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Consumer Reports

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    Can hormone therapy really keep you young?

    Hormone therapy to slow the aging clock sounds enticing. But like anti-aging supplements and many prescription drugs touted to halt age-related decline, taking hormones in the hope of staying youthful longer can not only be ineffective, but it can also be hazardous to your health.

    Testosterone replacement

    Ads trumpet the lethargy and lost libido that can accompany low testosterone levels in men. A daily dose of the hormone, the ads suggest, will take care of “low T,” boosting your sex drive and helping you reclaim your more energetic self.

    Reality check. Testosterone treatments are Food and Drug Administration-approved only for men with diagnosed hypogonadism, a failure to produce enough testosterone because of disorders of the testicles, pituitary gland, or brain. The American Association of Clinical Endo­crinologists and the Endocrine Society advise against prescribing them without a confirmed deficiency.

    That’s because the therapy has risks. The FDA recently required prescription testosterone (including AndroGel, Aveed, Axiron, Fortesta, and Testim) to carry a warn­ing about the possible higher risk of heart attack and stroke.

    In June 2014 the agency began to require a warning about blood-clot risks. Other research suggests that the treatment might encourage the growth of existing prostate cancer, boost the risk of sleep apnea, and cause an enlarged prostate, enlarged or painful breasts, swollen feet, and a lower sperm count.

    If you’re experiencing low energy or libido, see a doctor. Stress, medications, diabetes, obesity, or too little sleep or exercise might be at fault.

    Learn why you should also skip "anti-aging" pills, and see our Choosing Wisely campaign to find out more about how to avoid unnecessary medical care.

    Human growth hormones

    HGH fuels growth in children and adolescents, and helps maintain tissue and organs. Some say that injections of it can increase muscle mass, reduce body fat, aid skin elasticity, and slow bone loss.

    Reality check. The FDA has approved HGH only for three adult conditions, including growth-hormone deficiency caused by pituitary damage. For anyone else, taking it is a risky proposition. It’s illegal for doctors to write prescriptions for—and distribute—HGH for anti-aging. Any benefits may be modest and tem­porary. HGH can cause carpal tunnel syndrome, swelling, joint pain, organ enlargement, and type 2 diabetes. It may also increase cancer risk.

    “Stay away from any product that claims it will make you live longer, especially if it’s combined with growth hormone,” says S. Jay Olshansky, Ph.D., a professor of public health at the University of Illinois in Chicago. “Growth hormone may make you live ‘shorter.’ ”

    Bioidentical hormones

    Prescription hormone therapy (HT) is generally considered to be a reasonable short-term solution for hot flashes and other menopause symptoms. But some people recommend long-term use of compounded bioidentical hormones to help women look and feel younger, says Margery Gass, M.D., executive director of the North American Menopause Society. (She says that bioidentical hormones are chemically the same as hormones that your body produces. Compounded drugs are mixed in certain pharmacies.)

    And some claim that compounded bioidenticals are superior to traditional HT because they’re customized.

    Reality check. Compounded bioiden­tical hormones aren’t approved by the FDA (though some traditional HTs have FDA-approved bioidentical hormones), so there’s no guarantee that they contain safe levels of hormones. Compounded bioidenticals carry the same risks as traditional HT—an increased likelihood of blood clots, breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke. And those risks grow with long-term use. Estriol, a type of estrogen, is found in some compounded formulations, but its safety and effectiveness aren’t known.

    So avoid compounded bioidenticals. If you think that you need HT to ease menopause symptoms, discuss the risks and benefits with a doctor, Gass says.

    A version of this article appeared in the June 2015 Consumer Reports on Health newsletter.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Recalled Lincoln MKC gets new shift buttons

    Late last year, Lincoln recalled the MKC for the replacement of the buttons that make up its dash-mounted shift controls. There was no technical fault that led to this action being taken. Rather, the layout of the buttons that essentially replaced a conventional shift lever were designed poorly.

    In its original configuration, the start/stop button sits at the bottom of a column of shifter buttons positioned precariously close to the navigation and radio controls. A driver looking to change the radio preset, or perform some other onscreen function, could easily rest his or her thumb on the start/stop button, trying to steady the hand for operating the touchscreen while the vehicle is in motion. At low speeds, this could cause the car to shut off and come to an abrupt halt. This happened to several owners.

    New parts from Lincoln move the start/stop button to the top of the shift column. After the fix, if you accidentally brace your thumb at the bottom of the shifter, it will hit the S or Sport mode button.

    We are pleased to see that Lincoln is addressing this design issue, but wonder why the company did not foresee this problem in the car's development phase. Lincoln is just one of a number of car companies ditching traditional, intuitive driver controls in favor of unique, brand-specific designs. These new shifters might save space, but they can be confusing for the consumer, even potentially dangerous, due to their unusual operation. This is especially a concern for new owners transitioning from the standard design, and for one-time users, like a valet or a friend borrowing the car.

    We hope that this Lincoln issue, and the fix, serve as a lesson for other automakers designing vehicles with unconventional driver controls.

    Read our complete Lincoln MKC road test.

    —George Kennedy

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Take the guesswork out of mattress shopping

    Firm or soft? Innerspring or foam? Finding a comfortable mattress is an intensely personal experience. That's why Consumer Reports encourages shoppers to try any mattress they're considering by taking the time to lie down on each side, your back, and your stomach if that’s how you sleep. But mattresses also have specific, objective characteristics that can be evaluated in a lab. And that's where we come in. Here's how Consumer Reports tests mattresses:

    Overall score

    Each mattress we test is awarded a numerical score based on 100 points. Tests for side and back support, durability, and stability carry the most weight. Note that results for adjustable-air mattresses, such as Sleep Number beds, represent an average of firmness levels.  

    Side sleeping

    Any mattress you buy should capably support and maintain the horizontal alignment of your spine while you're lying on your side. To measure this, we use human subjects and graph several points along their spines. With a mattress that scores well in this test, such as the $1,200 Spring Air Back Supporter Natalie foam from Costco, these points remain in line, fairly parallel to the mattress surface.

    Back sleeping

    Back strain is one reason you might wake up stiff and sore after a night on your mattress. Our back-support test graphs dozens of points along the spine’s natural curve for a range of adults. Then we record how each mattress maintains that curve while our test subjects lie on their backs. One that did especially well is the $1,500 Charles P. Rogers Powercore Estate 5000 innerspring.

    Durability

    Our tests roll years of physical abuse into a few weeks and the best mattresses handle it just fine. Our durability test pushes a 308-pound, cask-shaped roller over each mattress 30,000 times to mimic the typical eight to 10 year lifetime of a mattress. Then we measure for changes in firmness, height (to check for sagging), body support, and damage such as cuts in foam and ripples in areas of typical human contact. One that fared well is the adjustable-air Sleep Number c2 Bed, $700.

    Stability

    This is a measure of how much vibration is transmitted across the mattress. With an innerspring, lots of bounciness can result in a restless sleeper on one side of the bed waking up a sound sleeper on the other. We assess this by applying an impact and measuring the number of bounces before the mattress has settled. Models that score decently also get a Yes notation under the “Resists Bounciness “ column under “Features & Specs.”

    Because some foam mattresses are so soft that you can sink in and find it hard to change positions, we use the same measurements to tell us how easy it is to change sleep position. Here, foam models that score decently are represented in the “Eases Movement” column. Most models we recommend score well on this test.

    Retains warmth

    Foam mattresses in particular are criticized for “sleeping warm”—that is, retaining heat. You might want this during the winter, though you’d rather the mattress release heat during the warmer months. We use a temperature-controlled chamber to assess all mattresses for how much body heat they capture.

    Claimed vs. actual firmness

    One company's ultraplush might be another's supersoft, so we use a machine to apply increasing force to a mattress to measure its firmness. This lets us objectively check claims using precise measurements.

    We’re testing more models to add to our mattress Ratings, which should help you pre-select models that are tops in back and side support, among other factors. Be sure to see our mattress buying guide before narrowing down your choices.

    —Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Top refrigerator brands from Consumer Reports

    With more than 300 models, Consumer Reports' refrigerator Ratings cover a big chunk of the market. But we can’t review every model out there, especially since we purchase every product we test. So what if the model you're interested in isn't in our Ratings? Our statisticians analyzed the last three years of test results to see which brands were consistent winners. Choosing from these brands will increase your chances of satisfaction, though even the best brands turn out the occasional clunker. Here are the results by category, including top-pick refrigerators from our latest tests.

    Bottom-freezers

    This has become the most popular refrigerator category, thanks to the growth in French-door and four-door configurations, which both keep fresh-food items at convenient eye level. Best bottom-freezer brands include Amana, Kenmore, KitchenAid, LG, Maytag, Samsung, and Whirlpool. We really like the Kenmore Elite 74093, $3,400, and the LG LFXS32766S, $2,900, which share the highest score among all tested models. We also like the Samsung Chef Collection RF34H9960S4, $5,400, our highest-rated four-door refrigerator and the Kenmore Elite 79043, $1,510, which is tops among conventional bottom-freezers.           

    Fisher & Paykel, GE, and Haier have been less consistent in our bottom-freezer tests. Electrolux and Frigidaire, meanwhile, were called out in our latest brand-reliability survey, based on feedback of almost 80,000 readers who bought a new refrigerator between 2010 and 2014.  

    Side-by-sides

    Though the side-by-side market has gotten smaller, there are still plenty of brands competing for top spots in our Ratings. Frigidaire, LG, Maytag and Samsung have been the most consistent. Samsung has several recommended models in our current Ratings, including the Samsung RH29H9000SR, $2,350, with its unique door-in-door compartment. Less consistent brands include Amana, Electrolux, GE, Kenmore, and Whirlpool. There’s only one brand to avoid: KitchenAid, which was the most repair-prone brand in the category.

    Top-freezers

    There will always be a market for top-freezers, given their low cost. And our tests turn up many models that back the superb value with solid performance. Your best bets are Frigidaire, Haier, LG, and Kenmore. If you’re looking for maximum value, check out the $600 Haier HT18TS77SP, which offers very good temperature performance and excellent efficiency. Spending more on the Frigidaire FFHT2126PS, $850, gets you a bit more usable storage and the option of a stainless steel finish. While no brands make our ones-to-avoid list, consistency has been an issue with Amana, GE, Maytag, and Whirlpool.

    —Daniel DiClerico (@dandiclerico on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Consumer Reports Announces New Senior Content Team

    YONKERS, NY – Consumer Reports today announced four new appointments to help drive the organization’s digital transformation and advance its nonprofit mission to make the marketplace fairer for consumers. 

    Following last month’s appointment of Jason Fox, former head of global product for Reuters News Agency, as the new Vice President of Digital, Consumer Reports today named Wendy Bounds, who currently heads Consumer Reports’ video division, as Executive Director, Content.

    Bounds will oversee editorial strategy and content creation for all print and digital products. She joined Consumer Reports after serving at The Wall Street Journal in multiple content leadership and development roles across its digital and print platforms, most recently as managing editor and deputy for a global team of video producers, anchors and technical staff.

    Erle Norton has been named Executive Editor, Digital, overseeing all of Consumer Reports’ digital content, including its Consumerist blog.  Norton joined Consumer Reports earlier this year as deputy director of video, after a post at ABC News where he was Executive Producer, Digital.  At ABC Norton directed all digital editorial operations, including ABCNews.com, mobile apps and Apple TV.

    Diane Salvatore, a magazine innovator with more than 20 years of publishing experience, has been promoted to Editor-in-Chief of Consumer Reports magazine. In her new role, Salvatore will reshape the editorial strategy and creative vision for Consumer Reports’ flagship print product, create new opportunities for the magazine’s integration with its digital properties, and continue to expand its coverage of the critical issues facing consumers today.

    Salvatore joined Consumer Reports in 2013 as Senior Director of Content Strategy and Development. Prior to that she was the Editor-in-Chief at both Prevention and Ladies’ Home Journal.  She succeeds Ellen Kampinsky, who is stepping down after a year at the helm of the magazine. Hired by a prior leadership team to steer the publication through a redesign, Kampinsky helped create a new architecture for the magazine as well as several new editorial features.

    The organization’s core print and digital offerings will be amplified through social media by a team under the leadership of Kevin Winterfield, who joined Consumer Reports last week as Director of Social Media from IBM, where he was responsible for developing the company's strategies, standards and processes for social content optimization, and for real-time monitoring and measurement analytics.

    “We believe these changes will help us deliver what our readers need to know where and when they need it as they face an increasingly complex marketplace and a barrage of competing reviews. By focusing heavily on our digital content and products as well as strengthening our core magazine, we can address what our loyalists want more of and also grow a new and more diverse generation of Consumer Reports fans,” said Marta Tellado, president and CEO of Consumer Reports.

    As a result of its new digital strategy, Consumer Reports will shift away from smaller print publications, discontinuing ShopSmart magazine and its Money Adviser newsletter but expanding its reach with refreshed and new mobile and web products and services. ShopSmart has 324,000 subscribers and Money Adviser has 135,000.  By contrast, Consumer Reports magazine has 3.6 million subscribers.  There also are more than 3 million subscribers to Consumer Reports Online.

    About Consumer Reports
    Consumer Reports is the world’s largest and most trusted nonprofit consumer organization working to improve the lives of consumers by driving marketplace change. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has achieved substantial gains for consumers on health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other issues. The organization has advanced important policies to cut hospital-acquired infections, prohibit predatory lending practices and combat dangerous toxins in food. Consumer Reports tests and rates thousands of products and services in its 50-plus labs, state-of-the-art auto test center and consumer research center. Consumers Union, a division of Consumer Reports, works for pro-consumer laws and regulations in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. With more than eight million subscribers to its flagship magazine, website and other publications, Consumer Reports accepts no advertising, payment or other support from the companies whose products it evaluates. 

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    Is Charter Communications' bid for Time Warner Cable a bad deal for consumers?

    With all the news about Charter Communications buying Time Warner Cable—as well as the smaller Bright House Networks—a lot of the focus has been on whether the acquisition makes business sense. But what we want to know is, Will the deal be good for consumers?
     
    We'd like to think so, but there's not a lot of evidence to support the idea that bigger companies do better for their customers. In fact, the opposite is often true, with the biggest companies often notable for high prices, poor service, and disappointing customer satisfaction scores.
     
    That's why Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, is asking for regulatory scrutiny of the Charter bid for Time Watner Cable. “One of the biggest questions about Charter and Time Warner Cable is whether the deal is in the public interest," says Delara Derakhshani, policy counsel for Consumers Union. "Frankly, we’re skeptical. When it comes to cable consolidation, history teaches us to be very concerned about the benefits for consumers. We’re going to meet with federal regulators to make sure the consumer perspective is heard.”
     
    The new deal comes just a month after  Comcast dropped its own bid to acquire Time Warner Cable, after facing resistance from both the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission. Consumers Union and other public-interest groups opposed the Comcast deal.

    If approved, a combined Charter/Time Warner Cable/Bright House—with nearly 24 million customers in 41 states— would become the nation's second-largest cable operator, behind only Comcast, which has 27.2 million customers. Charter argues that the merger will enable it to more effectively compete with Comcast and also gain leverage in negotiating with content providers to get better rates for programming.

    Whether the savings will be passed along to consumers is far from clear; the company will have a lot of debt to repay if this deal is approved. Charter also claims that having a larger national footprint would give it an incentive to invest in areas such as higher-speed broadband, expanded Wi-Fi networks, and new video services.

    Charter does have some things to recommend it. The company offers relatively fast service, starting at 60Mbps, and unlike some other companies, it doesn't impose data caps on usage. And it's come out in support of the new net-neutrality rules, saying it will abide by those tenets regardless of the current legal and legislative challenges to the rules. But there's no guarantee that these policies will be continued, or applied in new markets.

    The reality is that cable companies rarely compete in the same markets. In an op-ed piece for Time magazine last month, Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) lamented that even with the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger failing, there's too little competition in the cable and broadband markets. "As it stands now, 55 percent of U.S. households only have one choice for broadband Internet—and for a majority of those homes, it’s Comcast. Not exactly an incentive for the company to provide first-class service, as many Comcast customers can attest."

    His assessment is borne out by Consumer Reports' annual customer-satisfaction surveys, where larger cable companies typically take a beating when it comes to customer satisfaction. Of the 17 cable providers in this year's survey, Charter ranked 14th and Time Warner Cable was 16th. The only company to do worse than Time Warner Cable? You gueesed it: Comcast.

    While most reports have focused on what the deal could mean for TV service, the implications of such mergers are even more pronounced when it comes to Internet service. Many cable companies now have more broadband subscribers than TV customers. And there's often even less competition among broadband providers, especially where higher-speed Internet service is concerned.

    That's something FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler addressed in a speech last September. "Unfortunately, the reality we face today is that as bandwidth increases, competitive choice decreases," he said. "At 25 Mbps, there is simply no competitive choice for most Americans. Stop and let that sink in . . . three-quarters of American homes have no competitive choice for the essential infrastructure for 21st-century economics and democracy. Included in that is almost 20 percent who have no service at all! Things only get worse as you move to 50 Mbps, where 82 percent of consumers lack a choice."

    That's why public-interest groups and others are concerned about the rapidly changing, consolidating TV and broadband landscape. While Charter works on its Time Warner Cable deal, AT&T is trying to acquire satellite TV company DirecTV, the country's second largest pay-TV service, and last week a European telcom operator, Altice, bought a controlling interest in Suddenlink, a small U.S. cable operator. Cablevision is also seen as a possible takeover target, and it's expected that several other smaller cable companies will come into play.

    —James K. Willcox

    Broadband, not pay TV, is what drives most top cable and telecommunications companies.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    6 great smartphone camera apps

    If you own a smartphone, chances are you use the built-in camera to shoot many, if not all, of your photos. But you can expand your camera’s capabilities and improve your photography by downloading third-party apps. Here are six impressive photo apps that let you get more creative with the photos you shoot.

    Find out how to take great photos with a smartphone. And check our buying guide and Ratings for smartphones and digital cameras.

    —Terry Sullivan

     

    Manual ($2, iOS)

    This app is both simple and powerful: It gives you manual control over your phone’s camera, something that has been permitted by Apple only since iOS 8 was introduced last fall. With Manual, you can alter the ISO, shutter speed, white balance, and focus point, dramatically increasing your photo-taking choices. The app will also record what settings were used for each shot.

    Snapseed (free, Android and iOS)

    This app brings you a wide range of novel filters and effects, including Vintage, Drama, and Retrolux, which can be applied alone or in layers. For example, Retrolux produces a weather-beaten texture. Adjust the strength of the effect by swiping your finger left or right. The app also includes a wide range of standard photo-editing functions.

    Afterlight ($1, Android and iOS)

    The developers of this app have created a nice combination of intuitive editing tools, along with dozens of filters and deeper, slightly more complex effects. The double-exposure tool is particularly fun: You choose two photos and scale one of them larger. Then Afterlight provides five options for combining the images, along with a slider to increase or decrease the collaged effect.

    Colors ($1, iOS)

    If there's one thing I miss about old film cameras, it’s my collection of filters. This app tempers my nostalgia a bit. It provides more than 1,000 color filters that you can apply to your photo, grouping them into themes like “Rainbow” and “Romantic” for easier searching. You can adjust the intensity of the effects, and you can even add filters in a variety of patterns, as shown in the image above.

    Lenka ($3, iOS)

    Bring out your inner Ansel Adams with this app, which lets you take photos in good old black and white. Instead of using a filter after the pic is snapped, you can compose your photo directly in monochromatic tones. For a moodier effect, add fill light using the app’s Lamp button; the app will steadily illuminate the scene instead of triggering the flash. You can also adjust contrast and exposure.

    Hipstamatic ($2, iOS)

    Take that old black camera body, add funky lenses, wrap it all up into an app, and you get Hipstamatic. Each lens offered by the app gives you a different effect, and it’s fun to play around with them. Switch lenses by swiping the front of the camera. Labels hidden on the back of photos display the lens and effects used, and where the picture was taken. You can buy HipstaPaks, with more effects, or order prints from HipstaPrint.

    This article also appeared in the July 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    How to landscape around a central A/C unit

    Let’s face it: Despite the comfort they provide inside, outdoor air conditioners can be an eyesore. But with some strategically placed landscaping, you can keep the compressor out of sight and help it to run more ­efficiently. Here’s how:

    Let it breathe. The compressor needs adequate airflow to work correctly, so make sure there’s at least 2 to 3 feet of space between the unit and any plants or structures. There should also be 5 feet of clearance between the top of the unit and any trees above. Keep in mind that the unit has to be accessible for servicing.

    Put it in the shade. Placing the unit out of the hot sun will help it run more efficiently. Shade trees also keep your house from heating up as much.

    Plan your plants. A hedge is a good way to conceal a unit as long as you trim it year round. To keep the unit free of falling leaves, select trees that retain their leaves during the winter. If you don’t have room for a hedge, a trellis for climbing vines will provide shade and hide the compressor.

    Keep the machine clean. A dirty condenser coil can increase compressor energy consumption by 30 percent. To prevent grass from your mower or mud from a rainstorm from spraying into the unit, surround the pad on which it sits with a stone border filled with crushed rock. That way rainwater drains away and foliage is kept at bay.

    Keep lawn gear clear. Your A/C unit can get damaged by rocks kicked up by the mower or by being bumped by a string trimmer or mower.

    The most reliable central air conditioners

    If you're installing centrail air conditioning for the first time, or replacing an older unit, you'll want the most reliable system possible. When Consumer Reports asked readers whether their models broke, American Standard was the least repair-prone and York was the most. For more information, including repair information on heat-pump models, read "The most reliable central air conditioning systems."

    Must-haves in a central A/C contract

    Surprises are the last thing you or your contractor wants once the installation of your central air conditioning starts. Short of X-ray vision to see through walls, a detailed contract is your best bet. Yours should include:

    • The exact make and model number of the A/C condenser, its matching air handler, and new thermostat.

    • How and where the compressor and air handler will be installed, including information on drainage of any condensation or leaks from the air handler.

    • Duct construction and insulation information, including how seams will be sealed. (An acoustical liner inside the ductwork helps assure quietness when the system is running, and insulation on the outside of the ducts helps prevent condensation and improves efficiency.)

    • Ductwork location (in attic, closets, etc.) and the number and locations of diffusers in each room. Places where the ductwork goes from unheated areas (such as the attic) to heated ones (bedrooms or closets) should be sealed with plaster, silicone, or expanding foam so that heated air doesn’t get sucked up into unheated spaces in the winter.

    • Any electrical or plumbing work that needs to be done and who will do it.

    • Warranty and service information on the system and the installation.

    As for when to buy central air conditioning, your best bet is to do that when it’s cold outside—cooling contractors aren’t busy, so they’re more likely to return your calls and arrive on time for estimates. They’re also eager to schedule work and may offer better deals than they would in the summer when temperatures and prices rise. Room units also cost less in the off-season.

    —Mary H.J. Farrell (@mhjfarrell on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Why a bike helmet might save your brain

    Bike helmets can't prevent a broken leg, like the one U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suffered in a bike accident in France over the weekend. But they can reduce the odds of moderate or severe head injuries in an accident, which can be even more important.

    “Bike helmets absorb the force of the impact,” says neurologist Orly Avitzur, M.D., Consumer Reports' medical adviser. "They take the hit so that your head doesn't have to."

    While there's no doubt that bike helmets protect against skull fractures, no bike helmet is completely concussion-proof. Still our medical experts say that wearing a bike helmet will likely help reduce the chances of suffering a concussion from a bike accident, at least a little. Everyone, children and adults, should put on a helmet every time they get on a bike.

    Check our bike helmet buying guide and find out how to properly fit your bike helmet.

    Is it a concussion?

    If you fall off your bike and hit your head but seem to be OK, you still should pay close attention to how you feel over the next few hours or days. The signs of a concussion vary and range from mild to severe. If you experience any of the following after a jolt to the head, play it safe and call your doctor or go to the emergency room.

    • Headache or “pressure” in head
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Balance problems or dizziness
    • Double or blurry vision
    • Sensitivity to light or sound
    • Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or sleepy
    • Confusion or trouble concentrating
    • Memory problems

    If your helmet has been involved in a crash—even if you can't see any damage—replace it. The foam materials in the helmet will crush after an impact and lose their ability to help protect your brain from another accident.

    —Sue Byrne

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Best cars for making it to 200,000 miles

    Almost any car can make it to 200,000 miles if you’re willing to throw enough money at it. But that doesn’t mean that keeping it is a good idea. A less expensive and more hassle-free way to go is to simply buy a safe and reliable model in the first place, and properly maintain it for the long haul. Just follow the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual, take care of minor problems as they arise, keep it clean, and you should be good to go.

    The models listed below are all safe bets. Of the 1.1 million vehicles represented in our annual subscriber survey, these are the ten cars, SUVs, and minivans respondents most often reported as having more than 200,000 miles. As a bonus, all happen to be models that were Consumer Reports recommended when new. That means they’re not just reliable, but they scored well in our road tests.

    —Jim Travers  

    Toyota Prius

    Base MSRP price range: $24,200 - $34,905

    With seating for five, hatchback versatility, rock-solid reliability, and an amazing 44-mpg overall in our tests, there’s a lot to like about the Prius. That’s why it’s a top-scorer in our Ratings, and a perennial favorite in our owner satisfaction surveys. And those owners like to drive them, with more examples on the far side of 200K than any other model in our survey.

    Toyota Camry

    Base MSRP price range: $22,970 - $31,370

    Spacious, quiet, and comfortable, the Camry is one of the most reliable sedans you can buy. It may not pack a lot of excitement, but it makes a nice place to be while the miles roll up. All powertrain choices are pretty bullet proof, but the four-cylinder Camry is the one most often past 200K, combining reliability with being the biggest selling car in America.

    Honda Odyssey

    Base MSRP price range: $28,975 - $44,600

    If you’ve got a crowd with places to go, there’s no better bet than the Odyssey. The cavernous and versatile interior has room for up to eight passengers and a whole lot of gear, several storage cubbies, and is very child seat friendly. Comfortable on the highway, the Odyssey gets bonus points for more responsive handling than you’d expect from a minivan.

    Honda Pilot

    Base MSRP price range: $29,870 - $41,620

    Another family favorite, the Pilot offers a spacious interior with room for eight, and the security of all-wheel drive. Second- and third-row seats fold into the floor for more cargo room, and the powertrain is as smooth as it is reliable. A redesigned Pilot arrives soon. If its track record is any indication, the new one should be up for going the distance.

    Toyota Corolla

    Base MSRP price range: $16,950 - $22,955

    One of the longest-running nameplates in the business, the Corolla also makes an excellent choice for the long run. Its compact dimensions and good fuel economy make it an excellent choice for commuting, running errands, or road trips, and ironclad reliability means you won’t be seeing much of your mechanic.     

    Honda Accord sedan (4-cyl.)

    Base MSRP price range: $22,105 - $35,055

    A smooth, reliable powertrain and good fuel economy are good qualities in a car you’re going to keep for a while, and the Accord checks in with both. Add to that a relatively spacious, quiet interior and responsive handling, and it adds up to a winning formula for going the distance.

    Honda CR-V

    Base MSRP price range: $23,445 - $32,895

    Combining compact exterior dimensions with a spacious interior, all-wheel-drive, decent fuel economy and an aversion to spending time in the shop or by the side of the road, the CR-V comes close to universal appeal. Lots of our readers like them enough to really rack up the miles.

    Toyota Sienna

    Base MSRP price range: $28,600 - $46,150

    A traveling companion you can really rely on, the Sienna has plenty of room for families and cargo, and the ride is comfortable and composed. The engine is strong and smooth, and fuel economy is decent for its size. The Sienna is also the only minivan available with all-wheel-drive.

    Toyota Highlander (V6)

    Base MSRP price range: $29,665 - $50,240

    Another popular choice with families, the Highlander offers a comfortable ride, quiet, roomy, and well-finished cabin, and a smooth powertrain that’s good for many miles of hassle-free driving. With virtues like that, it’s no wonder the Highlander has long been one of our top-Rated midsized SUVs. The Hybrid version gets you even further on a tank of gas.

    Honda Civic (non-hybrid)

    Base MSRP price range: $18,290 - $29,390

    Like a good citizen, the compact Civic sedan goes about its business without complaint, rolling up the miles and staying out of trouble. A reliability champ, the Civic is also easy on gas and more fun to drive than some competitors. Stick with the basic gas four-cylinder for better reliability than the hybrid which had high incidence of hybrid battery problems with some model years.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Mazda MX-5 Miata is big where it counts

    Break out the thesaurus. Mazda just launched a redesign of its spry, nimble, lithe, and brisk two-seat MX-5 Miata convertible.

    But what is the MX-5, really? Its buyer base seems evenly split between the secretary-and-hairdresser crowd who adores the Miata’s cuteness factor, and the weekend club racers who find the ragtop’s just-right balance of light weight, sufficient power, and crisp handling supremely rewarding.

    In an era of cars getting larger with each redesign, it’s heartening to see that Mazda actually made the MX-5 smaller and lighter (by about 200 pounds). One can imagine the triumphant shouts from the R&D studios, “Hiroshi, I shrunk the Miata!”

    Among today’s Novocaine-infused “sporty” cars, the Miata retains the essence of old-school ragtops, where you feel like a unified cog unto the machine itself. It might be one of the last intimate driving experiences on the road.

    That said, the road feel is a bit less telepathic in the new model—even in our borrowed Club version with sport suspension and Bilstein shocks. The initial turn-in of the steering wheel brings a biting response, but communication from the steering gets a touch vague after that.

    Check out 2016 Mazda MX-5 pricing and the quarter century of Miata history.

    The Miata rewards drivers who understand the concept of smartly carrying speed through a perfectly carved corner. The 2016 edition actually has less power—a 12-hp reduction to 155 hp—from its new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. But because peak power comes at lower engine revs, and the gear ratios are perfectly spaced, the Miata feels quicker. Shifts come with a mere flick of a wrist, reminding you of the disappearing joys of driving a manual.

    Although Mazda carved out more space inside the cabin, you still wear the Miata like a worn-in pair of skinny jeans. Taller drivers might not fit this particular cut. The net-structured seatbacks’ shape, and lack of lumbar support, must have been approved by Torquemada. And extracting oneself—especially those who wear miniskirts—is something best done in private. But the manual top is easy to drop and retrieve from the driver’s seat.

    The lack of space inside results in some packaging challenges. It's too easy to bonk the console-mounted control knob for the complicated Mazda Connect infotainment system when shifting. And the removable cup holders are a contortionist’s dream, located behind your elbow.

    For such a small car, the ride is tolerable. But with any routine commute longer than a half-hour comes the realization that the wind noise and engine’s roar are deafening.

    But these complaints void the whole Weltanschauung of the Miata. It is the last truly affordable sports car, a wind-in-hair experience that defies all the buzz-kill metrics.

    So what if your ears are aching and you need to get out and stretch every hour or so? You just perfectly clipped the apex of that decreasing-radius hairpin and are deliciously carrying peak horsepower into the next straightaway. And you are laughing. Oh, are you laughing.

    —Mark Rechtin

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    8 products on deep discount in June

    Consumer Reports analysts track prices year-round, so we can tell you when products are on sale, month by month. If you're looking for a new swimsuit or summer sports gear to take advantage of the warm weather, you can find deep discounts on them in June. Time to spruce up your indoor living spaces? Look for great deals on furniture and carpets.

    Just in time to record your famiy's summer vacation, camcorders will be marketed down this month. If you need to find gifts for June brides and grooms, pots, pans, and dishware will be deply discounted. Small consumer electronics such as Blu-ray players, home theaters, and streaming media players will also be on sale.  

    If you're in the market for these and other items on deep discount this month, we've got the shopping tips, buying guides, and ratings that can help you find the right models. Want to know what's on sale the rest of the year? Check our calendar of deals.

    ––Mandy Walker (@MandyWalker on Twitter)

    Buying a camcorder can be complicated. Models not only vary in size and capabilities, but also in price. You can spend as little as $150 or as much as $1,600, or more.

    Shopping tips:

    The right camcorder features are important. If you want better quality and more options, consider a full-size model. If you need a smaller, more portable model—or if you're an athlete or adventurer who loves to capture action footage—then consider an action cam. 

    Chances are you won't always be shooting in bright light. In our tests using the default mode, we found models varied in quality when shooting in dim light. Most full-sized HD camcorders captured at least good quality video in low light, but some had excellent quality.

    Give some a try. In the store, try different camcorders to make sure they fit your hand and are comfortable to use. Most camcorders are designed so that the most frequently used controls—the switch to zoom in and out, the record button, and the button for still photos—are readily at hand.

    Use our camcorder buying guide to discover which features are most important to you. We also have unbiased Ratings based on our lab tests, plus camcorder reviews to help you choose the best model at the right price.

    Even the most luxurious carpet doesn't have to cost a fortune. Shop around to find carpet that fits your lifestyle and budget.

    Shopping tips:

    Get a complete quote. Always request separate pricing for materials and installation so you can make an "apples-to-apples" comparison among different suppliers.

    Think about carpet care. The wrong carpet may wear out quickly, fade, or show stains that resist your best cleaning efforts. Our carpet cleaner buying guide lists the pros and cons of DIY carpet cleaning versus hiring an expert. Our Ratings of carpet cleaning machines show which ones did best in our tests. We also have stain-fighting tips in our carpet stain remover buying guide, and Ratings of the most effective stain-removing products. And we've found that upright vacuums, especially with a bag, clean carpets best.

    Check out our computer buying guide to brush up on the latest features and shopping tips (subscribers can check out our Ratings of laptops, desktops, chromebooks, and tech support, and our Ratings of computer stores). Also watch our laptop buying guide video below.

    Shopping tips

    Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. New models show up in stores this month (as they do in January and July), meaning older inventory must be cleared out to make room. If a computer you like isn't on sale, ask for a better price.

    Think green when you buy. Some computers meet the new Energy Star standard for efficient power use. Energy-use guidelines cover three operating modes—standby, sleep, and running—with systems entering sleep mode within 30 minutes of inactivity. Power supplies also need to operate more efficiently. You probably won't notice much difference in the operation of your computer, but your electricity bill might go down a bit. Look for the Energy Star label on qualified computers.

    Furniture is on sale this month because stores need to make way for new lines that will arrive after the spring High Point Market.

    Shopping tips

    Where you shop makes a difference. Catalog retailers, for example, have been around for several years, sometimes as an adjunct to a chain of stores. Mass-market retailers, including Ikea, Levitz, Value City, and Walmart, tend to stress price. Expect a fairly limited fabric selection on upholstered furniture. See our guide to the best furniture stores.

    Upkeep is key. Check out this interactive guide, which includes details on upholstered furniture, styles, and furniture-care tips.

    You're likely to find these three products on many wedding registry lists. Luckily, many stores put them on sale now.

    Shopping tips

    Don't automatically opt for the biggest set. If you're looking for a cookware set for a couple getting hitched, you'll want an assortment of skillets and pots, a stockpot, and lids. But a set that contains more pieces might not be the smartest choice if new cooks will use only a few and the rest take up space in their cabinet. For more shopping tips, see our cookware buying guide, and read our Ratings to find the brands and models that did best in our tough lab tests.

    Keep 'em clean. If you take advantage of discounts to replenish your dishes, our dishwasher detergent buying guide will help you keep them sparkling clean (we've also got a dishwasher buying guide packed with shopping tips if you're in the market for a new model). 

    The early days of summer are a good time to buy many small consumer electronics such as MP3 players, DVD players, and Blu-ray players. As with many items you buy, deciding which ones are right for you depends on which type fit your needs and come with features that are important to you. Our buying guides can help; for example, we have one for MP3s, DVD players, and Blu-ray players, and a list of other electronics guides. Subscribers can also access our Ratings of MP3s and Blu-ray players.

    Shopping tips

    Give them a try. For example, whichever type of MP3 player you choose, make sure you'll be comfortable using the device. Look for a display that is easy to read and controls that can be worked with one hand, useful features iPods lack. When it comes to home theaters, audition systems in the store and ask about a return or exchange if the one you buy doesn't suit you.

    Consider online retailers, too. In recent years, the Consumer Reports readers we've surveyed who shopped online were more satisfied overall than those who shopped at a walk-in store. In fact, websites as a whole outdid walk-in stores for quality, selection, and price.

    And tips on the best places to shop for any electronics you're buying, watch the video, below.

    Two of the best ways to get moving this summer— walking and bicycling—are not only enjoyable, but they also happen to be among the most affordable.

    Shopping tips

    Think about fit. Safety and comfort are the two most important factors when buying a bike, and finding one that feels comfortable is essential. Our lab tests show that the lighter the althletic shoe, the better—as long as cushioning and stability don't suffer. Consider investing in a pedometer to keep motivation up.

    Bring the family along. Backpack baby carriers are great for people who want to hike nature trails with their tots in tow. We have more tips for ways the whole family can enjoy a workout this summer, plus info on the best sunscreens and the best ways to stop bug bites.

    As temperatures soar, you'll find good deals on swimsuits (and fetching caps). Because it's the end of the swimsuit season for retailers, however, selection may suffer.

    Shopping tips

    Time it right. You'll get the deepest discount on spring gear by timing it right, say the editors at Shop Smart magazine. It has found Kohl's fans could head to the "Gold Star Clearance" racks, where prices are slashed up to 80 percent on weekend nights. Every Wednesday, shoppers who are 60 years old and older received an extra 15 percent off. At Target, women's clothing was generally marked down on Tuesdays, men's on Wednesday, and kids' on Mondays. Markdowns at Marshalls and T.J. Maxx usually happened on Wednesday. Each store can be different and the policies can change at any time, so have a chat with store salespeople to find out what the deal is in the stores you frequent.

    Look for deals from other seasons. If you can find winter clothing on the racks in stores, the prices should be slashed. And luxury consignment shops are good places to find first rate deals on second-hand designer goods any time of year. You might find the deepest discounts, however, on swimsuits at outlets; read our guide to outlet shopping.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Organizing your financial paperwork

    With tax season receding in the rear view mirror, there are no more excuses for ignoring financial clutter. And there are plenty of good reasons to do a massive re-org. For one thing, this stuff is too important to be tossed in a pile to gather dust.

    Knowing where the important papers are filed saves you and your loved ones from panicky digging in case of an emergency. Knowing when you have to attend to specific financial tasks helps you avoid late fees—or worse. Knowing how it all meshes enables you to take control over your spending and saving.

    For more information on this subject, read "May to-do list: Organizational tips to conquer paperwork clutter."

    With so many options for organizing personal financial paperwork, it's easy to get bogged down before you even begin. Should you go paperless? Drink the Quicken Kool-Aid? Dedicate a file cabinet? Buy a bunch of binders? Whatever you choose, “It has to be a system you’re going to follow,” advises Craig Adamson, president of Adamson Financial Planning in Marion, Iowa.

    Simplest is best

    Whether you’re starting from scratch or are facing a morass of many years, simplest is best. “For most people, the ideal is to have some sort of file cabinet with hanging folders,” says Jeff Baum, a principal with Baum & Baum, certified public accountants in New York City.

    Set up one folder for financial information, another for life insurance policies, others for car and health insurance policies, another for a copy of legal instructions such as your will and powers of attorney, one for your financial statements, and one for credit card information, including your PIN number. Unpaid bills go somewhere where you won’t forget about them; paid bills get tossed in another file. While you’re at it, make a file with the contact information for important people who affect your finances: In addition to the obvious suspects (your lawyer, accountant, and personal financial advisor), include the people who take care of your house and car, as well as any financial dependents, such as Aunt Sadie in the nursing home.

    In lieu of a filing cabinet, Adamson gives all of his clients a hefty loose-leaf binder with plastic file inserts for each element of their important financial information. But even a large box will do, he notes. “It’s a place to consolidate information.”

    The nice thing about a simple system, he adds, is “there’s an expectation that everything goes in the binder” or the filing cabinet or the box in the closet. In addition to being easy to set up and maintain, having everything in one easy-to-access place is especially reassuring for adult children of aging parents. “They know all the papers are in one spot, instead of having some in the safe, some in the lockbox, and some in the second bureau drawer on the right side.”

    Paperless plusses

    To be sure, paperless systems have some big plusses. The most obvious: “You don’t have paper clutter,” Adamson points out. Documents uploaded to the cloud are available any time you need them. If your wallet is lost or stolen while you’re traveling, you can access your credit card numbers and the emergency number to call, says Baum, who uploads his personal 411s to Google Docs.

    The downside, though, is that even the easiest online system still requires the extra steps of scanning, formatting to PDF, and backing up the file – and that’s on top of setting up folders in a way that you can find them. That can just be one task too many.

    Despite the move to paperless organizing, Baum concludes, “For most people, paper is better.”

    Catherine Fredman

     

    A version of this article previously appeared in the May 2015 Consumer Reports Money Adviser.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Consumer Reports targets antibiotic-resistant superbugs

    Antibiotics have saved millions of lives since they were first prescribed nearly 75 years ago. But unrestrained use of these drugs, in humans and animals, has also had unexpected and dangerous consequences—breeding “superbugs” that are resistant to antibiotics and triggering infections that sicken at least 2.25 million Americans each year and kill 37,000.

    To combat that problem, Consumer Reports today announced its commitment to help rein in  antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The initiative kicks off with Consumer Reports President and CEO Marta Tellado participating in the White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship. "Antibiotic-resistant infection is the health crisis of our generation,” Tellado says. “The only way we are going to make progress is by taking bold steps, and we welcome the White House Forum as one of those steps.”

    The initiative also includes an upcoming investigative Consumer Reports series on antibiotic resistance, including their overuse and misuse, the surge of superbugs in hospitals, and the role that antibiotics play in the production of our meat supply. Part one, “How to Stop a Superbug,” will appear in the August 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine and on ConsumerReports.org. 

    Consumer Reports supports these steps in the fight against superbugs:  

    • Require hospitals and health-care providers to report antibiotic use and antibiotic-resistant infections.
    • Mandatory real-time reporting by hospitals and health care providers of antibiotic-resistant outbreaks.
    • Better tests, so doctors can more easily tell which infections are caused by bacteria (which can be cured with antibiotics) and those caused by viruses (which can't).
    • Rigorous pre-market safety tests for new antibiotics.
    • A ban on using antibiotics on healthy food animals.

    This week, Consumer Reports also announces its collaboration with seven U.S. health care organizations to reduce the inappropriate use of antibiotics. The campaign is supported by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant for Choosing Wisely, a patient and physician education initiative overseen by the ABIM Foundation.  

    Later this month, Consumer Reports Board Chair Diane Archer will moderate a panel on the issue of antibiotic overuse at Spotlight Health, at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

    Consumer Reports has highlighted the issue of antibiotic overuse for many years, most notably through its Safe Patient Project and ongoing testing of bacteria in meat for antibiotic resistance. It has also been urging meat producers to end the use of antibiotics in healthy food animals.

    the Consumerist's complete antibiotic-resistance coverage, and join our fight to stop the spread of superbugs.  

    Follow @ConsumerReports fight to stop the spread of superbugs on Twitter and Facebook. #SlamSuperbugs

    Click on the video above to watch a video of the June 2, 2015 White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship. (Mobile users: Click on this link to watch the video.)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Consumer Reports Aims to Stop the Spread of Superbugs

    CEO Marta Tellado at White House Forum Today

    WASHINGTON, DC – Consumer Reports, the world’s largest and most trusted nonprofit consumer organization, today announced its commitment to help wipe out antibiotic-resistant bacteria or “superbugs.” Infections related to the use of antibiotics sicken about 2.25 million Americans each year and kill 37,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    The initiative kicks off today with CR President and CEO Marta Tellado participating in the White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship. The event brings together key federal and private sector constituencies involved in the development, promotion, and implementation of antibiotic stewardship activities to ensure the responsible use of antibiotics nationwide.

    Tellado said this heightened focus also includes a 3-part investigative series on antibiotic resistance, including their overuse and misuse, the surge of superbugs in hospitals, and the role that antibiotics play in the production of our meat supply. Part one of the series, “How to Stop a Superbug,” will appear in the August issue of Consumer Reports magazine, which hits newsstands on July 7th and online on June 25. CR’s coverage related to superbugs can be found at http://www.ConsumerReports.org/superbugs and on Twitter at #SlamSuperbugs.

    “For 80 years Consumer Reports has been on consumers’ side, fighting threats to public health for every generation. Antibiotic-resistant infection is the health crisis of our generation. We are committed to investing our time, resources, and energy to work with government, industry, and the American public to stop the spread of superbugs,” said Marta Tellado, President and CEO of Consumer Reports. “The only way we are going to make progress is by taking bold steps and we welcome the White House Summit as one of those steps.”

    Specifically, Consumer Reports supports:

    • Requiring hospitals and health-care providers to report antibiotic use and antibiotic-resistant infections.

    • Mandatory real-time reporting of outbreaks related to antibiotic-resistant infections.

    • Improvements to rapid diagnostic testing to distinguish between viral and bacterial pathogens, so antibiotics get prescribed more judiciously.

    • Rigorous pre-market safety testing for new antibiotics.

    • A ban on using antibiotics on healthy animals.

    This week Consumer Reports will also be announcing its collaboration with seven U.S. health care organizations to focus on reducing the use of antibiotics for viral infections by at least 20 percent within three years. This campaign is supported by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant for Choosing Wisely, a physician and patient education initiative overseen by the ABIM (American Board of Internal Medicine) Foundation. In its role leading patient outreach, Consumer Reports is producing educational materials about the overuse of antibiotics for dissemination through a broad network of consumer organizations and regional healthcare collaboratives.

    Later this month, Consumer Reports Board Chair Diane Archer will moderate a panel on the issue of antibiotic overuse at Spotlight Health, a segment of the Aspen Ideas Festival produced by the Aspen Institute.

    Consumer Reports has advocated and reported on the issue of antibiotic overuse for many years, most notably through its Safe Patient Project and ongoing testing of bacteria in meat for antibiotic resistance. It has also been urging meat producers to end the use of antibiotics in healthy animals, with several producers and retailers making commitments on this front in the past few months.

    About Consumer Reports
    Consumer Reports is the world’s largest and most trusted nonprofit consumer organization working to improve the lives of consumers by driving marketplace change. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has achieved substantial gains for consumers on health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other issues. The organization has advanced important policies to cut hospital-acquired infections, prohibit predatory lending practices and combat dangerous toxins in food. Consumer Reports tests and rates thousands of products and services in its 50-plus labs, state-of-the-art auto test center and consumer research center. Consumers Union, a division of Consumer Reports, works for pro-consumer laws and regulations in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. With more than eight million subscribers to its flagship magazine, website and other publications, Consumer Reports accepts no advertising, payment or other support from the companies whose products it evaluates. 

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    Trying AcuraLink app-powered navigation

    As drivers rely more on their phones for navigation and entertainment, automakers are coming up with various solutions to integrate smartphones with vehicle touch screens. The goal is to give users a familiar experience, while reducing the distraction inherent in handling a portable device. With the smartphone solution, buyers can also save a bundle of cash by taking a pass on a built-in navigation system that can cost $1,000 or more.

    At least that’s the theory. In practice, the execution isn’t always ready for prime time.

    A case in point is the AcuraLink navigation app offered with ILX sedans. Oddly, it is only available on those equipped with the Premium trim. You can’t get it on base models, and top-of-the-line Technology package models come with built-in nav, negating the need for a phone-based solution. The app is compatible with iPhone 5 and newer phones running iOS 7.x and 8.x, and it can be downloaded from iTunes for $60. Add to that a cable kit for another $100, and you’re good to go. Yes, the software and cable combined cost more than many excellent portable navigation devices. 

    Since our ILX test car has the Premium trim, we decided to spring for the app and cable kit, and try it out. Downloading the app and plugging in the phone was a snap. Once installed, pressing the “app” button on the dash brought the navigation screen right up. We found the navigation system provided straightforward directions, with easy-to-use graphics.

    If you get the feeling that there’s a “but” or two coming, right you are. As helpful and relatively budget-friendly as AcuraLink is, the system lacks the integration of a built-in unit. Our biggest objection is that there is no capability for voice control, requiring you instead to key in addresses or points of interest while stopped. That effectively eliminates any possibility of asking for directions on the fly, something virtually all good systems are capable of these days. Acura says the workaround is to use Siri to ask for directions before you plug the phone into the car.

    Another glitch is that when you make or receive a call while navigation is running—something you can do by using your voice—the navigation screen disappears, replaced by the phone menu. A message pops up on the screen saying that the app is unavailable while you’re using the phone, yet in our experience, spoken instructions continued while we were on our hands-free call, interrupting our conversation every time we approached a turn. We were unable to find a way to turn this off.

    At $160 or so all in, AcuraLink navigation might find some takers among iPhone users. Android types are out of luck, at least for now. We’re thinking a $100 Garmin portable unit might be a better bet.

    See our GPS navigation buying advice and ratings.

    —Jim Travers

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Safest used cars under $10,000 for teen drivers

    When picking out a car for a new teen driver, it’s essential to get all the latest safety gear. But for most families, it’s unrealistic to buy their teenager a brand new car.

    So how do you get the most critical safety features without breaking the bank? Here’s what to look for:

    The most important thing is electronic stability control, which has proven to be statistically the most effective safety advancement in cars since seat belts. ESC helps drivers keep the car on the road in emergency situations. And staying on the road goes a long way to keeping the car from rolling over or spinning into a tree or a telephone pole, which are among the most dangerous types of accidents. A car with ESC will also have antilock brakes and probably traction control, since they require all the same hardware components. ESC became mandatory in 2012, but most cars began to include it earlier as standard equipment.

    It’s also important to find a car with side and curtain airbags. Since there’s much less space between the edge of the car and passengers in a side collision than in front or back, side airbags form a critical buffer. Curtain airbags, which cover the side windows, can also help keep passengers inside during an accident, a critical safety benefit.

    Any car with curtain airbags and ESC will also have front airbags, which became mandatory in 1999. But you shouldn’t have to go back that far to find an affordable used car.

    The cars on our list also have to handle well in emergency maneuvers, have good stopping distances (on factory tires), and not be too slow nor too fast.

    Since weight and size also play a crucial role in safety, we recommend midsized or larger sedans. (Don’t go too large if you don’t want lots of parking-lot scrapes.) We think sedans are better than SUVs, because their lower center of gravity gives them better underlying stability—even in this age of ESC.

    So while you’re waiting for your teen driver to return with the keys to your own ride, check out our Top 10 suggestions for the safest used cars for teens:

    Eric Evarts

    Visit our guide to teen driving.  

    Chevrolet Malibu (2009-2012, 4-cyl.)

    Starting at: $8,125

    The midsized Malibu is comfortable, quiet, and well-finished inside, with an absorbent ride and comfortable seats, especially if you get the leather. Handling feels responsive, with light and precise steering. There’s plenty of elbow room inside the stylish, nicely detailed interior. Both the pedals and the steering wheel adjust for reach, which could make the Malibu an especially easy fit for taller or shorter teens. Straightforward controls are another big help for new drivers. The four-cylinder engine is quiet, refined, and responsive, plus it gets a pretty good 25 mpg overall.

    Ford Focus (2009-2011)

    Starting at: $6,050

    The small Focus sedan is agile and fun to drive, with an upright seating position that may help teens plan ahead by giving them a good view down the road. The optional Sync system gives hands-free phone connectivity, but without the fussy and distracting MyFord Touch control system that came later. The cabin makes access easy and gives plenty of room for two in the backseat. An optional manual transmission makes this a good car to train your kid to drive a stick, and the reward for do-it-yourself shifting is a respectful 29 mpg overall. Perhaps the biggest downsides are a noisy and cheap-feeling interior.

    Ford Fusion (2010-2012, 4-cyl. and hybrid)

    Starting at: $8,325

    The midsized Fusion offers responsive handling and a supple ride, along with Sync Bluetooth connectivity and voice commands. (Some also have the optional MyFord Touch—a distracting infotainment system.) Controls are fairly simple, although they could be better placed. Drivers will find plenty of room inside along with comfortable seats. The four cylinder is backed by a smooth, smart-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, but the engine can sound noisy when accelerating. A hybrid version is available, though it’s significantly more expensive.  

    Hyundai Sonata (2006-2014, 4-cyl., non-turbo)

    Starting at: $5,450

    A comfortable, quiet, and daresay almost luxurious midsized sedan, the 2006-2010 Sonata has a pillowy ride, soft seats, and simple controls. Handling is a bit numb, but it’s secure enough. Freshened for 2009, the four-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic deliver quiet acceleration, with very good gas mileage at 26 mpg overall. The backseat will hold three across comfortably, but the front seats are too soft for long-trip comfort. The generation starting with 2011 has swoopy, coupe-like body styling, but unlike most such cars, rear-seat room and visibility remain tolerable. The new four-cylinder engine racked up impressive fuel economy of 27 mpg.

    Kia Soul (2010-2011)

    Starting at: $8,925

    A functional little box-on-wheels, the Soul gets great mileage and offers all the features your kid wants with all the safety features you do. Kia’s UVO connection system will play songs from your smart phone, as well as enable hands-free calling. And the tall, upright driving position gives a good view of the road, although thick rear roof pillars create rear blind zones. The powertrain feels responsive enough, but the engine is loud, and the ride skews to the hard side. Hatchback versatility may prove helpful on campus, although its overall cargo capacity is limited. A distinctive shape, the Soul has personality that may have distinct youth appeal over a more traditional, staid alternative.

    Mazda3 (2011-2013)

    Starting at: $9,825

    The answer to almost every automotive question, the Mazda3 is safe, fuel efficient and responsive to drive. You can get leather, navigation, and seat heaters, as well as at least rudimentary Bluetooth phone pairing. We especially like the Mazda3 for teenagers because of its responsive handling and tidy size, which make it easy to get out of trouble. For 2012, the 3 offered Mazda's Skyactiv engine and transmission, which boosted fuel economy to an impressive 32 mpg. Consequently, they seem to be more expensive than non-Skyactiv models.

    Mazda6i (2009-2013, 4-cyl.)

    Starting at: $8,375

    One of the sportier midsized sedans on the market, the Mazda6 has a supple and controlled ride with sharp steering and nimble handling. Most controls are very simple, although the radio buttons are oddly arranged. A long seat cushion and telescoping steering wheel make the 6 a perfect fit for tall teens, and an optional blind-spot monitoring system could be a boon to young drivers. Pronounced road noise is the main downside.

    Toyota RAV4 (2004-2012, 4-cyl.)

    Starting at: $5,590

    The RAV4 is a roomy reliable SUV that rides well, gets great gas mileage for an SUV and has responsive and secure handling. Bluetooth hands-free phone pairing is available, as is all-wheel drive. Leather seats are significantly more comfortable. Skip the optional third-row seat since statistics show accident rates rise dramatically with more teens in the car. The side swinging tailgate isn’t very convenient in the city, but the RAV has tons of room for carrying dorm supplies with the backseats folded.

    Volkswagen Jetta (2009-2010, 4-cyl.)

    Starting at: $7,250

    A sophisticated small car, the Jetta handles enthusiastically and rides well. It has comfortable seats for the long haul with plenty of room in back and a giant trunk. The base five-cylinder engine has plenty of power, but it sounds coarse and doesn’t get great fuel economy. Visibility is great with large windows all around, and controls are super simple. A diesel version can get 34 mpg overall and reach nearly 50 mpg on the highway. Reliability is good either way.

    Volkswagen Rabbit/Golf (2009-2014)

    Starting at: $7,700

    This hatchback version of the Jetta has long been solid, practical, and fun-to-drive. The Rabbit had a responsive but gruff and inefficient 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine. We found its handling agile and secure and the ride fairly comfortable. The Golf name returned with the impressive 2010 redesign. Interior quality improved and the car had responsive handling, supportive front seats, and a good ride. Drivers find the dynamics entertaining and packaging remarkably efficient, whether transporting second-row passengers or needing to load up with supplies from a warehouse store. Diesel versions returned excellent fuel economy, but they tend to hold their value more, making the traditional gasoline-burning versions more attainable.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    5 ways to protect yourself from a tick bite

    With summer approaching, you should be on your guard for a new crop of deer ticks and the diseases they can carry, such as Lyme, which affects about 300,000 people in the U.S. each year and is "increasing significantly," according to tick experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    "People are at risk every summer, but the geographic reach of Lyme disease is expanding," says Ben Beard, Ph.D., chief of the CDC’s bacterial diseases branch in the Division of Vector-borne Diseases. He says the CDC is most concerned about "leading edge" areas where Lyme disease is new and health care providers may be less familiar with the condition. "If you live in an area where there is Lyme disease, you have to protect yourself," he says.

    Take these five steps to protect yourself from ticks and the diseases they can carry.

    1. Spray on repellent

    To avoid a tick bite, use an effective repellent. Consumer Reports recently tested 15 insect sprays and found several to recommend that are safer to use and work for several hours.

    Apply to exposed skin—never under clothing. Use just enough to cover since heavy doses don't work better. And don't let young children apply. Instead, put it on your own hands, then rub it on kids, avoiding their hands, eyes, and mouth. Wash off repellents before you go to bed.

    2. Wear the right clothes

    When walking through wooded or grassy areas, wear light-colored clothes because that makes it easier to spot ticks. Wear long sleeves if possible and long pants, socks, and boots or closed-toe shoes. Tuck your hair into a hat, your shirt into your pants, and your pants into your socks.  For extra protection, toss your clothes into a dryer on high heat to kill ticks that might be attached.

    3. Inspect your skin

    Back inside, shower using a wash cloth as soon as possible  (preferably within two hours) to remove any unattached ticks, which often remain on your skin for hours before attaching themselves. Search carefully, since deer ticks are no bigger than the head of a pin.

    Check your body, including your armpits and groin, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and in your hair. Use tweezers to gently remove any attached ticks. (Remove the whole body, including the head.) Ticks have to be attached for at least 36 hours to transmit Lyme disease.

    4. Keep your grass short

    Ticks like tall grass and lots of shade. So keep your lawn mowed (read our lawn mower buying guide), remove leaves and other debris, and try to let as much sun into your yard as possible. Consider putting up a fence around your property to keep out deer and other large animals that can carry ticks.  

    5. Check your pets

    Deer ticks that crawl aboard your dog or cat can attach to you after you touch your pet. So inspect pets after they've been outside, and remove any ticks you find with tweezers. "Try not to puncture it, because infected material can come out of the damaged tick," says Lars Eisen, Ph.D., research entomologist for the CDC. "And don't handle the tick with your bare fingers." Dispose of a tick by submersing it in rubbing alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.

    The good news is that if you lose a tick while removing it with tweezers, it likely will be too damaged to bite again, Eisen says. Deer ticks feed only once in each life stage (larva, nymph and adult). 

    When to get medical help

    Lyme, which can give you flu-like symptoms, is the most common disease associated with deer ticks, but there are others: anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Powassan encephalitis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

    See a doctor if you develop signs or symptoms of a tick-borne illness. In addition to the classic bull’s-eye rash of Lyme disease, tick-borne illnesses can cause chills, fever, fatigue, headaches, and muscle or joint pain.

    Prompt treatment can stop the infection and prevent more serious complications, such as acute arthritis and facial paralysis (with Lyme disease), difficulty breathing or hemorrhage (anaplasmosis), blood clots and bleeding (babesiosis), difficulty breathing or bleeding disorders (ehrlichiosis), neurological problems (Powassan), and widespread heart, joint, or kidney damage (Rocky Mountain spotted fever).

    —Sue Byrne

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Touchscreen trouble? It could be zombie finger

    Some smartphone and tablet users are afflicted with a malady. No matter how hard they press on the display, they just can’t seem to get the device to acknowledge their touch. These people may have the same problem with laptop touchpads. In layman’s terms, they suffer from zombie finger.

    “The capacitive touch sensor is—to most people—this kind of magical thing,” says Andrew Hsu, Ph.D., a pioneer in touchscreen tech at Synaptics, a major supplier of the technology to electronics manufacturers. “In an ideal situation, you barely touch the surface of the screen and the sensor is able to detect the presence of your finger.” In some cases, however, that finger confounds the technology.

    “It’s a problem we’ve been wrestling with for 20 years now,” says Hsu. “It’s a very delicate balance. We spend a lot of time essentially trying to determine whether a user has touched the surface or not.”

    To understand why one finger gets noticed while another is ignored, you need to know how a capacitive touchscreen works. Unlike the resistive screens, which rely on mechanical pressure to register each touch, a smartphone or laptop touchpad generates a small electric field. In fact, you don’t even have to make contact with the touchpad for the sensor to detect your finger. Because the human body conducts electricity, a fingertip in close proximity to the glass will absorb the electrical charge and create a measurable disturbance in the field, alerting a grid of electrodes on the screen and enabling the phone to register the command.

    Check our buying guide and Ratings for smartphones and tablets.

    To satisfy consumers, capacitive touchscreens must be nimble enough to recognize the dainty finger of a toddler, the bony digit of a an elderly person, and the meaty stab of a sumo wrester. What’s more, software algorithms need to filter out the “noise” generated by grease and grime on the glass, not to mention the overlapping electrical fields generated by fluorescent lights, poorly designed charging stations, even other components inside the device. “It’s one of the reasons why the mobile phone has more processing power than the computers used to send a man to the moon,” says Hsu.

    All things considered, capacitive touchscreens offer clear advantages for cell phones and tablets. They stand up well to the wear-and-tear of constant use, they don’t detract from picture quality, and they permit multitouch gestures. And for the record: Despite what you might have heard, they perform fine whether you’ve got a hot or cold hand.

    In the end, though, capacitive touchscreens are not foolproof. Living, breathing people with thick callouses on their fingers—think guitar players or carpenters—struggle with these touchscreens because the dead skin on their fingertips prevents the flow of electricity. People wearing gloves tend to experience trouble. People with very dry hands, too. “I’ve also heard of women with really long fingernails having problems,” says Daniel Tower, an engineer at Wacom, which makes drawing tablets and styluses. Basically, anything that limits your hand’s conductivity is a potential pitfall.

    So what should you do if you have zombie fingers? You might try licking your fingertip or, better yet, applying a water-based moisturizer to your hands. And, if you can’t bear to give up playing electric guitar or having designer nails, think about using a touchscreen stylus to funnel the electricity into your mitts.

    Don’t have one handy? People in South Korea have discovered that a pork link will do the job. “There’s moisture in that sausage,” says Hsu. “So long as your body is in contact with it, it has enough conductivity to affect the electric field.”

    Of course, the Slim Jim approach presents other challenges. “That only works if you’re not hungry,” says Tower’s Wacom colleague Doug Little.

    —Chris Raymond

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    New Mazda MX-5 Miata impresses, but should you just buy a used Miata instead?

    A new Mazda Miata is a big occasion. After all, the tiny roadster is an enthusiast favorite—that hasn’t been redesigned for a decade. In the latest “Talking Cars with Consumer Reports,” the team shares their experiences and impressions driving the new roadster. As good as the new Miata is—and it is very good indeed—we can’t help but wonder if this sunny-day toy’s toughest competition proves to be the vast array of used Miatas out there.

    Another new Mazda faces much more competition, as the CX-3 subcompact SUV goes up against other fresh-faced rivals like the Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, and Jeep Renegade. But we find that the CX-3 offers something that these other bite-sized, budget-priced SUVs lack—it actually feels upscale and rewarding to drive.

    A more premium experience was also a chief goal for the redesigned 2016 Honda Pilot. Although we have a few quibbles, the Pilot will likely give the Hyundai Santa Fe and Toyota Highlander a run for their money, especially given the Honda’s generous available safety features.

    Watch the latest episode above to see our team these cars and more. As with the other shows, this episode is also available free through the iTunes Store. Subscribe to the video or audio. You'll also find the video on YouTube.

    Also view:

    Tom Mutchler

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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