind when most people think of winter vehicle maintenance. A 50/50 solution of engine coolant and water will provide the necessary antifreeze capability.

Don’t Forget—Check hoses: The coolant solution will only work if it stays in the system, which means the hoses and clamps that carry the mixture have to be in good working order. Visually inspect the cooling system hoses for leaks, cracks or loose clamps. Also, feel the hoses to check for any that are brittle or excessively soft and spongy feeling. If you find any problems, have them addressed immediately.

Don’t Forget—Flush cooling system: While engine coolant never loses its antifreeze capability, the additives that lubricate the water pump and protect internal engine components from rust and corrosion become depleted over time. Motorists should have the cooling system flushed and new coolant installed when recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Depending on the type of coolant used, this is typically necessary every two to five years.

Electrical System

Most drivers know the efficiency of a vehicle battery decreases in colder temperatures. If the battery is already weak, it will likely become ineffective when the mercury drops, leaving them stranded. Heading into cold weather, have the vehicle battery’s condition tested—especially if the battery is older than three years. AAA Mobile Battery Service will test members’ auto batteries at no charge. If the battery has removable caps, make sure the cells are filled to the proper level with distilled water. Also, check that all cable connections are tight and make sure there is no corrosion on the terminals or clamps.

Don’t Forget—Alternator belt: While the battery provides a reserve source of electrical energy, the alternator provides electrical power once the engine is running and charges the battery. Make sure the alternator belt is properly adjusted. A loose belt is a common cause of a dead battery. While older vehicles require manual belt tightening, late models typically have automatic tensioners—but those can wear out or fail. When checking the belt tension, also inspect it for signs of wear such as cracks or missing segments on ribbed belts on the underside that signal the need for replacement.

Windshield

Anyone who has made the mistake of using their windshield cleaner on a cold morning and found it was filled with water—that is frozen in the reservoir or freezes when contacting the windshield—knows the importance of checking the windshield fluid reservoir before the first freeze of the year and using a windshield cleaning solution with antifreeze components. When filling the washer reservoir, also check the operation of the pump and aim of the sprayers.

Don’t Forget—Winter wiper blades: Wiper blades should completely clear the glass with each swipe. If there are streaks or missed spots, it’s time to replace them. During the snow season, consider installing winter wiper blades. These special units wrap the blade in a rubber boot that prevents ice and snow buildup that can inhibit good contact between the rubber blade and glass.

Tires

Traction is key to safe winter driving and having the right type of tires on a vehicle is essential. In areas with heavy winter weather, using snow tires on all four wheels will provide the best winter traction. All-season tires will work well in light to moderate snow conditions, providing they have adequate tread depth. If any tire has less than 3/32-inches of tread, it should be replaced.

Don’t Forget—Tire pressure: While motorists should check the pressure in their tires at least once a month, they should increase the frequency during winter months. As the temperature starts to drop, so will the pressures in the tires—typically 1 PSI for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The proper tire pressure levels can be found on a sticker located on the driver’s side door jamb. And, do not forget to check the spare.

Brakes

Any brake system problems that were noticeable in the summer will become worse in the winter when traction is reduced. Brakes that tend to grab or pull on a dry road are likely to lock on ice or snow-covered pavement, resulting in a loss of stopping power and/or steering control. Make sure brakes are in properly working order before winter weather arrives.

Don’t Forget—Brake fluid flush: Brake fluid absorbs water that collects at low points in the hydraulic system and causes rust, fluid leaks and, if not prevented, brake failure. On vehicles with antilock brakes, moisture in the brake fluid also can damage expensive electro-hydraulic control units. For this reason, most manufacturers recommend that the brake system be flushed and new fluid installed every two to three years. Check the owner’s manual for the recommended service interval.

While some do-it-yourselfers might check these items themselves, others can find guaranteed professional maintenance and repair service at a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility. AAA inspects and certifies more than 8,000 auto repair shops across North America as a free public service to all motorists. Shops can be identified by the AAA Approved Auto Repair sign or by searching online at AAA.com/Repair.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 51 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.com.

 

ORLANDO, Fla., April 15, 2009

Nation’s largest auto club highlights new vehicle features that improve safety, enhance convenience and are just plain cool  

Christie HydeEvery model year, automakers find more ways to introduce new technologies in their vehicles. Whether for safety, convenience or simply the ‘wow’ factor, high-tech features are prevalent on nearly every new model. To help motorists determine which new features they might want to check out, AAA has released its top-10 picks for technology available on 2009 and 2010 models.

“Over the past decade, the technology available in vehicles has grown by leaps and bounds. It’s now quite common for our cars to talk to us, answer our phone and provide extensive protective measures in the event of a crash—things that were only dreamt of not too long ago,” said John Nielsen, AAA National Director of Auto Repair and Buying Services.

AAA’s top-10 picks for new vehicle technology are:

MyKey — Introduced by Ford, MyKey employs a computer chip in the vehicle’s ignition key to limit teen drivers’ top speed and other vehicle functions. Parents can program the teen’s key to limit audio system levels and sound a continuous alert if the driver doesn’t wear a seatbelt. Another MyKey option is the ability to sound a chime if the teen driver exceeds 45, 55 or 65 mph. While this technology does not replace the need for parental involvement with teen drivers, MyKey can be a helpful tool when used in conjunction with AAA’s driver training and parent-teen driving agreement.

MyKey will be introduced as a standard feature in the 2010 Ford Focus, Escape hybrid, and selected other vehicles before spreading to the entire Ford, Lincoln and Mercury lineup as models are updated.

Solar Roof Panels — Some hybrid models now integrate solar roof panels into their designs, making this technology one of two environmentally-friendly features on AAA’s top-10 list. The Karma luxury hybrid sedan, due out in November 2009 from American sports car company Fisker Automotive, will have a solar roof partitioned into four zones with 20 solar cells in series that convert sunlight into electrical energy. The power generated can be sent to the electric motors that drive the car, used to power the climate controls or stored for future use.

The 2010 Toyota Prius uses a solar roof to power a fan that circulates fresh air through the interior when the vehicle is parked. This keeps the passenger compartment cooler and reduces the load on the electrically powered air conditioning system the next time the car is driven.

Lane Departure Warning Systems — Though not new for 2009, the increased availability of lane departure warning systems is an important safety feature that earns this technology a spot on the list. These systems monitor a vehicle’s path of travel, typically through tracking of lane markings, and sound an audible and/or tactile (through the steering wheel) alert when the vehicle drifts outside its lane. Some systems are able to provide corrective steering input in addition to sounding an alarm.

First introduced in North America by Infiniti, lane departure warning systems also are now available on selected new models from Cadillac, Lexus, BMW, Buick, Volvo, Audi and Mercedes Benz.

 

Blind Spot Warning Systems — A few of today’s new cars offer blind spot warning systems as an added safety feature. These systems monitor the areas at the rear sides of the vehicle that are often invisible in the mirrors. The systems provide a visual indication, usually on the applicable side mirror, when an obstacle is present in the monitored area. Mercedes Benz, Mazda, Volvo, Buick, Cadillac and Lincoln are among the manufacturers offering blind spot warning systems.

Driver Alertness Monitors — The dangers of drowsy driving are frequently overlooked by motorists, which earns driver alertness monitors a spot on AAA’s top-tech list. Mercedes Benz will introduce the Attention Assist feature on select 2010 models to combat the threat of drivers falling asleep while at the wheel. Attention Assist monitors the driver’s steering and throttle inputs, and when they vary too far from normal patterns a loud voice announces, “Attention Assist! Brake!” to alert the sleepy driver. Volvo began offering similar system called Driver Alert in 2008 and has it available on several upcoming models.

Though a great new technology, driver alertness monitors do not replace the need for a good night’s sleep and knowing when it is time to stop and rest when traveling. Motorists should not view these monitors as an excuse to test their endurance behind the wheel.

Collision Preparation Systems — These systems are programmed to recognize situations that indicate an accident may be imminent, such as when the closing rate with the vehicle ahead exceeds a certain limit, the vehicle begins to skid or the driver initiates hard braking. Once triggered, collision preparation systems take steps to reduce the possibility of a collision while providing maximum protection for the vehicle occupants. Depending on the model, a collision preparation system may: tighten the seat belts, close open windows and sunroofs, lock the doors and apply the brakes. Acura, Lexus, Toyota, Volvo and Mercedes Benz are among the manufacturers that offer collision preparation systems.

Automatic Air Recirculation with Smog Sensor — Some Lexus models offer a unique feature on their climate control systems that automatically switches the ventilation system to recirculate when high levels of outside pollutants are detected in the cabin. The system reverts back to fresh-air intake once detectable levels of pollutants have been reduced.

The system’s ability to detect dust, pollen, smoke and carbon dioxide make it a helpful feature in both urban and rural environments.

‘Green’ Driving Assistance — Several new hybrid models offer drivers a choice of operating modes that can help them obtain maximum fuel efficiency. A couple of manufacturers have gone a step farther and integrated visual cues into their instrument panel displays that help ‘teach’ motorists how to drive more efficiently. In the Ford Fusion hybrid, a plant grows branches and leaves when the car is driven in a fuel efficient manner—and withers as economy goes down. The 2010 Honda Insight hybrid has a speedometer display that varies in color from blue to green as efficiency increases and offers guidance on braking techniques.

Ford and Honda have taken care in designing these displays to ensure they are not too distracting for drivers. The desire to obtain maximum fuel efficiency should never take away from drivers’ awareness of their surroundings and the need for safe vehicle operation.

SplitView — Mercedes Benz’s 2010 S-Class cars will debut a new display technology that allows the driver and passenger to see two totally separate programs from the same display. The driver can access navigation information, receive turn-by-turn directions and monitor various vehicle systems on the eight-inch screen, while the passenger can watch a DVD on the same screen at the same time without distracting the driver. The system allows the audio program on the passenger’s side to be routed through headphones to further reduce distractions.

While an innovative technology, the SplitView system is most noteworthy as the first in-car video entertainment system for front-seat passengers that does not pose a distraction to the driver.

Enhanced Vehicle Stability Controls — The next item on AAA’s list is not one technology, but rather a group of features that began with anti-lock brakes and has evolved into a wide range of electronic suspension controls that improve ride, handling and safety. Most cars today have some form of stability control that works to offset vehicle skids by using the anti-lock components to apply the brakes at selected wheels. Rollover control extends the operation of stability control into a third dimension to counteract the tendency of tall SUVs to tip over under extreme cornering. The latest enhancement to stability controls is towing sway control that detects cyclical side loadings on the vehicle and uses the ABS components to counteract trailer sway.

In a related area of stability, many highline vehicles now offer some form of active suspension control that provides real-time variable shock absorber damping to improve ride and handling. This is done through computer controlled shock absorbers that have electrically switched internal valving or use a special fluid that changes viscosity (thickness) when an electrical current is passed through it. BMW offers a further enhancement called Active Roll Stabilization that can uncouple the suspension’s anti-roll bars for a smooth ride in a straight line, then selectively re-couple the bars as needed for optimum cornering performance. Most active suspensions also have a control that allows the driver to select between a number of modes that vary from comfort to performance.

A Look to the Future

While AAA recognizes that many of its top-tech picks are currently available only on luxury models, this should not discourage motorists who might not be able to afford such vehicles. Used models that employ these technologies are becoming increasingly common, and new technology features that are well received by consumers and become in demand are typically put into production across all model lines as quickly as practical.

 

“Convenience features such as in-dash navigation were available only in luxury vehicles not long ago, but now they are available in all classes of vehicles. And safety systems like electronic stability control, another technology first introduced in highline models, will be required in all new cars by 2012,” Nielsen said.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 51 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.com.

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