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    When you really need a face sunscreen

    Body and face sunscreens often 
contain the same active ingredients
 and can be used interchangeably. 
But face products are usually packaged 
differently and can come with a higher
 price. Our experts say they’re usually 
worth it, though. For one thing, they’re often formulated with no fragrance or just a hint.
 And they might not contain oils, so they feel
 lighter on your face. “This allows them to be 
used under makeup without feeling heavy or greasy,” explains Patricia Agin, Ph.D., of the Coppertone Solar Research Center.

    We looked at six face sunscreens and found two to recommend. The best face sunscreen in our tests is Avon Sun + Face Lotion SPF 40. The second best face sunscreen is Coppertone Sport High Performance Faces SPF 50. Both provide plenty of broad-spectrum and SPF coverage, though the Coppertone product tested at an SPF of 41 rather than the 50 claimed on the bottle. They left just a slight amount of residue and were slightly scented. (Do you use a face sunscreen? Do you like it? Tell us about your experience by leaving a comment below.)

    Stay safe this summer with our advice on sun protection and insect repellents.

    We included mineral sunscreens for your face in our tests. But as we found with body sunscreens, facial products with only the mineral active ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide didn’t hold up well.

    If you don’t want to pay a premium for a separate face sunscreen but want a lightweight one, avoid those with ultrahigh SPF. Some have higher levels of active ingredients, so they can feel heavier.

    Even the best face sunscreen won’t protect you as well if you don’t use the right amount. Use a teaspoon to cover your face and neck—and consider squirting out a little more so you can cover your chest, too. And if you use a moisturizer with SPF instead of a face sunscreen, you should still reapply it every two hours if you're out in the sun, just as you should with any sunscreen. Using a spray sunscreen? Don't spray your face. Instead, spray into your hand and rub the product on your face.

    —Karyn Repinski

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

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

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  • 06/16/15--10:44: So long, trans fat
  • So long, trans fat

    You know trans fat, the stuff margarine is made of and fast food restaurants often drop their fries and doughnuts into? The fat that increases your risk of heart attack and stroke? Well, soon you'll be able to stop worrying about it.  

    That's because today the Food and Drug Administration announced that partially hydrogenated oils, the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat, will be removed from the list of ingredients that are "generally recognized as safe." Food companies will have three years to either remove partially hydrogenated oils from their products, or petition the FDA for permission to use those oils.

    See our guide to good and bad fats and our review of butter substitutes.

    "Today's announcement is an important one for consumers' health," said William Wallace, policy analyst with Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. "We applaud the FDA for re-evaluating its position based on the current weight of scientific evidence and urge food manufacturers to phase out all remaining trans fat as quickly as possible. Consumer Reports has voiced concerns about the connection between trans fat and heart disease for more than 20 years."

    Trans fat comes from vegetable oils that have additional hydrogen molecules attached to them. The original idea was to give the fat the stability and mouthfeel of butter, but without the cholesterol or saturated fat. As it turned out, trans fat was also less expensive than butter and extended the shelf life of packaged products. But it also turned out to be just as bad, if not worse, for your heart and your health as saturated fats are.

    Like saturated fat, trans fat raises levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, but it also lowers levels of HDL (good) cholesterol at the same time, so it’s a double whammy on your heart. And it might also cause inflammation, which could pose additional risks to your heart and throughout your body.

    Food manufacturers were required to list trans fat on the nutrition facts label in 2006, and as a result many switched from partially hydrogenated oils to other fats in their products—up to a point. Even products that say Trans Fat Free or list 0 grams of trans fat on the label can legally contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat. It may not sound like much, but if you ate several products that contained this level of trans fat, you could still be consuming much more than you think. The Institute of Medicine says that there is no known safe level of trans fat consumption.

    You'll have to keep scrutinizing ingredients lists during this phasing-out period, but the FDA anticipates that many manufacturers will remove partially hydrogenated oils from their products in advance of the three-year compliance date.

    —Trisha Calvo

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

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    LastPass was hacked—so are password managers still safe?

    Virtually every article about staying safe online tells users to sign up for a password manager that creates unique, strong codes for logging into banking, social-media, and other websites. So after the news broke yesterday that hackers had gained access to LastPass, legions of responsible citizens were left wondering if that advice still applies. And articles quickly appeared arguing that, on balance, it does. However, important caveats apply.

    The LastPass announcement on the attack, which was posted on Monday, June 15, said that email addresses, authentication hashes, and hints used to help people recall their passwords had been stolen. The company also said that the procedures it uses to make data harder to crack would probably ensure that most users remained safe. (Security blogger Brian Krebs has a quick explanation of some of the relevant technology.)

    The greatest vulnerability right now could be those password reminders, according to Dan Guido, a security consultant and the CEO of Trail of Bits. After previous hacks of some sites, researchers found that “many people set hints that were the actual passwords, or a variation of them,” he says. Other hints were easy to decode, especially with some research. If the entire LastPass database were leaked online, a dedicated sleuth could potentially decipher a user’s password without using any computing power at all.

    A more likely scenario, of course, is that the thieves will try to crack the passwords themselves—and, given the security procedures LastPass has in place, that would be a time-consuming task. As a safeguard, LastPass users should change their master passwords, turn on two-factor authentication, and take other standard measures to protect their data.

    After the many recent data breaches, it's no surprise that a password manager is vulnerable, too. After all, Guido points out, what could be a richer target for a criminal hacker than a database promising access to every banking, brokerage, insurance, and social media account for millions of users? For that reason, he recommends 1Password, a service that operates locally on your private computer. Other experts may disagree. But looking further ahead, this kind of data breach could bring renewed attention to the technology used by password managers—and to the efforts to move beyond passwords altogether.

    —Jerry Beilinson

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

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    Sony PlayStation Vue à la carte option won't save you money

    If you've ever wondered whether an à la carte TV subscription could actually save you money, it looks like you'll soon be able to find out. At the E3 video game trade show this week, Sony said that starting next month, its PlayStation Vue Internet TV service will be the first ever to offer individual channel subscriptions nationwide, meaning you can get only the channels you want outside of à larger programming bundle.

    Sony also said PlayStation Vue, which had only been available in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, is now rolling out in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

    However, it's not yet clear how extensive Vue's à la carte offerings will be. Based on what was said at E3, the pickings at launch will be pretty slim, with only Showtime, Fox Soccer Channel, and an online gaming and entertainment video network called Machinima immediately available.

    Showtime costs $11 per month, the usual rate for Showtime's streaming channel, and Fox's soccer channel is priced at $15 per month. Machinima will cost $4 per month, though it is included at no extra charge in the highest-priced "Elite" Vue bundle, which costs $80 a month. (Those who pay the $50 yearly charge for a Sony PlayStation Plus membership get deals on both Fox and Machinima.) So to get just these three channels, you'd pay $30 each month.

    By comparison, Sony's basic Vue programming bundle costs $50 per month, and it includes about 50 different channels, including local broadcasts and so-called cable channels such as AMC, CNN, HGTV, and TBS. For viewers who watch a lot of programs, a bundle—from Sony or a traditional pay TV provider—might continue to offer better value.

    One question that wasn't addressed is whether those opting for à la carte channels get the free cloud-based DVR, or if that's only available to those subscribing to a bundle.

    Right now, there's no information about what additional channels will be offered through PlayStation Vue on an à la carte basis. But unless individual prices are lower than what we've already seen, it would seem likely that for many of us, the à la carte options would be used to augment, not replace, a traditional TV bundle.

    And that would mean that Sony's service isn't all that different from some of the other cord-cutting TV services, such as Sling TV, that provide a basic bundle, plus the option to add individual or mini genre-based channel packs.

    —James K. Willcox

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

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    Don't fall for a jury duty phone scam

    Scammers will do just about anything to get your personal information or your money, including pretending to be law enforcement. In fact, there’s an old scam in which the caller claims he's contacting you because you failed to report for jury duty.

    Here’s how the scam goes: You get an out-of-the-blue call from someone who says that you failed to show up for jury duty and now there’s a warrant out for your arrest, but you can clear up the trouble right now if you “verify” your personal information, such as birth date and Social Security number. (Sound off about phone scams or share your story by leaving a comment below.)

    The scammer might go even further and demand that you pay up; he’ll say that if you give your credit-card number or buy a prepaid card and share the account number with him, the problem will go away. Given the dire choice between giving in or going to jail, many victims are caught off guard and go along to defuse the situation, says the FBI.

    The jury duty scam has been around since at least 2005, but people continue to get calls. That’s why we’re working to stop these calls before they come into our homes. The End Robocalls campaign is calling on the phone companies to offer consumers free tools to stop robocalls before they invade our privacy and steal our money.

    Norman from Minneapolis got this call in January:

    "A person claiming to be from the sheriff’s office called to state that my wife had not reported for jury duty. I immediately smelled that this was a scam, and shouted into the phone three times SCAM, SCAM . . . "

    Norman did the right thing, but not everyone has been so lucky. News reports indicate that consumers have lost hundreds to the jury duty scam.

    So how can you avoid falling victim? Remember these tips that we’ve complied from advice from the FBIfederal courts and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s Consumer Alert:

    • Courts do not call consumers about jury duty. Notice about jury duty will come by mail. Hang up on anyone who claims to be calling about jury service.
    • Courts do not ask people to provide personal information over the phone, so no legit caller will ask for it. You will never be asked for your Social Security number, credit card numbers, or any other sensitive information by court officers or law enforcement.
    • Courts will not call consumers asking them to pay money for missing jury duty, so do not send money to any caller claiming to be from the court system. As noted, any communications about jury duty—even if you missed your assigned time to show up—will come by mail.

    You can help law enforcement crack down on scammers by reporting scam calls to the police. Please also help by reporting jury duty scams to the local and federal court officials. You can find your local U.S. District Court here; look online to find state or city courts.

    To help end the scourge of robocall scams, join with the more than 300,000 people who are calling on the phone companies to end robocalls.

    —Christina Tetreault

     

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

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    Everything you need to know about the Takata airbag recall

    More than 30 million vehicles in the United States, made by 10 different automakers, have been recalled to replace frontal airbags on the driver’s side or passenger’s side, or both. The airbags, made by major parts supplier Takata, were mostly installed in cars from model year 2002 through 2008, although it has been expanded through 2014 in some cases. Some of those airbags could deploy explosively, injuring or even killing car occupants. (Look for details below on waits for replacement airbags.)

    The different automakers’ notices to their customers have varied, depending on how many Takata airbags they installed and how long they believe it will take them to acquire replacements if they don’t have enough on hand. To provide guidance to car owners, we spoke with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Takata, and most carmakers.

    At the heart of the problem is the airbag’s inflator, a metal cartridge loaded with propellant wafers, which in some cases has ignited with explosive force. If the inflator housing ruptures in a crash, metal shards from the airbag can be sprayed throughout the passenger cabin—a potentially disastrous outcome from a supposedly life-saving device.

    Nailing down the root cause and determining which of Takata’s several inflator designs is implicated has been tough for Takata, the automakers, and independent investigators to establish. It now appears there are multiple causes, as well as several contributing factors, including poor quality control in manufacture, several years of exposure in high heat and humidity regions, and even the design of the car itself. If the propellant wafers break down, due to high humidity or another cause, the result is that the propellant burns too rapidly, creating excessive pressure in the inflator body.

    Visit our guide to car safety.

    June 16, 2015: Toyota expands years for recall on previously announced models, adding 1,365,000 additional vehicles.

    June 15, 2015: Honda expands national recall on Honda Accord.

    June 4, 2015: Reuters reports that at least 400,000 replaced airbag inflators will need to be recalled and replaced again. 

    May 29, 2015: Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Subaru, and General Motors added the vehicle identification numbers (VIN) of the impacted vehicles to their recall websites.

    May 28, 2015: NHTSA and vehicle manufacturers revealed the additional models included in previous recall announcements.

    May 19, 2015: DOT released a statement saying that Takata acknowledges airbag inflators it produced for certain vehicles were faulty. It expanded certain regional recalls to national ones, and included inflators fitted in certain Daimler Trucks in the recalled vehicles. In all, the recall was expanded to a staggering 33.8 million vehicles. That number includes the roughtly 17 million vehicles previously recalled by affected automakers.

    February 20, 2015: NHTSA fined Takata $14,000 per day for not cooperating fully with the agency's investigation into the airbag problems.

    January 18, 2015: The driver of a 2002 Honda Accord became the fifth person in the United States thought to have been killed by an exploding airbag inflator.

    December 18, 2014: Ford issued a statement adding an additional 447,310 vehicles to the recall.

    December 9, 2014: Honda issued a statement saying it will comply with NHTSA and expand its recall to a national level. This brings the number of affected Honda/Acura vehicles to 5.4 million.

    November 18, 2014: NHTSA called for the recalls to be expanded to a national level.

    November 7, 2014: New York Times published a report claiming Takata was aware of dangerous defects with its airbags years before the company filed paperwork with federal regulators.

    Six fatalities and more than 100 injuries have been linked to the Takata airbags, and in some cases the incidents were horrific, with metal shards penetrating a driver’s face and neck. As awful as they are, such incidents are very rare. In June of 2015, Takata stated that it was aware of 88 ruptures in total: 67 on the driver’s side and 21 on the passenger’s side out of what it calculated was just over 1.2 million airbag deployments spread over 15 years. Despite these figures, airbags in general are not a danger. The Department of Transportation estimates that between 1987 and 2012, frontal airbags have saved 37,000 lives.

    Based on information provided by Takata and acting under a special campaign by NHTSA, the involved automakers are responding to this safety risk by recalling all vehicles that have these specific airbags. While the automakers are prioritizing resources by focusing on high-humidity areas, they shouldn’t stop there. We encourage a national approach to the risks, as vehicles tend to travel across state borders, especially in the used-car market.

    How do I know whether my car is affected by the recall?

    There are several ways to check whether your specific car is affected. You’ll need your vehicle identification number, VIN, found in the lower driver-side corner of the windshield (observable from outside the vehicle), as well as on your registration and insurance documents. Punch that number into NHTSA’s online VIN-lookup tool. If your vehicle is affected, the site will tell you so. NHTSA also has a list of vehicles available for a quick review, and the manufacturers have ownership sections on their websites for such information. Or you can call any franchised dealer for your car brand.

    Acura Lexus
    BMW Mazda
    Chrysler Mitsubishi (Registration req'd)
    Dodge Nissan
    Ford Subaru
    General Motors (includes Pontiac, Saab) Toyota
    Honda  
    Infiniti NHTSA VIN lookup tool

    What is taking so long for my airbag to arrive?

    Many affected owners are learning that it may take weeks or months for their replacement airbags to arrive. Takata has ramped up and added to its assembly lines, and expects to be cranking out a million replacement kits per month by September, 2015. But with the recalled vehicles now numbering more than 30 million (and airbags totaling over 34 million), it will take years, even as other suppliers race to support this initiative.

    Can other suppliers step in to fill the gaps?

    As recently as the fall of 2014 it looked unlikely that other airbag suppliers could pick up the slack. There was little spare assembly capacity anywhere, and rival systems used different designs. That picture is changing, and other major suppliers are now involved, including AutoLiv, TRW, and Daicel. Takata has said that it is now using competitors’ products in half the inflator-replacement kits it is churning out, and expects that number to reach more than 70 percent. Those rival suppliers also use a propellant that hasn’t been implicated in the problems Takata has experienced.

    How important is that I respond to the recall?

    All recalls, by definition, are concerned with safety and should be treated seriously. As with all recalls, we recommend having the work performed as soon as parts are available and the service can be scheduled. Since age has been established as a key factor in most of the Takata airbag ruptures to date, it’s especially important for owners of older recalled cars to get this work done.

    Does it matter where I live?

    According to NHTSA, yes. The Takata inflators seem to be vulnerable to persistent high humidity and high temperature conditions, such as in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, the Gulf Coast states, Hawaii, and island territories.

    How are repairs being prioritized?

    Automakers are getting the replacement parts as fast as they can, and most are sending them to the high-humidity areas first. Northern and less-humid areas might need to wait longer for parts availability, depending on the brand. Contact your dealership to learn how soon the work can be performed.

    What if I spend only a certain part of the year in a humid climate?  

    People who travel to the higher-risk areas in times of low humidity (such as snowbirds) are not at the same level of risk as those who live in those areas year-round, according to NHTSA.

    Are the airbags in my car definitely defective?

    No. Since 2002 only a very small number of some 30 million cars have been involved in these incidents. Between November, 2014 and May, 2015, Takata reported to NHTSA that the company had conducted more than 30,000 ballistic tests on airbag inflators returned pursuant to the recalls. In those tests, 265 ruptured. That is an unacceptably high number, and, at 0.8 percent, a far higher frequency than what has been seen so far in vehicles on the road. According to defect reports filed with the government, Takata said that as of May 2015 it was aware of 84 ruptures that had occurred in the field since 2002.  

    I’m worried about driving, what should I do until the fix is made?

    If the recall on your car involves only the front passenger-side airbag, then don’t let anyone sit in that seat. But if you use the VIN-lookup tool and it says that the problem involves the driver’s side, you should do what you can to minimize your risk. If possible, consider:

    • Minimizing your driving.
    • Carpooling with someone whose vehicle is not affected by the recall.
    • Utilizing public transportation.
    • Renting a car.

    Renting a car until yours is repaired can prove expensive and ultimately might not be the ideal solution. Asking your dealer whether they will provide one, or a loaner vehicle might be worth a try if it accomplishes nothing else than putting some pressure on the manufacturer. If you do get a rental car, as with any new vehicle or rental, take some time to familiarize yourself with its operation before driving.

    What about shutting off airbags until the replacement parts arrive?

    Right now only Toyota is recommending this course of action. Consumer Reports has concerns about the recommendation from a safety standpoint.

    Why can’t my dealer just use another supplier’s airbag if the Takata replacement is available?

    The recalled airbags were designed specifically for your car, including being sized for the specific packaging, calibrated for the automaker’s performance parameters, and engineered to mate with the car’s sensors and software. There is no handy, off-the-shelf alternative. Besides that, we are told by supply-chain experts that there is very little excess factory capacity and tooling anywhere that could be pressed into service quickly to make these specific parts.

    In 2012, NHTSA issued a warning to alert consumers to the presence of counterfeit airbags in the market. Some recalled airbags are on this counterfeit watch list. Owner of those affected vehicles are advised to work with an authorized dealer to avoid this kind of situation. Some dealers may refuse to work on an airbag they deem to be counterfeit, to avoid putting their technicians in danger. If put in that situation, affected consumers should ask to speak to the automaker’s regional service manager or technical adviser for assistance.

    Should I expect to pay any money to get the recall fix?

    Repairs are under the recall fix are free, but unrelated problems discovered during the service may not be.

    Affected owners in Florida, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico have been prioritized in this recall and will receive parts first. If you live in these regions, make sure to contact your local BMW dealer immediately to schedule an appointment to have your front driver and/or passenger airbag replaced. BMW recommends that no one sit in the front passenger seat until that airbag is replaced.

    Recalled cars:

    Driver's side airbag

    2002-2005 BMW 3 Series sedan and wagon

    2002-2006 BMW 3 Series coupe and convertible

    2002-2003 BMW 5 Series sedan and wagon (including M5)

    2003-2004 BMW X5

     

    Driver's side only in humid states (Florida, Puerto Rico and Hawaii)

    2004-2006 BMW 325Ci

    2004-2006 BMW 325i

    2004-2005 BMW 325Xi

    2004-2006 BMW 330Ci

    2004-2006 BMW 330i

    2004-2005 BMW 330Xi

    2004-2006 BMW M3

     

    Passenger side front airbag, plus driver's airbag on models with the Sports Package steering wheel shown in photo.

    2000-2005 3 Series Sedan

    2000-2006 3 Series Coupe

    2000-2005 3 Series Sports Wagon

    2000-2006 3 Series Convertible

    2001-2006 M3 Coupe

    2001-2006 M3 Convertible

     

    Chrysler is going to replace the airbag in cars based in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is currently working on accumulating a supply of replacement parts, and is contacting customers as they become available.

    Chrysler stresses that its vehicles are equipped with inflators that differ from other vehicles. The American automaker is saying that these inflators are not faulty.

    Recalled cars:

    Chrysler:

    2005-2010 Chrysler 300 - Driver’s side airbag

    2007-2008 Chrysler Aspen - Driver’s side airbag

     

    Dodge:

    2005-2010 Dodge Charger - Driver’s side airbag

    2005-2011 Dodge Dakota - Driver’s side airbag

    2004-2008 Dodge Durango - Driver’s side airbag

    2005-2008 Dodge Magnum - Driver’s side airbag

    2004-2008 Dodge Ram 1500 - Driver’s side airbag

    2005-2009 Dodge Ram 2500 - Driver’s side airbag

    2006-2009 Dodge Ram 3500 - Driver’s side airbag

    2005 Dodge Dakota - Passenger side airbag

    2005 Dodge Magnum - Passenger side airbag

    2003-2005 Ram Pickup (1500/2500/3500) - Passenger side airbag

    Contact your local Ford dealer to schedule an appointment to have the airbag replaced in affected vehicles. Ford states that it has not seen any issues in its vehicles, but under advisement from NHTSA, and with information from Takata, the company is recalling specific vehicles, including the 2004 Ford Ranger and 2005-2014 Mustang.

    Recalled cars:

    2004-2006 Ranger - Driver’s and/or passenger side airbag

    2005-2006 GT - Driver’s and/or passenger side airbag

    2005-2014 Mustang - Driver’s side airbag

    Double check that your vehicle is actually involved. It was first announced that many Buicks, Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles were affected by the recall. It turns out that was an error in reporting by NHTSA. Most of those vehicles were part of an unrelated recall years ago.

    Interestingly, the two remaining vehicles were actually produced by other automakers and rebranded under former GM makes: the 2003-2005 Pontiac Vibe (built alongside the Toyota Matrix) and the 2005 Saab 9-2x (a Subaru-built vehicle rebranded as a Saab). Both vehicles should be taken to a current GM dealership for repairs.

    Recalled cars:

    2003-2005 Pontiac Vibe - Passenger side

    2005 Saab 9-2x - Passenger side

    2007-2008 Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500 - Passenger side

    2007-2008 GMC Sierra 2500/3500 - Passenger side

    Honda has the most affected vehicles, with more than five million cars being recalled. If you haven’t already, go to Honda’s recall site and enter your VIN. If your vehicle is included in this recall, the site will provide a description of the problem and instructions on how to proceed.

    If you have a vehicle that was first sold in, or is registered in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands—take immediate action. If you haven’t already received notice in the mail, print out the results of your VIN search and contact your nearest Honda dealer. They have allocated the replacement parts to these high humidity areas and will replace the part once you’ve made an appointment. Honda will be sending notices to other areas on a rolling basis as the parts become available.

    Honda will comply with NHTSA and expand its recall to a national level. This brings the number of affected Honda/Acura vehicles to 5.75 million.

    On January 18, the driver of a 2002 Honda Accord became the fifth person in the United States thought to have been killed by an exploding airbag inflator in a minor two-car collision in Spring, Texas. Although that Accord had been recalled to replace its driver-side airbag inflator in 2011, the recall work was never done, Honda has acknowledged. The driver who was killed had bought the car used less than a year ago and may never have received the recall notice. Consumer Reports urges all car owners to respond right away to safety-defect recalls.

    Recalled cars:

     

    Acura:

    2003-2006 Acura MDX - Driver’s side airbag

    2002-2003 Acura TL - Driver’s side airbag

    2003 Acura CL - Driver’s side airbag

    2005 Acura RL - Passenger side

    Honda:

    2001-2007 Honda Accord - Driver’s side airbag

    2003-2007 Honda Accord - Passenger side airbag

    2001-2005 Honda Civic - Driver’s & passenger side airbag

    2002-2006 Honda CR-V - Driver’s side airbag

    2003-2011 Honda Element - Driver’s side airbag

    2002-2004 Honda Odyssey - Driver’s side airbag

    2003-2008 Honda Pilot - Driver’s side airbag

    2006 Honda Ridgeline - Driver’s side airbag

    Mazda has focused its recall on vehicles sold or registered in Florida, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. The automaker will replace the front and/or passenger airbag inflators.

    Recalled cars:

    2003-2008 Mazda6 - Driver and/or passenger side airbag

    2006-2007 MazdaSpeed6 - Driver and/or passenger side airbag

    2004-2008 Mazda RX-8 - Driver and/or passenger side airbag

    2004-2005 MPV - Driver and/or passenger side airbag

    2004-2006 B-Series Truck - Driver and/or passenger side airbag

    If you see that your car as part of this recall, Mitsubishi advises owners to act immediately in scheduling an appointment to replace it. If the dealer does not have the part yet, they will provide instructions on how best to proceed until the part is available.

    Recalled cars:

    2004-2006 Lancer (including Evolution and Sportback) - Passenger side

    2006-2010 Raider - Driver's side

    Nissan has notified owners of affected vehicles to bring their vehicle in for inspection and potential parts replacement. Extra attention is being paid to “some areas” of Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands. Nissan says they have a sufficient supply of airbags to keep up with demand.

    Recalled cars:

    Infiniti:

    2003-2005 Infiniti FX - Passenger side

    2006 Infiniti M35/M45 - Passenger side 

    2001-2004 Infiniti I30/I35 - Passenger side  

    2002-2003 Infiniti QX4 - Passenger side  

    Nissan:

    2001-2003 Nissan Maxima - Passenger side 

    2001-2004 Nissan Pathfinder - Passenger side 

    2002-2006 Nissan Sentra - Passenger side  

    Call your local Subaru dealer and schedule an appointment to have the airbag replaced. There is no wait for parts to arrive and no special emphasis on localized climates or regions. Because second owners may not know where the previous owner of their vehicle lived/drove, Subaru does not want to focus on any particular region.

    Recalled cars:

    2003-2005 Baja - Passenger side

    2003-2005 Legacy - Passenger side

    2003-2005 Outback - Passenger side

    2004-2005 Impreza (include WRX/STi) - Passenger side

     

    Immediate action is recommended if your vehicle registered in the coastal areas around the Gulf of Mexico, including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Or if the car is in Florida, Puerto Rico, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, Virgin Islands and Hawaii.

    Toyota will replace the front passenger airbag. If the part is not available, the dealership can disable the front passenger airbag until a replacement part is available, and then recommends that the front passenger seat not be occupied.

    Toyota also says that if you do not follow the instructions in the owner letter to have the work performed, then you should not drive your vehicle.

    If you must use the seat after airbag deactivation, we advise that extra care should be taken to ensure passengers wear a seatbelt.

    Owners outside those areas can likewise contact your Toyota dealer to have them disable the front passenger airbag.

    When the parts become available, owners will be notified by mail to bring their vehicle in for the proper fix.

    Finally, if you are uncomfortable driving your vehicle to the dealership to have the work performed, contact your local Toyota dealer, and they will arrange to have the vehicle picked up.

     

    Recalled cars:

    Lexus:

    2002-2005 Lexus SC - Passenger side  

    Toyota:

    2002-2007 Toyota Corolla - Passenger side

    2003-2007 Toyota Matrix - Passenger side

    2002-2007 Toyota Sequoia - Passenger side

    2003-2006 Toyota Tundra - Passenger side

     

    Car safety

    • Check for recalls on your car

    • The truth about recalls

    Guide to car safety

    Guide to models offering advanced safety features

     

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

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    Coming soon: Affordable 2017 Tesla Model 3 sedan and crossover

    For those people who dream of owning a Tesla but can’t stretch to the price premium of the Model S, the California-based automaker is developing a new, cheaper electric car called the Model 3. And following a speech by Tesla co-founder and Chief Technical Officer JB Straubel at a U.S. Energy Information Agency conference in Washington this week, we know a lot more about the Model 3 than we did before. (See our complete Tesla Model S road test.)

    For starters, Tesla says the Model 3 will start at $35,000—about half the price of the larger Model S. The upcoming car will be offered in multiple configurations, presumably with different power and range, like the Model S line. Plus, there will reportedly be a crossover SUV variation.

    Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said the Model 3 will be about 80 percent of the size of a Model S, which would make the car about the size of a BMW 3 Series.

    Musk has said the base Model 3 will have a range of 200 miles, or longer for higher-level models.  

    The Model 3 is expected to have a battery pack of about 68 to 70 kWh, using new cells produced at Tesla’s battery Gigafactory, being constructed outside of Reno, Nevada. A battery pack with the power used in the current base Model S applied to a smaller car could bring even greater range, making 300 miles look reasonable on paper. Of course, higher-performance Model 3 versions may have less range.

    Based on a June 2015 investor earnings call, Tesla is backing away from using battery-swap technology. So the Model 3 will likely have access to Tesla’s Superchargers but not have the capability to hot-swap batteries.

    Musk has also said the Model 3 will be “less adventurous” than the Model S or the upcoming Model X SUV. That likely means it won’t have dramatic styling elements, like the "falcon wing" doors that have been difficult to develop or the troublesome power-retracting door handles. It may also be made of steel, rather than aluminum to aid cost.

    At this point, Musk says he plans to unveil the car next winter, and that it will go on sale in late 2016 or early 2017.

    See our guide to Tesla, complete with news, reviews, and videos.

    —Eric Evarts

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

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    Consumers Union Opposes House Bill Designed to Thwart State GMO Labeling Efforts as Subcommittee Holds Thursday Hearing

    WASHINGTON, DC – As a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee prepares to hold a Thursday hearing on the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in foods, Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, sent a letter to Committee members strongly opposing legislation that would prohibit GMO labeling requirements at any level – federal, state, or local.

    A new draft of the misleadingly named Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, proposed by Representative Pompeo and being considered at the hearing, would not only preempt state GMO labeling laws in development or already enacted, such as in Vermont, but would also bar states and local communities from regulating genetically modified crops in other ways. Several counties in California and Oregon, as well as the states of Washington and Hawaii, currently have measures in place that restrict where GMO crops can be grown.

    The new draft would also further prevent businesses from creating voluntary labels for non-engineered products that are more stringent than a yet-to-be-determined U.S. Department of Agriculture standard.

    “Rather than give consumers the information they’re asking for, as poll after poll has shown they want, this new version of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act would do quite the opposite. It not only prevents future federal or state requirements for GMO labeling, it also interferes with independent business efforts to give consumers the information they want,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union. “For example, the Non-GMO Project Verified label, which now appears on thousands of products, is highly meaningful because it establishes a threshold of GMO contamination (0.9%) that cannot be exceeded. This legislation, however, does not require a threshold, potentially forcing stringent non-GMO labeling programs to weaken their standards.”

    The anti-consumer legislation would make current federal voluntary labeling policy permanent, even though current guidelines have not produced a GMO-labeled product in 15 years.

    In the letter, Consumers Union voiced support for other legislative efforts, like the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act introduced by Representative DeFazio, that would require genetically engineered foods to be labeled. Many polls, including one by Consumer Reports have found that some 90 percent of consumers want labels on GMOs. Some 64 foreign countries already require labels.

    “We strongly urge Committee members to oppose this legislation and work to pass legislation that recognizes the consumer’s right to know what they’re buying,” said Halloran.

    Consumers Union is encouraging consumers to make their voice heard and share their support for GMO labeling with their representatives. Consumers can visit NotInMyFood.org to take action and send Congress the message that consumers have the right to know what’s in their food.

    Please click here for a full copy of the letter.

    The House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing, “A National Framework for the Review and Labeling of Biotechnology in Food,” is scheduled to begin on Thursday, July 18 at 10 AM Eastern.

    Media Contacts:
    David Butler, Consumers Union, 202.462.6262 or dbutler@consumer.org
    Kara Kelber, Consumers Union, 202.462.6262 or kkelber@consumer.org

    ***

    Consumers Union is the public policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports.  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. 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. 

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    Newer Cree LEDs shine in Consumer Reports' tests

    One of the big reasons to buy energy-saving LED lightbulbs is that they’re supposed to last 23 years or longer when you use them 3 hours a day. So when some Cree LED spotlights died early on in one of Consumer Reports’ tests, the most failures we’ve seen for LEDs, we called Cree and then our lightbulb experts headed back to the lab to test more of their LEDs.

    The dimmable Cree PAR38 Bright White LED spotlight replaces a 90-watt incandescent and the package notes it has a 27° beam angle. The model number is BPAR38-1503027T-12DE26-1U100 and we paid $24 apiece at Home Depot. When we spoke to Cree’s Mike Watson, vice president of product strategy, after our initial tests, he said they discovered that the electronics had failed in a small number of these LEDs. “We have a 10-year warranty and we’re happy to take the LEDs back,” he said. “First try to take them to Home Depot and if there’s a problem call 1-866-924-3645, or go to creebulb.com.” He added that the newer LEDs have a minor modification that provides more protection to the electronics.

    Our test results of Cree’s modified LEDs

    We run a number of tests on our lightbulbs, including frequently turning them on and off to find if that affects their performance. This on/off affects CFLs and incandescents but had never affected LEDs in our tests, until we tested these Cree PAR38 LEDs. Four of the eight died after about a third of the way through the initial test. So we bought more Cree LEDs and found that bulbs made in 2015 have a significantly lower failure rate, only one in nine died, suggesting that these were the modified bulbs.

    The date code is on the bottom right of the bulb. Bulbs made in 2015 have a code of 0115 or higher (the first two numbers indicate the week, the next two the year). However, we're still testing this LED to 3,000 hours to see if the modification also improves life performance. So you won't see it in the our lightbulb Ratings now.

    5 things to know about PAR LEDs

    PAR stands for parabolic aluminized reflector, handy info if a conversation turns dull.
    PAR bulbs can be used in recessed cans, track lighting, and outdoor spot and floodlights. Check the package for details.
    •PAR bulbs offer light that’s more directional than bulbs used in lamps (known as A19s). Use dimmable spotlights if you want to highlight something. Go with wider-beam floodlights for outdoor use.
    •PAR bulbs have a number after the word “PAR” such as 20, 38, or 64. Divide that number by 8 to learn the bulb’s diameter in inches. You’ll need this number when picking bulbs for your fixtures.
    •PAR bulbs used outdoors should be wet rated, meaning they won’t be affected by rain or water from power washing. You’ll see this noted on the back of the package.

    The best and worst LEDs and CFLs

    Check our lightbulb Ratings before you shop, and scan our buying guide for tips that should make buying LEDs and CFLs easier—also see “How to get your money’s worth when buying an LED.” And if you have questions e-mail me at kjaneway@consumer.org.

    Kimberly Janeway

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

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    10 midlife crisis cars for Father’s Day

    Fatherhood is rich with rewards, but it might also come with some sacrifices. Your free time, for instance, can easily evaporate. And as your kid(s) and you get older, your hair might thin and your waistline might expand. And that can lead to a yearning for the excitement of youth. While Consumer Reports can’t send you back in time, we can recommend 10 indulgent cars that can peel away the years, at least figuratively speaking.

    Each car on our midlife-crisis list boasts a bold personality, with engaging dynamics, sharp looks, and pampering feature content. We pulled appealing models from across the spectrum, with a particular eye toward performance and escapism. That said, most are still family-friendly choices.

    To make this list (models appear in alphabetical order), each car had to offer notable discounts. The chart for each model indicates the potential savings below MSRP, based on incentives and negotiation. All are 2015 models, except for the Ford Fusion. Click through the model names to get more detailed pricing and other information, such as the complete road test, reliability, owner satisfaction, and owner costs.

    Jeff Bartlett

    Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service

    When buying a car, in addition to research and reviews, Consumer Reports offers subscribers access to the Build & Buy Car Buying Service at no additional cost. Through this service, a nationwide network of about 10,000 participating dealers provide upfront pricing information and a certificate to receive guaranteed savings off MSRP (in most states). The pricing information and guaranteed savings includes eligible incentives. Consumer Reports subscribers have saved an average of $2,919 off MSRP with the Build & Buy Car Buying Service.

    Tailored for the driver that wants to look beyond the ordinary, this well-honed and satisfying sports sedan has a European feel. With its agile handling, quick steering, and a taut, steady ride the Regal is one of Buick's best offerings. The 259-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder delivers good performance and fuel economy. Our tested Regal was quick and quiet, and delivered 24-mpg overall. The eAssist mild hybrid version gets about 29-mpg. Rich-feeling materials are used in the cabin, which has excellent fit and finish. The front seats are firm and supportive, though the rear seat is snug. Infotainment system controls are mostly simple, and AWD is available on all trim lines. A standard built-in Wi-Fi hot spot is new for 2015.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Incentives expire
    Buick Regal Turbo $30,915 $30,315 $1,900
    6/30

    Looking for an American alternative to a German sport sedan? The ATS is the answer. Nimble and capable handling, a taut ride, and excellent braking make the ATS a treat to drive. Three engines are available, with rear- or all-wheel drive: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, a 3.6-liter V6, and a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder. The turbo feels quick but got just 23-mpg overall. The six-speed automatic is a step behind the seven- and eight-speeds in most competitors. A manual gearbox is available. The interior is well-finished but very snug. Interacting with the audio or phone through Cadillac's Cue system, with its flush buttons and dazzling display, is very convoluted and frustrating. A coupe and high-performance ATS-V with a 464-hp, twin-turbo V6 are available. The coupe also has significant discounts, but it isn’t (obviously) as family friendly.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Incentives expire
    Cadillac ATS Sedan 3.6L V6 $45,655 $43,645 $1,340 6/30

    The Camaro looks and sounds like a classic muscle car that escaped from a Transformers movie set. Our tested SS was very quick, thanks to its 6.2-liter V8. Performance from the base 3.6-liter V6 was unexciting. Handling is very capable, but the car's size and weight make it feel ponderous in everyday driving and on our track. Braking performance on the SS is excellent, and the ride is taut and controlled but not punishing. However, the emphasis on exterior and interior styling hurt practicality, hampering visibility, befuddling the control layout, and leaving room for just a small trunk and tiny rear seat. High-performance ZL1 and Z/28 versions top the line. A new Camaro goes on sale late 2015, meaning dealerships should be increasingly willing to negotiate on this outgoing model as summer progresses.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Incentives expire
    Chevrolet Camaro Coupe 1SS $34,500 $33,830 $2,505 6/30

    Reminding of classic American sedans, Chrysler's powerful, luxurious 300 is one of the best large sedans on the market. Inside, you'll find plenty of space for five adults and a comfortable cabin with attractive trim. The punchy 5.7-liter V8 comes paired with a smooth eight-speed automatic. But our preferred choice is the 3.6-liter V6, which also uses the eight-speed and brings a stately ride and responsive handling, along with a good 22-mpg overall in our tests. All-wheel drive is optional. The Uconnect touch-screen system is one of the best in the industry. The 2015 model got a mild styling update, a rotating knob for gear changes, a big driver-info screen in the gauge cluster, and a stack of modern safety gear.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Incentives expire
    Chrysler 300C $39,065 $37,695 $3,642 6/30

    The look may be old school, reminding Dad of high-school hijinks, yet the Challenger is a modern, thrilling barnstormer. It's too heavy and wide for handling agility, but it surprises with its balanced and enjoyable cornering on an open track. The V8 sound is heart-warming. Ride comfort, noise isolation, and the stiff shifter and clutch detract however, and the view out is dreadful. The rear seat is relatively roomy but accessing is awkward. Performance packages include a 485-hp, 6.4-liter Hemi V8; the Hellcat uses a 707-hp, 6.2-liter supercharged V8. Transmission choices are a six-speed manual and a new eight-speed automatic. Base models stick with the 3.6-liter V6, but we prefer the 5.7-liter V8. Safety tech includes blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, and forward-collision warning.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Incentives expire
    Dodge Challenger SXT Plus $30,990 $30,421 $1,900
    6/30

    An alternative to a plain vanilla, midsized sedan, the stylish Fusion is a delight to drive, with a supple ride and agile handling rivaling that of a European sports sedan. All trim levels and powertrains feel solid and upscale, with a quiet and well-finished cabin. But the rear seat is somewhat snug, and the MyFord Touch interface is an annoyance. Most Fusions get either a 1.5- or 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder matched with a six-speed automatic. The 1.5-liter does the job, but the 2.0-liter packs more punch and better suits the car. We recorded 24-and 22-mpg overall, respectively, which is among the lower performers in the category. The Hybrid turned in an excellent 39-mpg overall. The real treat here is a well-equipped version with the spunky 2.0-liter engine.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Incentives expire
    2016 Ford Fusion Titanium AWD $33,215 $31,420 $1,972
    7/6

    Ford's redesigned Mustang pays homage to its roots in a modern package with an independent rear suspension. Base models use a 300-hp, 3.7-liter V6, but the big news is the 310-hp, 2.3-liter turbo four-cylinder that delivers some punch but sounds raspy. Regardless, the model Dad has always wanted is a GT, now with a 5.0-liter V8. We found the slick six-speed manual particularly satisfying; the automatic also works well. Fastback and convertible body styles are available. (No notchback this generation.) Handling is agile and balanced, and the ride is firm yet tied down. New features include keyless entry, push-button start, and the Sync infotainment system. In addition to fun, technology brings blind-spot detection with cross-traffic alert.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Incentives expire
    Ford Mustang GT
    $37,125 $35,123 $1,589
    7/6

    For the Dad that favors luxury, size, and value in equal measures, the Hyundai Equus has true appeal, aided by the pile of money found on the long hood. Simply put: Hyundai's flagship competes with the largest premium sedans but costs a good deal less. The Equus absorbs and hides all but the most severe impacts, but buoyant body motions give the car a busy feeling at times. Handling can best be described as ponderous, with notable body lean and steering that lacks any feedback. The standard V8 has smooth and refined power delivery, and the eight-speed automatic does its job with little notice. The interior is spacious and well-finished, but some controls are complex. Available features include adaptive cruise control and a lane-departure warning system.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Incentives expire
    Hyundai Equus Signature $62,450 $59,029 $4,845
    7/6

    The Genesis Coupe has always shown flashes of potential, but several flaws continue to hold it back. The 3.8-liter V6 engine is powerful and sounds great; the noisy turbocharged four-cylinder has been dropped. The Coupe has precise and agile handling, with well-contained body lean. The steering is quick, direct, and precise, delivering good communication without feeling overly heavy. On our track, the Genesis Coupe displayed two distinct personalities, depending on the status of the electronic stability control system. When on, the ESC aggressively clamped down at the slightest indication of wheelspin or slide, not only applying the brakes, but cutting engine power for a second or so, keeping the car safe and secure. Switching off the system revealed a sports car that is entertaining and engaging to drive in the proper environment. An experienced driver can easily exploit the car's neutral balance with the use of both throttle and steering inputs. Front-seat occupants will find plenty of room, but as in most coupes, the rear seat is very cramped. A backup camera is now available.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Incentives expire
    Hyundai Genesis Coupe auto. $28,845 $27,730 $1,839
    7/6

    Big, bold, and masculine, the Grand Cherokee excels with its solid, upscale interior, comfortable seats, and supple, controlled ride. Handling is fairly agile, fit and finish is excellent, and the eight-speed automatic shifts smoothly. The standard 3.6-liter V6 returned just 18 mpg, though. We liked the well-performing diesel, which racked up 24-mpg overall. Two V8s, a 5.7-liter and the SRT's ferocious 6.4-liter, are optional. The Uconnect infotainment system, with its large, well-labeled touch screen, is one of the easiest-to-use systems we've tested. Appropriately optioned, the Grand Cherokee makes a good tow vehicle or a capable off-roader. This is the grown-up Jeep that can make Dad feel like he’s ready for a wilderness adventure, with ample room for the whole family.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Incentives expire
    Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4x4 $47,590 $45,774 $1,898
    6/30

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

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    AT&T slapped with $100 million fine related to 'unlimited' data plans

    The Federal Communications Commission says it plans to fine AT&T Mobility $100 million for allegedly misleading customers about its unlimited data plans. 

    The FCC says AT&T "severely slowed down the data speeds for customers with unlimited data plans and that the company failed to adequately notify its customers that they could receive speeds slower than the normal network speeds AT&T advertised."

    In a statement, AT&T said, "We will vigorously dispute the FCC's assertions. The FCC identified this practice as a legitimate and reasonable way to manage network resources for the benefit of all customers and has known for years that all major carriers use it."

    Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, applauded the action. “Unlimited should mean unlimited, no excuses or loopholes," says Delara Derakhshani, policy counsel for Consumers Union. "Not only does it seem clear that AT&T wasn’t providing the services that consumers expected and were paying for, but they also weren’t upfront with their customers about the extent to which their speeds were being slowed down." See full statement here.

    For more on this move by the FCC, read "AT&T Faces $100M Fine Over “Unlimited” Data Plans," by Consumerist, our sister site.

    —Consumer Reports

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

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    Use your gas grill like a stove

    Your grill can cook just like your stove’s fast-cooking broiler and your slower cooking oven. And once you nail down the steps for setting up your grill for each cooking method, you can turn out all kinds of delicious dishes. The secret: location, location, location. Placing food directly over the flame is similar to broiling. Placing the food next to the fire, not over it, with the lid down, is called indirect cooking, which is more like an oven. When Consumer Reports puts gas grills to the test, we check how well they perform at high, low, and indirect heating. Here’s how to get the most mileage from your grill:

    Use it like a broiler

    Best for. Steaks, burgers, chops, shrimp, and veggies.
    With direct heat, the food sits right over the fire; it’s great for searing steaks and chops and cooking smaller items, such as shrimp and veggies, that take 20 minutes or less to cook. You’ll just need to turn them halfway through the cooking process. Put smaller items around the outside of the grate; that way you can turn them or pull them off more quickly.
    How to do it. Preheat the grill as directed. Adjust the burners to the temperature in the recipe, then place the food on the grate. As a rule, cook with the lid down; temperatures plummet when it’s left open.

    Use it like an oven

    Best for. Chicken, ribs, and larger cuts of meat.
    With indirect heat, the food is placed away from the fire, the lid is down, and heat is reflected all around, like an oven. It’s a delicious way to cook anything that needs longer cooking at lower temperatures, such as a whole beef or pork tenderloin.
    How to do it. You need at least two burners for indirect grilling. After preheating, set one burner at medium or high and the other at low. Place food over the coolest burner, close the lid, and cook following your recipe.

    The best gas grills from our tests

    Small gas grills (18 burgers or fewer)
    Weber Spirit E-220 46310001, $450
    Broilmate 165154, $200
    Napoleon Terrace SE325PK, $600

    Medium gas grills (18 to 28 burgers)
    Weber Spirit SP-320 46700401, $600
    Char-Broil TRU-Infrared 463435115 (Walmart), $260
    Kenmore Elite 33577, $950

    Large gas grills (28 burgers or more)
    Brinkmann 810-6550-S (Home Depot), $350
    Napoleon Prestige Pro 665RSIB, $2,600
    Kenmore Elite 3358, $1,800

    More great grills. For more choices, see our full gas grill Ratings and recommendations.

    —Adapted from ShopSmart  

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

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  • 06/17/15--12:59: How we rate hospitals
  • How we rate hospitals

    Our hospital Ratings help you compare hospitals based on our patient safety score, as well as individual measures relating to patient experience, patient outcomes, and certain hospital practices. Here are some answers to questions you might have about our Ratings. (For more details, download our Hospital Ratings Technical Report.)

    Get hospital safety Ratings

     

    Click on the map at right to find Ratings of hospitals nationwide (available to subscribers). The Ratings include those hospitals for which we have a safety score, as well as some information on performance for more than 4,000 other hospitals.

    1. How do Consumer Reports' hospital Ratings differ from information available elsewhere?

    Our Ratings come from scientifically based data on patient experience and outcomes as well as certain hospital practices gathered from public sources. Some of that information is available elsewhere. For example, you can see the federal government's version of patient experience and readmissions data on its Hospital Compare website. And several states report data on cesarean sections (C-sections). But ConsumerReports.org collects all the information and summarizes it in an easy-to-interpret format, using our familiar ratings symbols.

    2. How can the hospital Ratings help me get better care?

    They can help you compare hospitals in your area so you can choose the one that's best for you. Even if you don't have a choice of hospitals, our Ratings can alert you to particular concerns so you can take steps to prevent problems no matter which hospital you go to. For example, if a hospital scores low in communicating with patients about what to do when they're discharged, you should ask about discharge planning at the hospital you chose and make sure you know what to do when you leave.

    3. How can you compare hospitals if patients in some are sicker than those in others?

    When possible, our Ratings are based on data that have been statistically adjusted to minimize differences among hospitals due to the types of patients they serve. For example, data for bloodstream infections and catheter-associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI) were adjusted based on where the patients were treated (which intensive-care unit, for example). Scores related to the chance of readmissions, patient experience, and avoiding adverse events in surgery patients were adjusted based on the health status of patients.

    4. Why can't I find my hospital in your Ratings?

    Our Ratings have information on over 4,000 hospitals. If a hospital you're looking for isn't listed, it could be for several reasons. Some report data under a parent organization, so they might not show up as individual facilities. Others may have changed names during the reporting period. And some hospitals, mostly smaller ones, might not have sufficient data for any of our Ratings categories.

    5. Why doesn't my hospital have a safety score?

    For a hospital to have a safety score, it must have valid data for all measures that we include in calculating the score: patient experience, readmissions, scanning, infections, and mortality. The data we use come from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. If CMS does not report data for one or more of those measures, it is because the hospital either did not have sufficient data or because there were discrepancies in data collection.

    6. What about patient privacy?

    Our Ratings are comprised of data available to the public from several sources. But none of the information can be used to identify specific individuals.

    7. What are some of the limitations of the data used in the Ratings?

    Unlike most other Consumer Reports Ratings, we don't collect the data in our hospital Ratings ourselves, so there may be issues with quality we can't control. In some cases the information comes from billing and other administrative data submitted by hospitals to Medicare, and isn't designed to measure patient outcomes. However, we review the methods of data collection, validation, and analysis used by each data provider, and use only the most relevant and best data that's available.

    8. What information is included in the Ratings?

    Our Ratings include information on the following.

    A. Safety score. This is a summary of five categories that relate to hospital safety: avoiding infections, avoiding readmissions, communicating about medications and discharge, appropriate use of chest and abdominal scanning, and avoiding mortality (medical and surgical). The score is expressed on 100-point scale. A hospital would score a 100 if it earned the highest possible score in all measures and would score 1 if it earned the lowest scores in all measures. Each of the five domains is weighted equally. Each is worth 20 points out of 100.

    • Hospital acquired infections. About 650,000 patients each year develop a hospital acquired infection. So, on any given day, about one of every 25 hospitalized patients is infected while in the hospital. The most common types of infections that patients get in the hospital are pneumonia and surgical site infections. About 12 percent of patients die in the hospital from the infections that they get while hospitalized.   
    • Unnecessary readmissions. These are tied to patient safety in several important ways. First, any hospital admission has inherent risks, so a second admission exposes the patient to additional risk. Second, readmissions can be caused by something that went wrong during the initial discharge. Finally, readmissions can reflect errors in the initial admission.
    • Mortality. Some 440,000 hospital patients a year die at least in part because of t preventable medical errors. Our Safety Score contains two measures of mortality: mortality in patients with heart failure, heart attack, stroke, pneumonia, or COPD; and mortaily in surgery patients.
    • Communication about new medication and discharge instructions. This is included because lack of communication about drugs can lead to their misuse and other errors. And lack of communication about discharge instructions can lead to errors in post-discharge care.
    • Appropriate use of scanning. This is included because double scans of the chest and abdomen are rarely necessary and unnecessarily expose patients to additional radiation.

    B. Patient outcomes. Our Ratings of patient outcomes focus on several measures.

    • Central-line associated blood stream infections (CLABSIs). Central lines are catheters, or tubes, used to deliver fluids, medication, and nutrition to patients. Bloodstream infections are caused by a mishandling of those central lines and are the most deadly kind of hospital-acquired infection. Our data are based on CLABSIs that affect patients while they're in a hospital's intensive-care unit (ICUs). Our data come from CMS through Hospital Compare.
    • Surgical-site infections (SSIs). These are surgery-related infections that occur on or close to the skin surface, deeper in the body, or in any part of the body that is opened and manipulated during surgery. They are counted in our Ratings if they occur within 30 days of the surgical procedure. All of the states in the U.S. report data on surgical-site infections that occur after one or both of the following procedures: colon surgery and abdominal hysterectomy. 
    • Catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs). These are urinary tract infections that are associated with the patient having an indwelling urinary catheter (tube inside the body inserted in the bladder) and are diagnosed based on the patients' symptoms, as well as urinary tract infections without symptoms that have caused a bloodstream infection, within 48 hours of insertion of the catheter.
    • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections. MRSA is a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to many antibiotics. In a healthcare setting, such as a hospital or nursing home, MRSA can cause severe problems such as bloodstream infections, pneumonia, and surgical site infections. Hospitals must report all MRSA bloodstream infections that start in the hospital and that are identified by lab tests. 
    • Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infections. C. difficile is a common cause of antibiotic-associated diarrhea and, in rare cases, can causes sepsis and death. Antibiotic overprescibing, improper room and equipment cleaning, and poor hand washing in hospitals are the leading causes of infection. Hospitals must report all C. difficile infections that start in the hospital, with the exception of hospital locations with mainly infants.
    • Readmissions. This shows the chance that a patient will have to be readmitted to a hospital within 30 days of his or her initial discharge. The information is collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Patients can be readmitted to the same or different facility, and for the same or different condition.
    • Avoiding mortality – medical. This Rating is based on mortality rates for Medicare patients who died within 30 days of admission for patients who had been hospitalized for heart failure, heart attack, stroke, pneumonia, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
    • Avoiding mortality – surgical. This Rating is based on data measuring how often surgical patients died after developing a complication that should have been identified and quickly treated. Complications include pneumonia, a blood clot in a vein deep in the body (deep vein thrombosis) or sudden blockage in a lung artery (pulmonary embolus), potentially fatal bloodstream infection (sepsis), sudden kidney failure, shock/cardiac arrest, or gastrointestinal bleeding acute ulcer.
    • Avoiding adverse events in surgical patients. This Rating is based on the percentage of patients undergoing scheduled surgery who died in the hospital or stayed longer than expected for their procedure. Research shows those measures are correlated with complications, and some hospitals themselves use this approach to monitor quality. To develop the Ratings, we worked with MPA, a health care consulting firm with expertise in analyzing billing claims and clinical records data and in helping hospitals use the information to improve patient safety. In addition to an overall surgery Rating summarizing results for 27 different kinds of surgeries, we also provide surgery Ratings for five specific types of surgeries: back surgery, hip and knee replacement, angioplasty, and carotid artery surgery. The Ratings are based on billing data submitted by hospitals to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

    C. Patient experience. This information comes from a survey of millions of patients regarding recent hospital stays. The survey, the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, or HCAHPS, was developed by AHRQ.

    We rate overall patient experience based on the average responses to two survey questions: The percentage of respondents who said they would "definitely" recommend the hospital; and the percentage of respondents who gave the hospital an overall rating of 9 or 10 on a scale of 0 to 10.

    In addition, we rate specific measures of patient experience based on answers to questions about:

    • Communication about discharge and medications
    • Doctor-patient and nurse-patient communication
    • Pain control
    • Receiving help when needed
    • Keeping hospital rooms quiet at night and keeping rooms and bathroom clean.

    D. Hospital practices. This includes two separate measures: C-sections and the appropriate of use of scanning.

    • Appropriate use of scanning. This information comes from billing data submitted to CMS that calculates the percent of computed tomography (CT) scans of the abdomen and thorax that are performed twice [once with and once without a dye (contrast)]. It is well established that such double scans are rarely necessary; the evidence supports scanning with, or without contrast, but not both. Unnecessary double scans expose patients to excess radiation, and also to the potential adverse effects of the dye.
    • Avoiding C-sections. This information comes from state-based billing data that calculates the percent of low-risk deliveries—that is, women who haven’t had a C-section before, don’t deliver prematurely, and are pregnant with a single baby who is properly positioned—that occur by cesarean section. The Ratings include all mothers, not just first-time mothers. ​The data the Ratings are based on do not include information on factors that may increase the risk for a C-section, such as heart problems in the mother or fetus, pregnancy-related high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, or any other chronic disease. C-section rates in the United States are considered too high; recently two major health organizations—the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM)—teamed to publish groundbreaking new practice guidelines aimed at preventing unnecessary cesarean births.

    E. Heart Surgery. We rate hospitals for heart surgery based on two common procedures: heart bypass surgery and aortic heart valve replacement.

    • Heart Bypass Surgery. A hospital’s rating in this measure reflects its performance in isolated heart bypass operations, meaning that the patient is having only that surgery, not a combination procedure. A hospital’s overall score is a composite of four separate measures. Survival: Percentage of patients who are discharged alive and survive at least 30 days after having the surgery. Complications: Percentage of  patients who avoid all of the most serious complications, including needing a second operation, developing an infection deep in the chest, suffering a stroke, requiring prolonged ventilation, and experiencing kidney failure. Best surgical technique: Percentage of patients who receive at least one bypass from an internal mammary artery, located under the breastbone, a technique that improves long-term survival. Right drugs: Percentage of patients who receive these medications: beta-blockers before and after surgery to control blood pressure and prevent abnormal heart rhythm; aspirin, to prevent blood clots; and a drug after surgery to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
    • Aortic Heart valve replacement. A hospital’s score in this measure reflects its performance in surgical aortic valve replacement. A hospital’s overall score is a composite of two separate measures. Survival: Percentage of patients who are discharged alive and survive at least 30 days after having the surgery. Complications: Percentage of patients who avoid all of the most serious complications of the operation, which are the same as for bypass surgery. For both procedures, the data were adjusted based on the health of patients, to avoid penalizing hospitals that treat sicker patients.  

    For more details, download our Hospital Ratings Technical Report.

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

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    Is your Internet service fast enough for streaming?

    Despite the high price you're paying for what's supposed to be blazingly fast Internet service, has your Netflix started streaming as slowly as a three-toed sloth? If yes, it's time to make sure you're getting the speed you need, both from your Internet service provider and the setup in your home.  

    Netflix and others say your Internet service needs to run at at least 5Mbps for streaming HD shows and movies—streaming 4K videos requires much greater speed—but 5Mbps is sufficient for only one user at a time. And given how much data Americans consume, 5Mbps isn't going to cut it since performance can suffer as your broadband speed is split among more simultaneous users and/or activities. Deloitte LLP’s recent Digital Democracy Survey of 2,000 consumers age 14 or older, 90 percent of respondents said they multitasked—browsing the Web and texting, for example—while watching programs. 

    The FCC considers 10Mbps to 25Mbps reasonable for households that stream video, but heavy data users might want even more robust connections of up to 50Mbps or more. The good news is that often you can upgrade from 25Mbps to 50Mbps service for as little as $10 more per month. 

    But even if you pay for faster broadband, you might not get that speed boost all the time. Cable Internet service can slow down during the evening when more people in your area are also streaming. Congestion can also occur farther up the line when data travels though third-party networks, which can also get bogged down by traffic.

    Check your speed

    You can check your speed using websites such as Oookla's Speedtest.net. Space out the tests over a few days, and at varying times of day, to get an accurate measure of how consistent those speeds will be. And note that most of the focus is on download speed, which is important for streaming movies and shows at home. If you share a lot of photos, post videos on YouTube, or play online games, you might want to consider upload speeds as well, which are generally much slower.

    Check our buying guide and Ratings for wireless routers. And if you're unhappy with your streaming speed service, find a a new Internet service provider.

    Slowdown culprits

    Even if the broadband speed coming into your home is satisfactory, there are other reasons for slow service. One culprit might be an older modem or router. Most of us now connect several devices to our network using Wi-Fi, so be sure your wireless gear is also up to snuff.

    At the very least your router should support the 802.11n standard; if it doesn’t and you rent a router from your ISP, ask ifor a newer model. Many routers now support a newer standard, called AC, which is capable of faster speeds and more directional signaling.

    If Wi-Fi reception in your home is spotty, try moving the router to a more central location. Also move it away from obstructions such as walls or ceilings, and never place the router in a closet or cabinet.

    If you believe that interference is an issue, say from a microwave oven or a cordless-phone system, consider a dual-band router that can operate on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. Switching to the higher 5GHz band can help avoid interference from other devices that operate in the 2.4GHz range. Some models let you use both frequencies simultaneously, so you can stream videos using the 5GHz band and e-mail and text using the 2.4GHz frequency.

    If you think your wireless connection is to blame, try using a wired connection to see whether performance improves. Another way to isolate Wi-Fi problems is to connect your computer directly to a speed-test site before the connection reaches your Wi-Fi router and compare it to the speed you get connecting via Wi-Fi.

    Finally, if you're having intermittent problems, try rebooting your modem and wireless routers by unplugging the power connections for about 30 seconds. Sometimes simply restarting these devices will help clear up any issues.

    Hopefully, all these tips will help ensure a faster, more reliable Internet connection.

    —James K. Willcox

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

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    Move over GLK, here comes the 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC

    What was once known as the GLK is now called the GLC, with the revised moniker adorning the second-generation of Mercedes’ small SUV. Along with the fresh styling and C-Class-reminiscent interior comes a plethora of standard of safety equipment and an optional air suspension system.

    The new model rides on a longer wheelbase than the GLK and comes with more interior space (according to Mercedes). Despite the larger dimensions, the GLC is said to be 176 pounds lighter than the GLK, thanks to using more aluminum and high-strength steels. Perhaps that extra room will improve on one of the GLK’s weaknesses, which was stingy rear-seat leg room. (Read our complete GLK road test.)

    Power comes from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine putting out 241 hp and matched to a new nine-speed automatic transmission.

    The optional electronically controlled and continuously adjustable air suspension promises improved agility and comfort, as well as enhanced off-road capabilities. In Sport+ mode, the suspension settings get tighter and the SUV is lowered by 0.6 inches. On the other end of the spectrum, Comfort mode errs on the cushy side. Also, the automatic level control can lower the reach to the cargo area for easier loading and unloading.

    Inside, some of the more notable changes are a new available head-up display and 7-inch screen (plus, an optional 8.4-inch high-definition screen). This touch-pad central controller is much like what we saw in 2015 C-Class sedan. Another neat feature is that the rear tailgate can be opened automatically by swiping your foot under the bumper.

    As per Mercedes tradition, luxury items abound inside, including optional Nappa leather, fancy wood trim, and panoramic glass roof.

    Safety features include available autonomous braking (up to 30 mph); collision prevention assist; pedestrian detection; cross-traffic alert; blind-spot detection; lane-keeping assist; and a 360-degree camera.

    The previous GLK was competitive among compact luxury SUVs, offering smooth and punchy powertrains, a decent ride, and fairly nimble handling.

    We look forward to getting behind the wheel of the new model—whose name reminds us of the old Mazda GLC economy car. Could it be that the Mercedes iteration stands for “Great Luxurious Cabin,” “Green Luscious Creation,” or “Gee, Lotsa Cash?” We'll see what nickname sticks after it goes on sale in November and we buy our own to test.

    —Mike Quincy and Seung Min ‘Mel’ Yu

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

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    GMO labeling efforts under threat from House bill

    Many polls, including one by Consumer Reports National Research Center, have found that some 90 percent of consumers want foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled. Despite this clear message, Congress is now considering a bill that would undermine GMO labeling and erode Americans’ ability to know the basic facts about what’s in their food.

    On June 18, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee will hold a hearing on a new draft of the misleadingly named Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015. "Rather than give consumers the information they're asking for, this new version of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act would do quite the opposite," says Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union.

    The bill would prohibit requirements for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered (GE) food at any level—federal, state, or local. This would quash existing state GMO labeling laws in states like Vermont, and prevent states from developing new ones. It also would bar states and local communities from regulating GMO crops in other ways. Several counties in California and Oregon, and the states of Washington and Hawaii, currently have measures in place that restrict where GMO crops can be grown.

    Read our report "GMO foods: What you need to know" to learn the facts and fictions about GMOs. Also visit our Food Safety & Sustainability Guide for more details about our food safety work.

    Instead, the legislation would direct the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to continue its current policy, in which any labeling of GE food must be the voluntary choice of the food producer, even though current guidelines have not produced a GMO-labeled product in 15 years.

    Even more concerning, voluntary non-GMO labeling programs that have set strict standards could potentially be forced to weaken those standards. “For instance, the Non-GMO Project Verified label, which now appears on thousands of products, sets a threshold of GMO contamination of 0.9 percent,” says Halloran. “If this bill becomes law, they’d be forced to follow any standard set by the government, which would likely be less stringent.”

    Consumers Union believes that the issue of GMO labeling has new urgency given that a World Health Organization research arm, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), recently categorized the herbicide glyphosate, used on virtually all GE crops, as a “probable carcinogen.” In a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee, Consumers Union voiced support for other legislative efforts, like the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act introduced by Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon. That bill would require genetically engineered foods to be labeled.

    —Consumer Reports

    Take action

    Make your voice heard and share your support for GMO labeling efforts. Contact your Congressional representatives and urge them to support the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act. Visit NotInMyFood.org to send Congress the message that consumers have the right to know what’s in their food.

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

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  • 06/17/15--20:59: Eat smart with these 4 tips
  • Eat smart with these 4 tips

    Fad diets, such as those that advocate chowing down on large amounts of protein, eliminating carbohydrates or banning fats may be popular, but balance is really the key to long-term healthy eating. “Eating plans that glorify or vilify a particular food group are not healthful in the long run,” says Consumer Reports dietitian Maxine Siegel, R.D. “Include a wide variety of foods—whole grains, different kinds of produce, and lean protein—to ensure you get all the nutrients you need.”

    Here are four simple strategies that will round out your eating plan and might even help you shed extra weight.


    Count on calories

    According to the National Institutes of Health, the average moderately active adult woman needs about 1,800 daily calories; an adult male, about 2,200 to 2,400. If you’re sedentary, subtract up to 200 calories from your daily allotment; if you’re extremely active, add up to 400.

     
    Go lean with protein

    On average, women need about 46 grams a day; men, 56 grams. Keep it lean with fish (29 grams in 4 ounces of cooked salmon), skinless poultry (35 grams in 4 ounces, cooked), dairy (20 grams per cup of low-fat Greek yogurt), and vegetarian options such as nut butters (3.5 to 4 grams per tablespoon).

     

    Read about the surprising effects of a high-protein diet, and find out how to select the safest, healthiest and most sustainable shrimp.

    Pick the right trans fat

    No more than 30 percent of your daily calories should come from fat (each fat gram has 9 calories). Get a daily maximum of 22 grams of saturated fat, avoid trans fats (in some processed foods like cookies and crackers), and focus on good-for-you fats: Half an avocado has about 15 grams—all but 2 are healthy fats. A half-cup of sliced almonds contains 22.5 grams of fat; 20 are unsaturated.

    Choose complex carbs

    Women should aim for 202 to 293 grams per day; men, 259 to 374. Instead of getting them from refined carbs like added sugar and those in white flour, focus on complex carbs; they’re nutritious, satiating, and full of fiber. (Women older than 50 should get 21 grams of fiber daily; men, 30 grams.) Foods high in complex carbs include produce, legumes such as chickpeas (a half-cup contains 23 grams of carbs and 6 grams of fiber), and whole-grain items such as whole-wheat bread (14 grams of carbs and 1.9 grams of fiber per slice). The government’s ChooseMyPlate program suggests at least half of your grains be whole.

    This article also appeared in the March 2015 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.

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

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    New ratings highlight the best cars for child-seat anchoring

    Providing a helpful resource for parents, new ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) will begin to formally rate vehicle’s LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) hardware. In comparison to all of the other attributes that are important to consider when buying a car, information on the child friendliness of cars is sparse. So these new ratings should complement evaluations Consumer Reports regularly performs, assessing how friendly vehicles are to accepting child seats and child passengers. We summarize those in our comprehensive road tests under the header “Driving with Kids.”

    It is not uncommon for us to cite how difficult LATCH lower anchors can be to access, particularly when they are deeply recessed or too closely surrounded by seatback foam or cushioning. But LATCH is only one piece—albeit an important one—of the puzzle. Seat contour, rear seat room, and ultimately the ability to install child seats using the seat belts are also key elements of determining whether or not you will be successful at getting a secure child seat fit with your own car.

    Families also benefit from a somewhat recent change to child seat labeling, which now does a better job of indicating the relative weight limits factoring the seat and child. This highlights that at some point, your child will outgrow the LATCH rating and you will need to install the child seat using the vehicle seat belt. The heavier your child seat or your child, the sooner that transition will come.  

    Visit our guide to kids and car safety.

    Of the 102 vehicles IIHS tested in this round of results, only a few vehicles were distinguished with overall Good ratings for their LATCH hardware, including:

    Conversely, 10 vehicles had Poor ratings:

    The remaining 89 vehicles spanned the Marginal and Acceptable categories. Vehicles that rated Poor aren't unsafe, nor does that rating doesn't mean that you won't be able to get a child seat secured with LATCH. Poor ratings indicate that it may be more difficult to find and use the LATCH hardware than it would be in a vehicle that rates better.  

    Introduced in 2002, the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system was designed to make child seat installations easier than using a vehicle’s seat belt. The system includes a set of lower anchors between the cushion and seatback of some (most often outboard) seats and a top tether anchor for securing the top of the seat. This first round of ratings on 102 vehicles evaluates the ease of accessing and using those two anchor points with a hope of increasing how often they get used. Criteria for rating the lower anchors include the depth of the anchor and clearance around them as well as measured by the force required to connect to them and for top tethers the ratings also look at the potential for them to be confused with other hardware like cargo tie downs.

    The impetus for doing the ratings is that the IIHS, like us, is a fan of LATCH’s potential. They cite research that shows that parents are more likely to install the seat correctly when using LATCH and in our own ratings for child seats, we typically find that seats achieve a higher “fit-to-vehicle” rating for LATCH installations than when they are installed using the vehicle belts. By formally rating the hardware, IIHS will provide a key resource for parents and may also prompt vehicle manufacturers to make improvements to how easy it is to use them. By increasing the frequency of their use, improving seat installation suggests those results should ultimately improve child passenger safety.

    IIHS admits that these ratings may be short lived. Updates to the regulations that govern implementation of the LATCH system have been proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with similar end goals. We like LATCH well enough that our comments toward those proposed changes support any improvements to accessing the hardware and go one step further in suggesting that the LATCH weight limits be increased to allow LATCH to be used longer. But updating a formal standard can be a lengthy process. In the meantime, the IIHS ratings can serve as another good resource.

    Jen Stockburger

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

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    Smaller carry-on luggage could be coming to an airplane near you

    Think a carry-on is a carry-on the world around? There is no official, standardized carry-on bag size for all airlines—nore than 50 different allowable sizes have been identified by the industry. And even within a single airline, the allowed size of on-board luggage can differ from one aircraft to the next.

    A worldwide standard would assure passengers of the right carry-on fit for all airlines, and that's what the International Air Transport Association (IATA) wants with its Cabin OK proposal. This industry group that represents 260 airlines worldwide, has proposed a one-size-fits all carry-on size. Unfortunately, the proposed size is probably smaller than the carry-on you use now.

    At 21.5 inches high x 7.5 inches deep x 13.5 inches wide, the proposed IATA size is 21 percent smaller than the maximum allowable dimesions on American, Delta, and United (22 inches high x 9 inches deep x 14 inches wide) and 43 percent smaller than the allowance for JetBlue and Southwest (24 inches high x 10 inches deep x 16 inches wide). The new size is intended to fit both in the overhead bin and underneath the seat on a Boeing 737 and Airbus A319/320, narrowing the difference between your carry-on bag and your underseat personal item

    Planning a trip this summer? Check our luggage buying guide and brand reviews.

    IATA spokesman Chris Goater says that the proposed Cabin OK size is not a maximum, but rather an "optimum" size that will create the best odds of ensuring that your bag goes on board with you. He says that each airline can and will maintain its own maximum limit but, as is the case currently, the maximum size does not guarantee that the bag will get on board. "Airlines that have agreed to recognize the Cabin OK logo know that it is OK not to stick it in a sizer or put it in the hold."

    For some passengers who travel on multileg flights with different airlines, Cabin OK might be easier than deciphering IATA's Most Significant Carrier rule, which defines which airline’s baggage allowances and charges apply on a one-fare, multiairline journey.

    But even with Cabin OK, it doesn't seem that passengers will be absolutely, positively assured that their bag won't be sent to the cargo hold. IATA qualifies its guidelines by saying that "those bags with a Cabin OK logo will have a priority (determined individually by each airline) for staying in the cabin should its cabin capacity be exceeded and some baggage need to be moved to the hold."

    Under the IATA proposal, participating luggage manufacturers would affix the IATA Cabin OK logo (shown above) on conforming carry-ons to allow gate agents to quickly identify size-compliant bags. The high-end American luggage-maker Tumi has already signed on to the program, as have two Japanese brands, Lojel and Sunco, and the Dot Drops brand made by French company Jump, according to John Vermilye, CEO of Travel Sentry and Okoban, the standard-setting companies that are coordinating the participation of luggage manufacturers.

    But some luggage companies are distancing themselves from the proposal. Samsonite International, the world’s largest luggage company, issued a statement saying that it is not collaborating with the IATA at this point “as none of the U.S. airlines have stated that they are in agreement with this new initiative yet.” The company also said that it will offer “appropriately sized carry-on products” to fit any changes that major U.S. airlines adopt. German luggage maker Rimowa said, "we want to make it quite clear that we do not support plans to reduce the standard size of carry-on luggage, and neither have we provided such a recommendation to IATA or any airline company."

    As for the airlines, Tom Windmuller, IATA's senior vice president for airport, passenger, cargo, and security, said that 30 to 40 airlines are “interested” in Cabin OK. Nine have already accepted the proposal, including Avianca, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Lufthansa, and Qatar. He adds, “We are confident that over the next several months we will get a number of major airlines on board.” (Watch a recent IATA interview on the new carry-on size and Cabin OK below.)

    A one-size-fits-all carry-on would indeed ease the pain for travelers—except for the part about buying new luggage to be assured of the right fit—and for airlines, but it's unclear whether Cabin OK will become widespread. The IATA guidelines are voluntary, even for the organization's member airlines, and the group says that the plan will be implemented only with sign-on from a a certain number of airlines, or airlines representing a certain percentage of passenger volume. 

    The new optimal-size bags with the IATA Cabin OK logo are expected to be available later this year.

    —Susan Feinstein

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

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    How Consumer Reports Tests Cars

    Consumer Reports operates the largest and most sophisticated independent automobile testing center devoted to the consumer interest anywhere in the world. Situated on 327 acres in rural Connecticut, the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center is home to about 30 staff members, including automotive engineers, writers, editors, technicians, a statistician, and support staff. Consumer Reports buys, anonymously, all the cars it tests, about 80 per year, and drives each for thousands of miles to get the full experience so it can best serve you, the consumer.

    Formal testing is done at the track and on surrounding public roads. The evaluation regimen consists of more than 50 individual tests. Some are objective, instrumented track tests using state-of-the-art electronic gear that yield empirical findings. Some are subjective evaluations-jury tests done by the experienced engineering staff. These videos will provide further insights into the ways that Consumer Reports tests and evaluates new cars to help its readers make smart, informed choices. (Watch our car-review videos.) See our Guide to Consumer Reports Ratings.

    Acceleration tests are conducted on a smooth, flat pavement straightaway at the track. The test car is rigged with  a precise GPS-based device that’shooked to a data-logging computer and a display that’s mounted on the windshield. This equipment creates precise records of time, speed, and distance. We use it to measure sprints from 0 to 30 mph, 60 mph, and for quarter-mile runs. For trucks and heavier SUVs, we also perform acceleration tests while towing a loaded trailer. Good acceleration speaks to more than the fun factor. It's also vital for executing safe highway merges and plays a key role in some accident-avoidance situations.

    Good braking performance is  a vital component for safe driving. Our automotive engineers conduct  a series of brake tests from 60 mph to zero on wet and dry pavement to measure stopping distances. The test car is rigged with a precision GPS based device . We also judge brake-pedal modulation.

    Engineers trained in ergonomics/human-factors evaluate a car's controls and displays, judging how easy it is to interact with the various vehicle functions such as audio, phone, and all the switches and instruments. The entire auto-test staff submits written comments drawn from months of living with the cars and driving them every day for commuting, trips, and errands. The more intuitive and user-friendly the controls are, the better.

    Staff members of different sizes judge how easy it is to get comfortably situated behind the steering wheel, gauging whether they can see out well and reach all controls and pedals without straining or developing premature fatigue. They also get in and out of every seat, and note the ease of entry and exit. Driver seat comfort is judged for how comfortable and supportive it is.

    Crucial emergency driving tests include an avoidance maneuver and a series of at-the-limit cornering assessments around a handling course-a snaking track loop. The avoidance maneuver is a "path-following test" in which the driver pilots the car down a lane marked off by traffic cones with a quick left-right-left sequence. That simulates swerving to avoid an obstacle in the road, then returning to the original lane to avoid oncoming traffic. The car threads through the course, without throttle or brakes, at ever-higher speeds until it can't get through without hitting any cones. We use a laser-beam based device to record and monitor entry speed. When testing on-limit handling, drivers push the car to and beyond its limits of cornering capabilities to simulate entering a corner too quickly. Test engineers evaluate how controllable, secure, and forgiving-or not-the car is.

    Experienced engineers evaluate every test vehicle's interior qualities. They want to see that the trim pieces have minimal gaps and properly align with one another and that the texture of adjacent panels matches. The testers also judge the tactile quality of the plastics, leather, fabrics, and switchgear-the parts that people normally touch. They look for quality in sewn seams and for ill-trimmed plastic mold flash, rough edges, and hard, hollow plastic surfaces. They also pay attention to the way nooks and cubbies are finished inside and out, whether cup holders are sturdy, flimsy, or ill-placed, and whether compartment doors open and shut smoothly.

    We perform our own fuel-economy tests, independent of the government's often-quoted EPA figures and the manufacturers' claims. Using a precise fuel-flow measuring device spliced into the fuel line, we run two separate circuits. One is on a public highway at a steady 65 mph. That course is run in both directions to counteract any terrain and wind effects. A second is a stop-and-go simulated city-driving test done at our track. CR's overall fuel-economy numbers are derived from those fuel consumption tests.

    Have you ever wondered whether your car's headlights are as good as they should be? To answer that question, Consumer Reports evaluates headlight performance on new cars in our test program. After aligning the lights in an indoor lab, we test them outdoors at our track on dark, moonless nights. Our headlight specialists set up a series of black targets at prescribed intervals along almost a thousand feet of level roadway. They then look for low-beam and high-beam performance, evaluating reach, intensity, width, and the evenness of the light pattern. They note glare effects— where stray light can bounce back from mist, rain, or fog. And they determine whether the transition or cutoff of light is so sharp that it reduces the headlight's range as it moves over undulations and uneven roads.

    We evaluate noise as well as measure it. We use precision microphones mounted in the cabin and make digital recordings of sound pressure (known as volume to most of us) while the car is driven over various pavements, including a specially built coarse pavement at our track, and at different speeds. Complementing those findings is noise evaluation conducted by our test engineers on local public roads. They make note of engine, road, and wind noise, and judge the level and quality of the noises, be they raucous or pleasant, annoying or exhilarating.

    We check off-road capabilities for vehicles made for or advertised for off-road use. SUVs or pickups with a traditional four-wheel-drive system that includes low-range gearing or some equivalent are put to the test on varying terrain. We evaluate the vehicle's 4WD system and the driver's ability to modulate the throttle—something vital for climbing over tricky obstacles. We also judge ground clearance, axle articulation, and, of course, traction.

    An overly-stiff or uncontrolled ride can really detract from the driving experience. Our engineers judge ride comfort on a 30-mile loop at predetermined speeds on a course that includes a variety of roads containing, bumps, ruts, undulations, and a typical highway section. They note whether the suspension absorbs and isolates appropriately. They determine whether the ride is stiff, choppy, tender, or floaty, and how well the car copes with pavement flaws. The engineers are attuned to adverse ride motions such as side-to-side rocking and fore-and-aft pitching. Comfort is the name of the game, as is the ability to provide a steady cruise regardless of the terrain. Cumulative experience from commuting in the cars is also factored in.

    Our testers judge routine handling primarily during a test we call "one-day trip," which consists of five laps around a 30-mile loop of local roads ranging from a smooth highway to secondary two-laners, and rural twists and turns. A team of trained engineers assesses how well the car steers around corners and handles rough pavement. The engineers note body control such as body lean and how steady the car remains over bumpy corners. They evaluate steering response to driver input and how well the car communicates feedback, mainly through the steering. The car's turning circle is measured by technicians and evaluated, as this quality translates directly into ease of parking and maneuverability in tight spaces.

    We don’t perform crash tests. We quote the government and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash test results. Other aspects require a personal touch to evaluate. Our engineers asses safety belts, the most important safety device, in all seating positions, gauging how easy they are to reach and adjust, how they drape on different-sized occupants, and whether they incorporate features such as pretensioners that make them more effective. The engineers also check head restraints in all seats to ensure that they are tall enough and can be positioned properly to mitigate whiplash injuries. Another key check is to judge how conducive the vehicle is to the securing of child seats of various sizes.

    Transmissions play a central role in delivering engine power to the wheels, and the qualities of the transmission can greatly affect the overall driving experience. When evaluating automatic transmissions, our engineers look for responsiveness, how quickly and appropriately the transmission selects its gears, and how seamlessly it shifts and downshifts. They assess how in tune the transmission is with the throttle, grade, and driver's inputs. For manual transmissions, the testers evaluate the shift action (how easy it is to move the shift lever through the shifter gate), and they gauge the feel of the stick shift. The appropriateness of gear ratios is taken into account. The engineers also note the clutch action, looking for appropriate effort, pedal travel, and the point where the clutch engages.

    For cars with an enclosed trunk, we measure its usable volume with a set of typical-sized suitcases and duffle bags. For , station wagons, minivans and SUVs, we use an expandable rectangular pipe-frame "box." We enlarge it enough to just fit through the rear opening and extend into the cargo bay as far as possible without preventing the hatch from closing. Cargo capacity is the volume enclosed by that box. For pickup trucks, we measure the volume of the load bed up to the top of the side rails.

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

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