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    Leaf Blowers - from Consumer Reports

    Consumer Reports tests of 29 leaf blowers show the best choices put power before pizazz. Leaf Blowers
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    ShopSmart: Must-Have Free Apps That Save Money

    November issue highlights sites and apps that can help shoppers score great deals

    ShopSmart Cover (November 2012)YONKERS, NY — Hunting down deals and finding the best stuff to buy use to be a lot of work.  But these days, mobile technology can easily help shoppers find what they are looking for at a great price.  The November 2012 issue of ShopSmart, from Consumer Reports, features ten must-have, free apps that can help shoppers score some of the best deals.

    ShopSmart’s feature story on sites and apps that can save shoppers big also identifies 17 must-see sites and 10 fun new ones for smart beauty picks, comfy home items, kids’ gifts and more; plus an update on new offerings from old standbys like Amazon, eBay, Google and Walmart.

    “The Web is filled with tons of deals and finding the best bargain can take time,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. “These apps can save shoppers time and money, possibly scoring them even better deals than they may find on their own.”

    Here’s five free apps from ShopSmart’s list of must-haves?the entire list can be found in the November issue:

    1. Amazon mobile is a great tool for shopping on a smartphone.  Users can buy almost anything, anywhere with this app. Quick barcode scanning and picture search make it easy for users to find what they’re looking for (or to check prices against those in-store) and checkout is a breeze, especially with the one-click option. Amazon mobile is available for Android, Apple and BlackBerry.

    2. CardStar is best for organizing loyalty cards. Shoppers can get rid of all those bulky cards and grimy key chain tags—CardStar puts all of this info neatly into one app. To save, users show their phone to the cashier in stores and local deals may pop up on the app (if it’s open) while they are there. CardStar is available for Android, Apple and BlackBerry.

    3. Coupon Sherpa helps users grab hundreds of coupons for dozens of stores.  Users have a good chance of finding a deal on this app for the store they’re heading to and cashiers can scan directly from a phone. Grocery coupons, available for several chains, can be applied directly to loyalty cards, so the savings automatically comes off the bill. Coupon Sherpa is available for Android and Apple.

    4. RedLaser is an eBay-owned barcode-scanner app that locates great deals. Users can scan items and find the best price locally and online or buy stuff and arrange for pickup at participating retailers. It also searches using images and voice commands to give product details, reviews and nutrition info. Redlaser can help users take advantage of price-matching policies at stores like Target and Walmart and is available for Android, Apple and Windows.

    5. Shopkick automates rewards. Users can earn points (called kicks) just for entering participating stores. The kicks can be redeemed for a reward such as a free drink at Starbucks or a Coach bag. Users can link credit or debit cards to earn even more kicks. Nationwide partners include ExxonMobile, Macy’s, and Target. Open the app when walking in or by a participating retailer to claim available rewards.  Shopkick is available for Android and Apple.

    About Consumer Reports:
    Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications. Its advocacy division, Consumers Union, works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

    About ShopSmart magazine:
    Launched in Fall 2006 by Consumer Reports, ShopSmart draws upon the publication’s celebrated tradition of accepting no advertisements and providing unbiased product reviews. ShopSmart features product reviews, shopping tips on how to get the most out of products and “best of the best” lists. It’s ideal for busy shoppers who place a premium on time. ShopSmart has a newsstand price of $4.99 and is available nationwide at major retailers including Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Borders, Kroger, Safeway and Publix. ShopSmart is available by subscription at www.ShopSmartmag.org.

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    Consumer Reports Index: Financial troubles grow for middle-income Americans

    Financial woes are deepening for middle- and upper-income households, according to this month's Consumer Reports Index, an overall measure of Americans' personal financial health.

    The Consumer Reports Index comprises five measures: Employment, Retail, Sentiment, Stress, and the Trouble Tracker.

    The Trouble Tracker, which looks at the proportion of consumers that have faced financial difficulties and the number of hurdles they've encountered, showed that financial troubles were up sharply for a second consecutive month (50.2 from 47.8). The increase was largely due to a significant rise (12.4 percentage points) among middle-income families earning $50,000 to $99,000, and a slight jump (2.4 percentage points) among households earning more than $100,000.

    "These signs are troubling for the economy," says Ed Farrell, director of consumer insight at the Consumer Reports National Research Center. "While lower-income households have never really recovered from the recession, the middle- and upper-income Americans have seen improvement and represent the bulk of discretional spending power. If this trend continues, retail numbers could suffer if those groups are less willing to engage in spending."

    The most prevalent financial trouble for all Americans remains the inability to afford medical bills or medications (16.2 percent). Since July of this year, the proportion of Americans unable to afford medical bills or medications has steadily increased, as has the proportion of consumers who have lost jobs in the past 30 days.

    The Consumer Reports Index's employment measure shows that the economy is still losing more jobs than it's creating, as the employment measure remains weak overall (49.7), with two straight months of increasing job losses. Past 30-day job gains (5.3 percent) improved slightly from 4.8 percent last month, but they were offset by job losses, which rose to 6.0 percent from 4.9 percent last month.

    CR-indexOct12_img2.jpg

    The Index's sentiment measure was unchanged from its negative position last month (47.7 from 47.4). But although sentiment is still mired in negative territory for middle- and lower-income households, more affluent households maintained a tentative, but slightly positive outlook.

    "Our numbers suggest the core of the problem remains a weak employment picture," says Farrell, "which results in falling consumer confidence levels. Without a substantial improvement in the jobs outlook, it is unlikely that consumers will have the inclination to spend."

    The level of stress consumers reported feeling was unchanged from last month (58.0 from 58.6). The most stressed Americans in the past 30 days are those with households earning less than $50,000 (59.6), those in the South (62.5), and adults 35 to 64 years old (62.5).

    One bright spot this month is the Consumer Reports Index's past 30-day retail measure. Reflective of September spending activity, purchases rose to 10.6 from 9.0 in August--a slight uptick after four months of decline. This improvement was driven primarily by gains in major appliances and major home electronics, with personal electronics also contributing. Among larger non-index consumer spending categories, new-car purchasing was also on the rebound, showing gains over the past two months.

    The Consumer Reports Index, a monthly telephone poll of a nationally representative sample of American adults, is conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. A total of 1,015 interviews were completed between Sept. 27 and 30. The margin of error is +/-3.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

    Previously:
    Last month's Consumer Reports Index: Confidence in the economy plummets among affluent Americans

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    Updated Lincoln MKS luxury sedan falls short

    We recently completed our evaluation of the updated 2013 Lincoln MKS luxury sedan and came away disappointed. There are clearly better alternatives available, and our more than 50 tests show why.

    Simply stated, the MKS falls short in many areas, including:

    • The base 3.7-liter V6 engine provides decent fuel economy, but it sounds coarse when pushed and the automatic transmission lacks contemporary refinement.

    • Even with an adjustable suspension, none of the modes give the composure expected in this category.

    • Frustrating controls that depend on touch-screen and touch-sensitive buttons. It can be difficult to use and read, with small fonts.

    • Despite the sedan's size, the driver feels boxed in, with a wide center console and compromised foot space, reminiscent of the Ford Taurus.

    • A wide turning radius and compromised visibility complicate simple parking-lot driving.

    The MKS does have its virtues, with a quiet cabin, roomy back seat, and deep trunk. But, for the hefty price, there are better choices.

    Check out our video below for more insights, and visit our Lincoln MKS model page for the detailed road test and Ratings.

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    Tips to keep teen drivers safe

    Car crashes are the number one killer of teens and even though there has been a 62 percent decline since 1975 in teen deaths, more can be done. Here are some ways to keep young drivers safe on the road.

    Graduated driver licensing are laws that allow teens to gain driving experience in a controlled environment while working to get their full driver's license. Laws vary by state, but they generally mandate a minimum number of hours of supervised driving with parents and place restrictions on night driving and the number of passengers. Even if your state doesn't have a strict law, parents can set their own similar rules to follow. Wearing a seat belt, not drinking and driving or using the cell phone behind the wheel and reducing speed are other driving factors that can help teens become saver drivers.

    Driver education is also important, and it involves more than just classroom lessons. Based on talking with industry experts and conducting our own program, we found that advanced driver training can help give young drivers more confidence in controlling a vehicle in case of an emergency. Such clinics are conducted in a safe, controlled environment and some are even offered for free. (For a list of teen driving schools, see our directory.)

    Technology is also providing new tools for parents. For instance, Ford's MyKey allows parents to set speed limits, limit the radio volume, and prevent operation if the seat belt is not buckled in Ford vehicles. There is also a "Do Not Disturb" feature to prevent incoming calls and text messages from interrupting driving.

    Check out our video below for more on how to protect teens behind the wheel. Also, see our October report on teens and older drivers.

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    Consumer Reports Index: Financial Troubles Grow Worse For Upper- & Middle-Income Americans

    Weak Employment May Be Harbinger of Less Spending & Grim Sentiment For Post-Election, Pre-Holiday Shopping.

    YONKERS, NY — The Consumer Reports Index, an overall measure of Americans’ personal financial health, revealed deepening financial woes for middle- and upper-income Americans heading into the last three months of the year.

    The Consumer Reports Index’s Trouble Tracker, which looks at both the proportion of consumers that have faced financial difficulties as well as the number of hurdles they have encountered, showed that financial troubles were up sharply for a second consecutive month (50.2 from 47.8 last month). The increase was largely due to a significant rise (12.4 percentage points) among middle-class families earning between $50,000 and $99,000, as well as a slight jump (2.4 percentage points) among wealthier Americans earning more than $100,000.

    “These signs are troubling for the economy. While lower-income households have never really recovered from the recession, middle- and upper-income Americans have seen improvement and represent the bulk of discretional spending power. Should this trend continue, retail numbers could suffer if those groups are less willing to engage in spending,” said Ed Farrell, director of consumer insight at the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

    The most prevalent financial trouble among all Americans remains the inability to afford medical bills or medications (16.2%). Since July 2012, the proportion of Americans reporting they are unable to afford medical bills or medications has steadily increased, along with the proportion of consumers reporting they lost jobs in the past 30 days.  

    The Consumer Reports Index’s employment measure (49.7) remains weak overall, with two straight months of increasing job losses. Past 30-day job gains (5.3%) improved slightly from 4.8% last month, but these were offset by job losses in the past 30 days, which rose to 6.0% from 4.9% a month earlier. These numbers reveal that the economy is still losing more jobs than it is creating.

    Consumer sentiment remains mired in negative territory for middle- and lower-income households, with only those in affluent households maintaining a tentative, but slightly positive outlook. The Consumer Reports Index’s sentiment measure was unchanged from its negative position last month (47.7 from 47.4 the previous month).

    “Our numbers suggest the core of the problem remains a weak employment picture, which results in falling consumer confidence levels. Without a substantial improvement in the jobs outlook, it is unlikely that consumers will have the inclination to spend,” Farrell said.

    One bright spot in the results this month was the Consumer Reports Index’s past 30-day retail measure. Reflective of September spending activity, purchases rose to 10.6 from 9.0 in August—a slight uptick after two months of decline. This improvement was driven primarily by gains in major appliances and major home electronics, with personal electronics also contributing. Among larger non-index consumer spending categories, new car purchasing was also on the rebound, showing gains over the past two months.

    The level of stress that consumers reported was unchanged from last month 58.0 from 58.6 the month before. The most stressed Americans in the past 30 days are those with households earning less than $50,000 (59.6), those in the South (62.5) and adults 35-64 years of age (62.5).

    The Consumer Reports Index report, available at  www.ConsumerReports.org, comprises responses directly from consumers on five key measures: the Sentiment Index, the Trouble Tracker Index, the Stress Index, the Retail Index and the Employment Index.

    The Consumer Reports Index, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, is a monthly telephone and cell phone poll of a nationally representative probability sample of American adults. A total of 1,015 interviews were completed (665 telephone and 350 cell phone) among adults aged 18+. Interviewing took place between September 27 and September 30. The margin of error is +/- 3.2 percentage points at a 95% confidence level. The complete index report, methodology and tabular information are available. Contact: C. Matt Fields 914-378-2454 or cfields@consumer.org.

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    Stain damp wood? Cabot claims one-day deck refinishing

    Anyone who's ever finished a deck knows to clean it beforehand to strip it of loose wood, mildew, stains, and any flaking remnants of previous finishes. But once you're done and want to apply the stain, there's another vital step: waiting for the deck to dry down to the last stubborn boards. Wouldn't you like to just sop up any puddles, brush on the stain, and let both stain and wood dry at the same time?

    That's the idea behind Cabot Express Deck Wood Stain, about $37 per gallon, which we've just started testing. On its website, the company claims the product "is formulated for application on damp wood so you can begin to stain immediately after cleaning and completely stain your wood in one day." It's a semi-transparent stain, which our buying-advice video describes as a coating that shows off some of the grain of the wood—yet provides more protection than a clear sealer delivers.

    To test the Cabot, we applied it to both damp and dry boards, situating them outdoors to test the stain's resistance to the elements. To better compare it to the competition, we also applied the top-rated semi-transparent stain in our Ratings, the Behr Premium Semi-Transparent Weatherproofing Wood Stain ($25 per gallon at Home Depot), to damp as well as dry boards.

    By next spring, we expect to have preliminary results on how the two products measure up. In the meantime, both our Ratings and the video will help you narrow your choices. But if you're in the northern regions of the country, you'll may have to wait until next spring to refinish your deck. You need overnight temperatures above 50 degrees F for any exterior coating to dry properly.

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    How do I know I have the cheapest Part D plan?

    I am on Medicare and have a prescription drug plan that cost about $400 this past year. How do I know if I am paying too much for it or should switch to another plan?

    You have plenty of company in confusion, it turns out. Only 5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries buying stand-alone Part D drug plans choose the plan that's cheapest for them, according to a study published in the October 2012 issue of Health Affairs. The average beneficiary paid $368 more in premiums and drug costs than they would have if they'd chosen the cheapest plan for their specific assortment of prescriptions, and more than a fifth overspent by at least $500 a year.

    Researchers Chao Zhou and Yuting Zhang from the University of Pittsburgh found that the biggest mistake people made was picking a plan that covered generic drugs in the coverage gap known as the doughnut hole. They paid hundreds of dollars more for this feature than they got back in drug benefits.

    So how can you avoid making that mistake during this year's open enrollment period, which starts Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7? Medicare has made this job surprisingly easy if you know where to start.

    Let's walk through the process.

    1. Go to Medicare.gov and click on "Find health & drug plans." It's in a yellow box near the top of the page. You can't miss it.

    2. Enter your zip code, and then answer the other questions as they appear. It's critical that you choose one or two pharmacies and specify the drugs you take. Otherwise the plan finder won't return accurate information for your personal situation.

    3. On the results page, click on "Prescription drug plans (with original Medicare)" to see a complete list of stand-alone Part D plans available in your area.

    4. The list that pops up will automatically show the lowest-cost plan first. Medicare computes the cost including your monthly premiums as well as all your out-of-pocket costs for the list of drugs you selected.

    I did this exercise using a typical list of drugs that a retiree might take: 10 mg of atorvastatin (generic Lipitor), 75 mg of clopidogrel (generic Plavix), and 40 mg of Nexium, a brand-name drug.

    I entered your zip code (from a Midwestern city) into the plan finder, chose two of the pharmacies listed in your area (a Target and a Walgreen's) and plugged in those three drugs.

    Thirty plans came up, of which three haven't yet provided 2013 drug pricing to Medicare. The price difference among the remaining 27 was eye-opening. The cheapest plan would cost $744 a year and the most expensive, $3,915.

    And the total cost didn't entirely track premiums. While the cheapest plan did have a fairly low premium of $27 a month, a plan with an even lower premium of $18.50 would cost a total of $3,121 a year because none of the three drugs I was shopping for are on its preferred formulary. That's something you can easily see in the plan finder by clicking through on the blue words "yes" or "no" under the column entitled "Drug Coverage, Drug Restrictions, and Other Programs."

    Of course, if you end up needing to start a new prescription in the coming year, the equation could change if the new drug isn't on your plan's preferred formulary. Also, plans can and do change their formularies from year to year. That's why smart Part D shoppers run through this exercise every year.

    Got a question for me? Ask it here.

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    Average gas--prices Oct. 8, 2012

    Gas prices are mixed across the country with a huge jump in the west coast and California compared to the week before. The national gasoline average is 46 cents above the price this time last year and about 5 cents above last week's price. Premium gasoline is now averaging $4.13. Diesel fuel is about 37 cents above this time last year.

    See our guide to fuel economy for advice on saving gasoline, including reports on how to get the best gas mileage and where to find the cheapest gas. Learn about future technologies in our guide to alternative fuels.

    National regular gasoline prices Price Change from last week
    Regular gasoline/gallon
    $3.85 .05
    Diesel fuel/gallon
    $4.09 .02
    Regional regular gasoline prices
    East Coast
    $3.80 0
    --New England
    $3.96 0
    --Central Atlantic
    $3.91 .02
    --Lower Atlantic
    $3.67 .02
    Midwest
    $3.77 .01
    Gulf Coast
    $3.54 .02
    Rocky Mountain
    $3.75 .02
    West Coast
    $4.41 .33
    --California
    $4.66 .48

    Source: Energy Information Administration, 10/8/12. Figures rounded to the nearest cent.

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    Troy-Bilt's mid-price blower for heavy leaf work

    Depending on where you live, heavy rains may thwart your efforts to clear all the leaves on your property. But paying big money for a wheeled blower isn't your only option if you have a large property and lots of wet leaves to collect. We recently took a look at the Troy-Bilt TB 672, $400 at Lowe's, and hope to get it in soon for testing.

    We tested an earlier version of the TB672 two years ago and found it close to the top-rated Little Wonder 9502, which has since been discontinued. A preliminary look at today's TB672 suggested that, while the Little Wonder LB160H in our current Ratings for leaf blowers scored especially well, the Troy-Bilt might provide a little less power for half the Little Wonder's $800 price. And since the diameter of a blower's fan tends to be proportionate with blowing power, the Troy-Bilt's wide fan size should help it deliver more oomph than the typical backpack.

    Have a smaller yard? For our current Ratings, we tested more than 30 models including 14 electric handheld blowers, (counting one cordless-electric) and 16 gasoline-powered handheld and backpack models besides the Little Wonder. For more information, see our buying advice for leaf blowers.

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    Chicken Fingers - from Consumer Reports

    Chicken fingers - those boneless pieces of fried chicken - are an American staple. Here's how the fingers at five big restaurant chains fared with Consumer Reports' trained tasters. Chicken Fingers
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    Death toll from contaminated steroid shots rises

    The CDC reported Tuesday that eleven deaths and 119 cases of fungal meningitis have now been identified as related to contaminated epidural steroid shots. The number is likely to rise, since approximately 13,000 patients in 75 clinics in 23 states are reported to have received injections with the contaminated steroid preparation to their joints and spine to treat pain and inflammation. Fortunately this type of meningitis is not contagious person to person like the common bacterial and viral types often seen in schools and colleges.

    While the CDC says it cannot yet determine the original source of the outbreak, there is a link to an injectable steroid medication. Lots of medication given to patients have been recalled by the New England Compounding Pharmacy in Framingham, Massachusetts. A common fungus or mold called aspergillus fumigatus, the same blue-green or gray colored mold we sometimes see on decaying leaves or old bread or potatoes, was identified growing in several lots of the prepared vials of injectable steroids. As a result, patients receiving spinal injections are developing fungal meningitis. Symptoms may appear up to a 45 days or so after the injection. Not all of those who received the injections will become sick. The meningitis can be treated successfully with anti-fungal drugs.

    The CDC and FDA were quick to identify the origin of the problem and at risk clinics, limiting the fear and panic and initiating proper treatment to those affected. The safety and standards of compounded drugs like these steroid injections is governed by each state board of pharmacy and not the federal government. Hopefully, the number of cases will level off and stop but an investigation into the inspection and safety standards of each state is needed to protect us all as patients from a healthcare system filled with risk.

    Each year in the U.S. unintended errors and hospital infections kill and injure more people than the combined yearly fatalities and injuries of car accidents, plane crashes, and soldiers on the battlefield! Sadly this means that the U.S. healthcare system is a leading cause of death, right behind heart disease, cancers, and strokes.
    Better safety standards and controls are desperately needed!

    Sources
    Multistate Meningitis Outbreak Investigation

    FDA: Questions and Answers on Fungal Meningitis Outbreak

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    Toyota recalls 7.43 million cars due to potentially defective power window switch

    More than 7.4 million Toyota vehicles are being recalled worldwide—the largest ever since 1996—because of bad power window switches, said Toyota Motor Corp. The driver's door-mounted switches may have a "notchy" or "sticky" feel to them during operation. And if drivers use oil or other lubricants to correct the problem, the switch assembly could melt, emit smoke or even cause a fire.

    Toyota says the sticky window switches are found in the following models of Toyota cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks:

    • 2007 to 2008 Yaris (approx. 110,300)
    • 2007 to 2009 RAV4 (approx. 336,400)
    • 2007 to 2009 Tundra (approx. 337,100)
    • 2007 to 2009 Camry (approx. 938,100)
    • 2007 to 2009 Camry Hybrid (approx. 116,800)
    • 2008 to 2009 Scion xD (approx. 34,400)
    • 2008 to 2009 Scion xA (approx. 77,500)
    • 2008 to 2009 Sequoia (approx. 38,500)
    • 2008 Highlander (approx. 135,400)
    • 2008 Highlander Hybrid (approx. 23,200)
    • 2009 Corolla (approx. 270,900)
    • 2009 Matrix (approx. 53,800)

    UPDATE: Oct. 11, 2012
    And according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the sticky window switch issue also affects an undisclosed number of 2009 Pontiac Vibe hatchbacks, General Motor's mechanical twin to the Toyota Matrix.

    Toyota says it has not received any reports of injuries or accidents due to the faulty window switches. But approximately 2.5 million Toyota vehicles in the U.S. and another 240,000 in Canada may be affected by the issue. Approximately 1.4 million vehicles each in China and Europe may also have sticky window switches, said a Toyota spokesman.

    The companies expect to notify affected owners in North America later this month to bring their vehicles in to dealerships for a free inspection and, if needed, an application of special fluorine grease.

    Toyota had the largest global recall of more than 10 million vehicles for unintended acceleration in 2009 and 2010.

    According to the official NHTSA recall notice (Campaign ID #: 12V491000), concerned consumers can call the toll-free Toyota Customer Experience Center (800-331-4331) or GM's Pontiac Customer Care (800-762-2737) for more information.

    Sources:
    Recall: 2009 Pontiac Vibe / 2007-09 Toyota (various models) - Power window switches [NHTSA]
    Voluntary Recall of Certain Vehicles For The Driver's Side Power Window Master Switch [Toyota]
    Toyota to recall 7.4 million vehicles globally on power window glitch [Automotive News]

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    Our tests find 'purple haze' effect isn't limited just to the iPhone 5

    The Apple iPhone 5, which our Ratings reveal is a standout camera, is no more prone to purple hazing on photos shot into a bright light source than its predecessor or than several Android phones with fine cameras, according to special Consumer Reports tests.

    We carried out our tests in response to reports, including those from PCMag.com and DPReview.com, that the iPhone 5 had a tendency to display a distracting purple color over parts of certain shots and videos. In our tests, the phone's camera did indeed display such a haze when we shot into a bright light source in our labs.

    But it didn't do so in any more pronounced a fashion than did the iPhone 4S or two Android-based smart phones, the Samsung Galaxy S III and Motorola Droid Razr Maxx, when we tested those under the same conditions. In the course of our tests, the haze was sometimes purple, but sometimes another color or even a rainbow.

    All camera lenses, even those made for expensive SLRs, can yield lens flare, which is produced by scattered reflections inside the lens from a bright light source. How much flare appears in an image depends on how you orient the lens.

    For example, lens flare often occurs on bright, cloudless sunny days, when you include the sun itself in the image or, if the sun isn't in the image, strong sunlight shines into the lens from an angle. Some expensive advanced cameras, and even many point-and-shoots, have special lens coatings that can limit or eliminate such flare, and possibly associated colored haze. So can attaching a shading hood around the lens's edge. But smart phones' cameras are designed differently, so it's typically more difficult for manufacturers to minimize flare in them.

    Although this problem can be annoying, it's one that will probably not affect most of your photos, since it occurs only when a bright light source, such as the sun appears in the frame of the photo or just outside it. It's also pretty easy to minimize by using your hand to shield your phone's lens from the sunlight. You can avoid it altogether by reframing your photo or video whenever a bright light source appears in or near the frame.

    We'll follow up in a future story with more tips on how to limit such lighting problems on smart phones, cameras, and camcorders.

    Sources:
    Quick Review: Apple iPhone 5 Camera [DP Review]


    Related:
    Consumer Reports lab tests confirm Apple iPhone 5 is a winner
    Purple Flare Shootout: iPhone 5 vs. Samsung Galaxy S III vs. HTC One S

    iphone5purplehaze_electronics_Lg_2.JPG
    Instead of a purple-colored haze, the iPhone 5 produced an image that exhibits a rainbow-colored haze.

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    Graco Classic Wood Highchairs recalled due to detaching seats

    A safety warning for nearly 90,000 Graco Classic Wood Highchairs has been issued by U.S. and Canadian safety agencies today. The high chairs from Graco have seats that may become detached from the wooden base and present a fall hazard to infants, says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

    Consumer Reports' experts test dozens of models of baby high chairs every year. As part of its evaluation for inclusion into our High chair Ratings (available to subscribers), testers check if they meet the voluntary safety standards of ASTM International (formerly American Society for Testing and Materials).

    But since these standards are not mandatory, our experts say consumers shopping for a baby high chair should "Push contenders around to see how well they hold their ground. A chair should feel stable and sturdy, not wobbly. Look for a high chair with a wide base for stability." (For more shopping and safety tips, read Consumer Reports' free buying guide to baby high chairs.)

    Graco has received 58 reports of seats loosening or detaching from the base of its Classic Wood Highchairs. Nine incidents of children falling as the seat detached from the base have been reported, including one report of an infant receiving a concussion in Canada.

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled high chairs and contact Graco (toll-free: 800-345-4109, website: Www.gracoBaby.com) for a free repair kit.

    The recall affects all Graco brand Classic Wood Highchairs with model numbers 3C00BPN, 3C00BPN TC, 3C00CHY, 3C00CHY TC, 3C00CPO or 3C00CPO TC printed on a label on the underside of the seat assembly.

    The Graco high chairs were sold at Babies R Us, Burlington Coat Factory and other retail stores nationwide and at Target.com and Walmart.com and other online retailers between September 2007 and December 2010 for about $130.

    Sources:
    Graco Recalls Classic Wood Highchairs Due to Fall Hazard [CPSC]
    Recall: Graco Classic Wood Highchair [Health Canada]
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    Government warns about the dangers of counterfeit car air bags

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a consumer warning involving the sale of counterfeit air bags that were used as replacement parts for vehicles involved in a crash. The fake air bags look like certified, original parts with automaker branding, but they may not inflate properly or could deploy pieces of metal shrapnel.

    "Anytime equipment that is critical to protecting drivers and passengers fails to operate properly, it is a serious safety concern," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. "We want consumers to be immediately aware of this problem and to review our safety information to see if their vehicle could be in need of inspection."

    While NHTSA says no deaths or injuries have occurred from these air bags, the agency wants consumers to contact their vehicle manufacturer if they have replaced their air bags at a repair shop (factory-backed car dealership repair shops not included) within the last three years; those who have purchased replacement bags online; or consumers who bought a used car that may been in an accident where the air bag deployed before their purchase. (See list of phone numbers.) Consumers will then need to take their vehicle in for inspection and replace the air bag at their own expense.

    The agency is investigating the scope of the problem and has tested the fraudulent air bags (see video). Many of the counterfeit air bags come from China. Last winter, Chinese businessman Dai Zhensong pleaded guilty to importing counterfeit air bags. A separate trial is also pending in North Carolina after federal agents seized counterfeit air bags in August, according to the Detroit News.

    Make Model years Model
    Acura 2009-2011 TSX
    Audi 2006-2009 A3, A4, A6, A8, Q5, Q7
    BMW 2007-2009 X5, 5 Series
      2008-2010 5 Series, 528i, 535i
      2004-2007 5 Series, 525i, 530, 535, E60, E61
      2007-2011 3 Series
      Not listed 3 Series
      2007-2011 X5
      2004-2007 525i, 530, 535
      2011-2012 X3
    Buick 2010-2011 LaCrosse
    Chevrolet 2011-2012 Cruze
      2006-2010 Aveo
      2011-2012 Volt
      2012 Camaro
    Ford 2012 Focus
      2005-2009 Mustang
    Honda 2003-2012 Accord
      2006-2011 Civic
      2002-2011 CR-V
      2007-2011 Fit
      2009-2011 Pilot
      2009-2011 Crosstour
      2011 Odyssey
    Hyundai 2007-2011 Elantra
      Not listed Genesis
      Not listed Sonata
    Infiniti 2007-2011 G35, EX35
    Kia 2010-2011 Soul/Forte
      2004-2009 Spectra
    Land Rover 2012 Range Rover Evoque
    Lexus 2006-2011 IS250, IS350, IS-F
      2003-2008 GX470
      2007-2009 RX350
      Not listed ES350
    Mazda 2004, 2010-2012 Mazda3
    Mercedes 2009-2011 C, GLK
      2010-2011 E350, E550
      2006-2008 S550
      2006-2009 ML
      2009-2010 GL, ML
    Mitsubishi Not listed Outlander
    Nissan 1992-2002, 2010-2011 Quest
      2009-2011 Cube
      2007-2010 Versa
      2009-2010 Murano
      Not listed Altima
    Subaru 2008-2009 Forester
      2008-2009 Impreza
      2008-2009 Outback
      2010-2011 Legacy
    Suzuki 2007-2010 SX4
    Toyota 2002-2006, 2012 Camry
      2009-2011 Corolla, Matrix
      2007-2011 Yaris
      2004-2011 Highlander
      2004-2011 Sienna
      2004-2011 Tacoma
      2010-2012 Prius
      2003-2006, 2007-2011 Tundra
      2003-2006 Sequoia
      2003-2010 Land Cruiser
      2004-2007, 2008-2010 Highlander
      2004-2009 Solara
      2005-2011 RAV4
    Volkswagen 2006-2010 Jetta
    Volvo Not listed XC60, XC70
      Not listed V70, S60, S80

    If you are buying a used car, it's important to inspect the vehicle thoroughly by an independent mechanic to make sure it wasn't a rebuilt wreck. Our research shows that not all crashes make it to the vehicle history report and not all totaled cars are issued a salvage title. (See our report "Don't rely on used-car-history reports.")

    If you've been in an accident and need to get your air bags replaced, make sure you go to the dealership or a reputable independent shop. As we've seen in this report, cutting corners on repair can literally blow up in your face.

    Related:
    California passes new law to stop air bag repair scams
    Car repair and maintenance estimates
    Guide to car maintenance
    Guide to car safety

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    Study shows U.S. automotive fuel economy at all-time high

    Even with gas prices approaching record levels, there's good news for fuel-economy champions: Cars have never been more efficient than today.

    That's the conclusion of a new study by the University of Michigan, which finds that more fuel-efficient models have raised national fleetwide average fuel economy by 18 percent since new fuel-economy standards started taking effect in 2007. Not only have new cars and trucks been achieving better mileage, but many consumers have been choosing higher-mileage models to offset rising gas bills, the study says.

    Researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle studied fuel economy trends all the way back to the dawn of the automotive age, and they found that overall fuel economy has only increased under strict regulations and fuel price spikes.

    Back in 1923, fuel economy averaged 14 mpg. Leading up to the 1973 oil crisis, fuel economy declined to 11.9 mpg. In the aftermath, efficiency became important and the average fuel economy for the national fleet rose sharply to 16.9 mpg by 1991. Through 2007, the fleet made modest improvements to 17.2 mpg.

    Since then, the fuel economy of the average new car has risen from 20.1 mpg to 23.8 mpg for light-duty vehicles, the study notes, pushed by regulation and rising gas prices. That equates to national savings of about 6.1 billion gallons of fuel since 2007, or the equivalent of about 13 days' supply. This may sound like a drop in the bucket, but it is a big drop in a giant bucket.

    If you're considering buying a new more fuel-efficient vehicle, Consumer Reports can tell you how much you can expect to save. Check out our real-world fuel economy tests (results are on the car model pages) and our fuel-savings comparison, which illustrates the cost savings from upgrading to a more efficient vehicle. For example, if you're currently driving a Honda Pilot that gets 18 mpg, you could save $580 a year in fuel by buying a new, smaller Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 four-cylinder.

    Consumer Reports has long advocated higher fuel economy standards and has submitted comments to government agencies supporting the new standards. We're glad to see America and its drivers are benefiting, and we expect the ramp up to increasingly stringent standards will yield further benefits.

    Related:
    Guide to fuel economy
    2017 fuel economy rules will save consumers money
    Consumers Union supports higher fuel economy standards
    Consumer advocates show new 54.5 mpg standards will save car owners money
    Government formally releases new 54.5 mpg standards for 2025

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    In broiler cook-off, LG's Speed Broil not so fast after all

    Infrared burners have been on restaurant gas ranges for decades and pop up on premium gas grills too. Some professional-style ranges have infrared broilers, but when LG added them to electric ranges that cost thousands less, the pros at Consumer Reports put LG's claims to the test.

    Infrared technology promises to quickly deliver high heat to sear meat or fish on the outside without overcooking on the inside. We broiled burgers in two LG electric smoothtop ranges, the LRE3025S with an infrared broiler, $1,250, and the LRE3023S, $1,000, with a standard electric broiler. Here's a look at the infrared claims and our results:

    LG says: Faster and no preheating needed
    CR's take: The infrared broiler eliminated preheating and took 11 minutes and 30 seconds to cook the four burgers to rare using the Speed Broil option. That was only a minute faster than the LG standard broiler, and that time included the three minute preheat time the manufacturer suggests. Plus Speed Broil is only "for small amounts of food that can be easily concentrated to the center of the broiler pan."

    LG says: Juicier food than traditional thermal cooking
    CR's take: Both LG broilers served up burgers that were seared on the outside and juicy on the inside.

    Bottom line. Watch our video to see the broiling tests for yourself, and then check our Ratings of dozens of electric and gas ranges. Both of these LG ranges were rated excellent overall, but the less expensive LG range without the infrared broiler did a better job in our standard broiling test, which uses larger amounts of food and the regular broil setting.

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    $1,450 Viking dishwasher fails to conquer our tough tests

    The Viking D3 Series RDDB301 dishwasher has plenty of perks for the price. Heavy-duty racks, stainless-steel finish and tub, a guard beneath the upper spray arm, and room for 15 place settings are just a few of the features this model offers. You can also customize the look of the knobs and handle to match your cabinetry. But for $1,450, is it too much to expect the ultimate in wash performance?

    In our dishwasher tests, which use a full load of very dirty items, the Viking was impressive though not superlative and was fairly energy-efficient. But the good news ends there. For drying stubborn plastic items, it was only so-so. The same goes for its noise score despite the model's "sound-absorbing" insulation and "cushion-mounted components." There's no time-remaining display, nor the ability to vertically adjust the upper rack to fit tall items below. And if you're particular about getting a "green" dishwasher, consider that some models less than half the Viking's price were just as efficient.

    The RDDB301 is actually the best of three conventional dishwashers we've just added to our dishwasher Ratings, which now list almost 200 models, 38 of which we've recommended. (We expect to add three more soon, from GE and Viking.) The other newcomers are the $500 Ikea Renlig 802.222.43 and the $650 Summit DW2432SS.

    Looking for a dishwasher? Besides our Ratings, check out our buying advice, which includes a video describing how we test.

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    ShopSmart Reveals Little-Known Credit-Card Perks

    Credit card benefits can help shoppers save big bucks this holiday season

    ShopSmart Cover November 2012 PR WEBYONKERS, NY – Many credit-card users can be saving hundreds, or even thousands of dollars by using their plastic and they may not even know it.  The November 2012 issue of ShopSmart magazine, from Consumer Reports, spotlights seven lesser-known credit-card perks that users may not even know exist, including partner discounts, extra product warranties, additional cash back, price protection and more. 
     
    “Visiting your credit-card’s website is a good first step to finding out what benefits you may be missing out on, along with any rules and limitations you many need to know,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. “Knowing these perks ahead of time can help you shop smarter and save big, especially during the holidays when you’ve got a full list of friends and family to buy for.”

    Here are three examples of credit-card benefits to lookout for – the entire list is featured in ShopSmart’s November issue.

    1. Extra product warranties. Some issuers automatically extend manufacturer warranties, usually up to a year – a great perk for expensive items that otherwise would be costly to replace. But it usually also applies to cheaper items that consumers may not know comes with a warranty, such as eyeglasses or coffeemakers.

    2. Coverage for damaged goods. A credit card with theft, damage, and loss coverage reimburses users for items purchased with it that are lost, stolen, or accidentally damaged within a stated time period, often 90 days. But some cards limit the number of times users can make a claim within a certain time period.

    3. Rental-car coverage and travel insurance. Some credit-card issuers will cover any loss to a rental vehicle, up to certain limits.  Some cards also offer trip cancellation, which covers losses if the user has to cancel plans, perhaps due to illness or injury. But check card issuers’ rules about what doesn’t qualify and how much can be recouped.

    About Consumer Reports:
    Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications. Its advocacy division, Consumers Union, works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

    About ShopSmart magazine:
    Launched in Fall 2006 by Consumer Reports, ShopSmart draws upon the publication’s celebrated tradition of accepting no advertisements and providing unbiased product reviews. ShopSmart features product reviews, shopping tips on how to get the most out of products and “best of the best” lists. It’s ideal for busy shoppers who place a premium on time. ShopSmart has a newsstand price of $5.99 and is available nationwide at major retailers including Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway and Publix. ShopSmart is available by subscription at www.ShopSmartmag.org.

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