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    Volvo offers lifetime warranty for parts and labor

    In a strategic move to lower ownership costs, Volvo has announced that its Service Advantage program will provide lifetime parts and labor warranty for Volvos serviced at a dealership after the original factory warranty expires. All Volvo models are eligible.

    In addition to the this new program, Volvo already offers lifetime map update (on 2014 and newer models with factory-equipped navigation), as well as free computer software updates and diagnostics, as needed.

    One tip we’ve frequently heard among readers who aim to stretch their car’s service life to 200,000 miles and beyond is to buy parts and service backed by a lifetime warranty. These protections can be found through some major repair chains, but they are typically not offered on original-equipment parts. With components such as the exhaust system and brakes, this can mean multiple cost-free replacements. (Read "Get your car fixed for (almost) free.")

    With Volvos carrying a price premium, and having a rather varied reliability history, this new program should attract buyers and entice owners to remain loyal for the long run.

    Learn how to make your car last 200,000 miles or more.

    Jeff Bartlett

    Would you consider buying a Volvo because of this new policy? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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

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  • 07/10/15--11:29: Best new car deals
  • Best new car deals

    A great price isn't necessarily a good deal if the vehicle doesn't measure up, so we help you choose a good car at a good price with monthly list of best new car deals. The featured vehicle highlighted below has an attractive incentive that can save you extra money, and it is recommended by Consumer Reports, as are all models detailed below.

    Other trims on the vehicles listed may also present good deals. Although incentives all eventually expire, they are often renewed. Research ratings, reliability, owner satisfaction, and the latest dealer pricing on our car model pages

    See our full list of this month's best new car deals below. 

    Click here to receive an RSS feed with the latest car news and deals.

    Expires 9/8/15

    The Cadenza is a competent and credible competitor among large sedans. There's a lot here for the money, including a luxurious and quiet interior, a roomy backseat, responsive handling, and a comfortable ride. The 293-hp, 3.3-liter V6 engine and standard six-speed automatic combine to make a slick powertrain that delivers a competitive 22-mpg overall. Controls are refreshingly easy to use. A host of electronic safety aids are available, but some of the most useful ones are bundled into expensive options packages. First-year reliability has been well above average.

    Model MSRP Invoice price Total available savings Build & Buy car buying service Potential savings below MSRP
    2015 Kia Cadenza Limited $44,625 $41,718 $2,719 View dealer pricing 15%+

    Get dealer pricing information on more than 1,100 models.

    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model name MSRP Invoice Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2015 Chevrolet Volt Plug-In Hybrid $35,170 $34,483 8/31/2015 5%+
    2015 Kia Forte LX $18,315 $17,778 9/8/2015 10%+
    2015 Kia Rio 5-door EX $18,015 $17,382 9/8/2015 5%+
    2015 Kia Rio Sedan EX $17,815 $17,207 9/8/2015 5%+
    2015 Kia Soul + $19,515 $18,731 9/8/2015 5%+
    2015 Nissan Versa Note SV $17,155 $16,905 7/31/2015 10%+
    2015 Toyota Corolla LE Plus $19,790 $19,048 8/3/2015 5%+

    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model name MSRP Invoice Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2015 Buick LaCrosse Leather $36,650 $35,936 8/31/2015 5%+
    2015 Buick Regal Turbo $30,915 $30,315 8/31/2015 5%+
    2015 Buick Verano Leather $27,975 $27,434 8/31/2015 5%+
    2015 Cadillac CTS Sedan 3.6L AWD Luxury $55,965 $53,766 8/31/2015 10%+
    2015 Chevrolet Impala 2LTZ $36,265 $35,025 8/31/2015 10%+
    2015 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT $24,560 $23,967 8/31/2015 10%+
    2015 Ford Fusion SE $24,370 $23,082 9/7/2015 15%+
    2015 Ford Fusion Titanium AWD $33,115 $31,326 9/7/2015 10%+
    2016 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE $26,865 $25,438 9/30/2015 10%+
    2015 Hyundai Equus Signature $62,450 $59,029 7/31/2015 10%+
    2015 Kia Cadenza Limited $44,625 $41,718 9/8/2015 15%+
    2015 Kia Optima LX $22,665 $21,927 9/8/2015 10%+
    2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited $42,525 $39,618 8/3/2015 5%+
    2015 Toyota Avalon Limited $40,805 $38,024 8/3/2015 5%+
    2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE $30,805 $29,372 8/3/2015 5%+
    2015 Toyota Camry LE 4-Cyl $23,795 $22,609 8/3/2015 5%+
    2015 Toyota Prius Four $29,260 $28,226 8/3/2015 5%+

    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model name MSRP Invoice Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2015 Buick Enclave Leather AWD $46,375 $45,012 8/31/2015 10%+
    2015 Chevrolet Traverse 1LT AWD $36,670 $35,596 8/31/2015 10%+
    2015 Dodge Durango AWD Limited $40,490 $39,106 8/3/2015 5%+
    2015 Ford Flex SEL AWD $34,945 $33,454 9/30/2015 5%+
    2015 GMC Acadia AWD SLT1 $43,745 $42,460 8/31/2015 10%+
    2015 Hyundai Santa Fe GLS AWD $32,795 $31,591 7/31/2015 10%+
    2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T $33,895 $32,501 7/31/2015 5%+
    2015 Nissan Rogue SV AWD $26,725 $25,590 7/31/2015 5%+
    2015 Toyota RAV4 4X4 XLE $27,525 $26,677 8/3/2015 5%+
    2015 Toyota Venza LE 4-Cyl AWD $31,400 $29,779 8/3/2015 5%+


    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model name MSRP Invoice Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2015 Toyota Sienna XLE, 8-Passenger $36,085 $34,377 8/3/2015 5%+

    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model name MSRP Invoice Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2015 Toyota Prius V Three $28,885 $27,866 8/3/2015 5%+
    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 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.

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

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    Airlines are under investigation for possible price collusion

    The airline industry has posted record profits this year, while facing mounting complaints about crowded cabins, high prices and added fees. Some are questioning whether the airlines have conspired to keep prices high by limiting capacity—that is, limiting the number of available seats for passengers. Simply put: price collusion. Such tactics might explain why you experienced “fare shock” when you searched for tickets.

    The U.S. Department of Justice recently confirmed news reports that it is looking into “possible unlawful coordination by some airlines.” The Associated Press said the investigation “appears to focus on whether airlines illegally signaled to each other how quickly they would add new flights, routes and extra seats.” Several major carriers have told reporters they have been contacted by the Justice Department about price collusion and are cooperating with the investigation.

    Learning how to land the best fares could help you avoid fare shock. How do you feel about airline travel these days. Let us know by leaving a comment below.

    These reports of possible price collusion are troubling but not surprising. The airline industry has shrunk from nine major domestic carriers in 2001 to only four today: American (which merged with US Airways in 2013), Delta, Southwest, and United. This massive consolidation has fundamentally altered the business incentives for airlines, creating just the kind of "reduced competition" environment that leads to restricted capacity, inflated prices, and poorer service.

    Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, recently sent a letter to the Justice Department about its investigation, noting the following:

    "It makes good business sense for two competing airlines to each have its own flights on the same routes, and to compete with each other to bring passengers to its own flights. What some might view as 'overcapacity' is actually a healthy byproduct of competition. Each of the airlines competes to fill more of its own seats; it is an indication that the airline is competing successfully that its competitor’s seats are not being filled. But after the two competing airlines merge, what once made sense for competition now looks like redundancy. It is now more 'efficient' for the merged airline to eliminate flights and move the passengers onto fewer planes."

    The lack of meaningful competition is also reflected in the long list of extra charges for luggage, reservation changes, and other fees, not to mention the reductions in service quality, such as the ever-shrinking space for your seat.

    We're pleased the Justice Department is digging into potential anticompetitive coordination among the airlines. The government needs to keep a close watch over this highly concentrated industry, and we believe regulators should oppose any further consolidation among major airlines, in order to promote a healthy, broad-based competitive airline structure that prevents price collusion and provides meaningful choice for consumers.

    This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization advocates for product safety, financial reform, safer food, health reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

    Read past installments of our Policy & Action feature.





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

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    Ceiling fans add comfort and save money too

    Unlike air conditioners, ceiling fans don’t lower a room’s temperature or remove humidity from the air. But you can save energy and money by using ceiling fans and turning off the air conditioning when possible or by turning up the thermostat a few degrees and letting the fan do the rest. Because most ceiling fans performed similarly on low and high speeds in Consumer Reports’ past air movement tests, there are no ceiling fan ratings. But we did find some features that make a difference if you plan to buy one.

    Ceiling fans come in a variety of styles and finishes. In the past, we tested a number of three-speed, 52-inch diameter fans, the most popular size. We found that spending more didn’t guarantee better performance but did get you fancier finishes on the motor cover and blades. We also learned to predict how noisy a fan would be by just looking at its design. Here’s what else our tests revealed:

    Fans save energy. The recommended indoor temperature for summer is 78° F but some folks dial the thermostat back to much cooler. According to Energy Star, you can save 3 to 5 percent on air-conditioning costs for each degree you raise the thermostat. Using a ceiling fan, which costs little to run, can make you feel up to 4° F cooler. And here's another way to save: Fans cool you not the room so turn it off when you leave.

    Airflow and blade shape matter. Look at cubic feet per minute (cfm) numbers on the box to get an idea of how well the ceiling fan moves air. A higher number means more air movement, but don’t fret over small differences. Our tests showed comparable airspeed from fans rated from 5,000 to 5,600 cfm. Fans with the most airflow also made the most noise, but it was wind noise and fluttering, not motor noise. And be wary of fans with large blades that have ridges, bumps, or other surface texture; those often make more noise on high than fans with smooth blades.

    Wobble can be fixed. Most fans came with balancing kits, a combination of weights that you attach to the blades to make up for slight differences in blade weight and removable clips that help you determine where to place the weights. You can eliminate most of the wobbling with the kits, but it’s a trial-and-error process.

    The right ceiling fan

    Look for the Energy Star. Fans that earn the Energy Star label move air 20 percent more efficiently than standard models. Energy Star fans with light kits are 60 percent more efficient than conventional fan/light units and can save you more than $15 per year on utility bills.

    Select the right size. While 52-inch fans are the most popular, that size, give or take a couple of inches, works best in rooms that are 225 to 400 square feet. Choose a 42- to 44-inch model for 144 to 225 square feet. Opt for a larger fan if your room size is on the borderline, and run it on a slower speed, which is quieter.

    Suit your style. From basic to ornate, ceiling fans can bring back memories of “Casablanca” or have a Jetsons-like modern twist. Motor-cover finishes include brass, bronze, and pewter. Basic fan blades have a paddle shape, while variations include oval and leaf shapes or wicker-like textures. Finishes include cherry, oak, maple, and painted blades.

    Know installation requirements. Install a ceiling fan in the center of the room at least 7 feet above the floor, 8 to 9 feet for optimal airflow. Generally blade tips should be no closer than 24 inches from the wall and from drapes. Check manufacturer’s directions for specifics. If you’re replacing a light with a fan, be certain that the electric box in the ceiling can support the weight of the fan. Not sure? Check the installation instructions or call an electrician.

    Check the wet/damp rating. If you’re placing a ceiling fan in a bathroom or outdoors, you need to find one that meets UL’s wet/damp rating. If the fan is indoors in a moist room, look for a UL “damp” rating. If the fan will be placed outdoors on a porch, look for one with a UL “wet” rating. Energy Star says that fans with these ratings have such features as sealed moisture-resistant motors, rust-resistant housing, stainless steel hardware, and all-weather blades.

    All about light kits

    Ceiling fan light kits can be purchased three different ways: integrated into the fan, included with the fan at the time of purchase, or sold separately. Many of the light kits that are sold separately are “universal,” meaning they can be used on a number of different fan models. Similarly, most ceiling fans are light kit adaptable. However, there are many cases where compatibility is only between light kits and ceiling fans under the same brand.

    If your fan doesn't include lighting, be sure to purchase an Energy Star certified light kit. This lighting is efficient and long lasting, so you won't have to make frequent bulb changes. There are three common types of light kits. Branched or stemmed light kits have cans or globes that can point up or down. Uplight kits sit on top of the housing and point toward the ceiling, casting a softer light.

    Nearly all Energy Star qualified ceiling fan light fixtures use bowl lighting, which can be attached  either directly to the ceiling fan housing or below the fan. Bowl and shade designs range from clear to alabaster, crystal, or tiffany. The fancier the glass design, the more expensive.

    Lightbulbs. Not all CFLs and LEDs are intended for use in ceiling fans. If yours has bowl lighting, look for a lightbulb that can be used in an enclosed fixture. If your fan has cans or globes in which the bulb points down, you’ll need lightbulbs specifically intended for use in ceiling fans. Keep in mind that lighting affects energy use. LEDs are more efficient than CFLs and CFLs are more efficient than halogen lightbulbs. Incandescents are the least efficient of all and are being phased out.

    Match the fan to the room

    A ceiling fan should look great, even at rest. The style you choose should add to the room decor, like a piece of furniture, only on the ceiling. You might want to install more than one fan in very large rooms such as a great room or an open floor plan.

    Hang it high. A fan at 8 to 9 feet is best for optimal air flow so if your ceiling is higher, use a downrod to position the fan at the proper height.

    Connect with color. Coordinating the fan’s finish with other furnishings helps create unity and balance in a room. You can match the color of a wood fan blade to the floor. Metal fan finishes can coordinate with door knobs, cabinet hardware, and even kitchen faucets and bathroom fixtures.

    Blend it in. Fans are big and kind of clunky to conceal. If you want to make one less visible, choose a very simple style in a color that blends in with the ceiling. A flush-mounted fan will disappear into the ceiling a bit more.

    Keep it clean

    Clean all household fans at least once a season. Dirty fan blades don’t move air efficiently. A ceiling fan that is covered with dust or pollen can fling the offending particles around the room as it's whirring away And if you have a fan in the kitchen, cooking grease can make it a dust magnet. That’s why it’s important to keep the fan clean, especially if you use it year-round. Doing so requires a ladder, an all-purpose cleaner, and a little effort.

    Cover the floor and furniture. Spread drop cloths or old sheets on the floor and over any furniture that's near or under the fan. Try to cover an area about twice as wide as the fan. Position the ladder so that you can see the top of the blades. Remove any globes and hand-wash them in the sink.

    Dust then wash.  Start by removing loose dust with a cloth or duster. Then moisten a cloth or sponge with an all-purpose cleaner—don’t spray liquid on the fan—and wash each blade. Don’t apply heavy pressure, which can bend the blades and cause the fan to not work properly. Dry thoroughly; damp blades attract dust.

    Cool tools. A special tool—a long-handled, U-shaped brush—is available from hardware stores and home centers. The blade fits in the inner part of the U, so both sides can be cleaned at once. If you don’t have this tool, a few cleaning websites recommend using an old pillowcase, slipping it over each blade and then pulling it back to remove dust and dirt. If cleaning the ceiling fan is a chore you hate, try waxing the blades with car wax, which can prevent dust from sticking.

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

    Air Conditioner Guide

    Need a new air conditioner. Check our "Complete guide to room and central air conditioners," for the best room air conditioners and the most reliable central air conditioner brands.

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

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    Think twice before signing on for a free trial

    What can you lose by signing up for a free trial offer? A lot of money, it turns out.

    Many online ads invite you to try out a product for free before committing to buying it. These offers seem perfectly innocuous, promising that consumers can test a sample “risk-free.” The only cost is a negligible shipping fee of $4.95 or $5.95, which you can put on your credit or debit card.

    Stop right there! Without realizing it, you may have just signed up for something more than you wanted. 

    For more information read, "Free Trials Can End Up Costing You."

    The FTC recently charged several skin care manufacturers for using allegedly bogus “risk-free trial offers” to sell skincare products online. Consumers could enjoy samples from AuraVie, Dellure, LéOR Skincare and Miracle Face Kit for the nominal shipping cost of $4.95, payable on their credit or debit card.

    Customers didn’t realize, however, that they had inadvertently agreed to pay the full price of the product—typically $97.88—under terms hidden in the fine print on the sellers’ websites. Furthermore, they had been enrolled without their consent in a subscription plan under which they were shipped more products and charged recurring monthly fees.

    One victim wrote, "I did not mind the $4.95 and the $5.95 but then it went up to $149, and it was going to come every month. That’s when I went to my credit card company and told them I did not give them the OK to bill me for the regular size and I did not sign up for [product delivery] every month.”  She was able to cancel the subscription through her credit card company.

    Involuntary memberships in clubs or subscriptions that are automatically renewed are a typical ploy, as anyone knows who has ever been lured by an introductory package of free books, CDs, magazines or movies. The companies make it difficult to cancel the memberships, stop or avoid charges for the products they shipped you without your consent, or obtain a refund. 

    How can you avoid paying unexpected costs hidden in “free trials?”

    Research the company online. See what others have said about the company’s free trials and other product offers. Complaints from other customers can tip you off that something may be wrong with the “free sample.”

    Dig into the fine print. Read the specific terms and conditions of the offer. If you can’t find them or don’t understand exactly what you’re agreeing to, don’t sign up. Similarly, find out how you can cancel future shipments or services. Do you have a limited amount of time to cancel?

    Beware of pre-checked boxes. Many free online trial offers come with boxes that have already been checked for you. But that checkmark may give the company permission to continue the offer past the trial period or it may automatically sign you up for more products that you have to pay for at full price. Click on those boxes to uncheck, as needed.

    Mark your calendar. Your free trial probably has a time limit. Once the expiration date has passed without you indicating that you want to cancel your “order” or “membership,” you may be stuck paying for more products.

    Pay attention to your credit and debit card statements. These statements are often the first sign that you’re being charged for something you didn’t order.

    If you are being charged for something you didn’t agree to, contact the company directly. If that doesn’t work, call your credit card company to dispute the charge. Ask to reverse the charge on the grounds that you didn’t actively order additional merchandise. 

    There’s no need to avoid trial offers in the future. Just remember that the best things in life can be free but only if they don’t come with strings attached. 

    Catherine Fredman

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

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    New worries about e-cigarette safety

    Political debate raged in Washington, D.C., this week over how electronic cigarettes should be regulated, or if they should be regulated at all. Six years ago, Congress granted the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate all tobacco products, and the agency’s final regulations establishing its authority over e-cigarettes are due out this summer. But in advance of those rules, some members of Congress are attempting to strip the FDA of its ability to review the health and safety risks of e-cigarettes before they hit the market.

    Just this week, Republican members of Congress blocked an amendment that would have preserved the FDA’s oversight of e-cigarettes—battery-operated devices that heat flavored chemicals, including nicotine, into a vapor that can be inhaled, or “vaped.” “This could be a serious blow to public health, if enacted,” says William Wallace, policy analyst at Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. “We don't yet know the long-term health impact of these products. Instead of blocking the agency's work, Congress should preserve FDA's ability to address risks that may emerge with these untested products,” Wallace says.

    As politicians slug it out, it’s worth remembering that e-cigarettes are so new to the market that very little is known about their potential dangers. “More needs to be done to find out if these products are safe—from the batteries that vaporize the liquid to the long-term, potentially harmful effects of nicotine and other chemicals consumers are inhaling,” says Consumer Reports chief medical adviser Marvin M. Lipman, M.D.

    Find out more about e-cigarettes and read about the possible risks of secondhand e-cig vapor. Should the FDA regulate e-cigarettes? Tell us and other readers by leaving a comment below.

    Safety problems are already surfacing. For example, says Wallace, “We know that the contents of e-cigarettes and other nicotine products are very dangerous to children. That's why Consumers Union supports legislation requiring child-resistant packaging for liquid nicotine.” Indeed, poison control centers nationwide have reported a jump in the number of children sickened after swallowing or touching the liquid nicotine contained in e-cigarettes and their refill containers. This liquid comes in flavors like bubble gum and watermelon, which seem to be especially appealing to children.

    In 2014, the nation’s 55 poison centers managed 3,783 e-cigarette and liquid nicotine “exposure” cases. More than half of those involved children under age six who may have ingested or inhaled liquid nicotine or got it on their skin or eyes. The effects can be deadly: according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, one teaspoon of liquid nicotine is potentially lethal to a child and in December 2014, a 1-year-old boy died after ingesting liquid nicotine in Fort Plain, N.Y.

    Right now, FDA is asking the public to weigh in on how it should regulate e-cigarettes, including whether e-cigarette and liquid nicotine packages should require warning labels, if child-resistant packaging should be required, and other e-cigarette safety issues. You can read the FDA’s notice and submit your comments until August 31. And share your story with us, including any problems stemming from contact with liquid nicotine experienced by you, your child, or someone else close to you.

    —Lauren Cooper



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

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  • 07/11/15--02:59: Hotels with free Wi-Fi
  • Hotels with free Wi-Fi

    With summer travel season in full swing, it’s time for vacationers to hit the road. That likely means a hotel stay, either en route to your destination or once you arrive.

    First, the bad news. If you thought hotels nickeled-and-dimed guests in the past, get ready for even more brazen fees now that business is the best it's been in nearly two decades and hotel chains are less worried about getting stuck with empty rooms.

    Last year guests forked over an estimated $2.25 billion in fees and surcharges—a record. The add-ons range from mandatory gratuities for staff, bag-storage fees, and early arrival penalties. There are also increased charges for canceling a reservation, staying at a resort (whether or not you use the amenities), and parking at hotel lots in the suburbs, a traditional freebie.

    Now that almost everyone has a smart phone, it’s difficult to remember how outraged consumers once were at the exorbitant fees hotels charged to place a call from a guest room. Today, many consumers are nearly as incensed when hotels charge for Internet access.

    Though most chains offer complimentary wireless, it remains a profit center. “Expensive hotels, usually at the luxury level, have a higher propensity to charge and to charge more,” says Bjorn Hanson, clinical professor with the New York University Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. The Sheraton Hotel & Towers in Chicago, for example, says the fee for Wi-Fi in its guest rooms run $14 per day.

    Think twice before you log on to public networks. Read "Hackers Infiltrate Hotel Wi-Fi" for more details.

    Some blue-chip chains are changing their tune. Last year, Loews became one of the first to offer freeWi-Fii; Virgin took the same approach when it opened a new property in downtown Chicago. And both the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio Texas and the Four Seasons in Atlanta provide guests with standardWi-Fii for free. The Hyatt charges a fee of $5 and at the Four Seasons you'll pay $16, but those fees apply only for high-speed service.

    The trend toward tiered service—free basic Internet with a fee to upgrade—is evident at budget hotels, too, such as Extended Stay America, where we encountered a premium of $4.

    The table below lists the general Internet policies at many major chains, though specifics can vary from one location to another. You should also remember that fees are sometimes waived for guests who enroll in a chain’s loyalty or rewards programs. Most don’t charge for membership. Also, coupon websites such as frequently have vouchers for free Internet and other perks.


    Hotel chain

    Wi-Fi policy

    America’s Best Value Inn

    Free internet at most locations


    Free Wi-Fi

    Baymont Inns & Suites, Days Inn & Suites, Howard Johnson, Microtel Inn & Suites, Super 8, Travelodge, Wingate by Wyndham

    Free Wi-Fi

    Best Western

    Free Wi-Fi

    Comfort Inn, Sleep Inn, Quality Inn, MainStay Suites, EconoLodge, Rodeway Inn

    Free Wi-Fi

    Country Inns & Suites, Radisson

    Free Wi-Fi

    Courtyard By Marriott, Residence Inn Marriott, SpringHill Suites Marriott

    Free Wi-Fi

    Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts

    Complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi throughout the hotel, including guest rooms at most locations. Free access for all IHG (Intercontinental Hotel Group) members.

    Drury hotels

    Free Wi-Fi

    Hilton, DoubleTree by Hilton, Embassy Suites

    Free Wi-Fi for Hilton Honors members when booking direct. Fee for enhanced service.

    Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites

    Free Wi-Fi

    Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Candlewood Suites, Staybridge Suites

    Free Wi-Fi

    Hyatt (all brands including Hyatt Regency, Hyatt Place, and Grand Hyatt)

    Free Wi-Fi in guestrooms and social spaces at all Hyatt brands. Hyatt Gold Passport, Diamond and Platinum members receive complimentary upgrade to premium Wi-Fi, where available.


    Free standard in-room Wi-Fi for basic Marriott Rewards members. Enhanced service for Gold and Platinum members.

    Motel 6

    Wi-fi available, but fee may apply


    Free Wi-Fi for Ritz-Carlton Reward members at participating hotels when booking directly online, through RC mobile app, by phone, or in person. Gold and Platinum Elite members qualify for free enhanced Wi-Fi.


    Free Internet access for basic and Gold Starwood Preferred members when booking online or via Starwood's mobile app, SPG. Complimentary high-speed access for Platinum members. Lobbies have fully-wired workstations and free Wi-Fi.

    Walt Disney World Resorts

    Free Wi-Fi in guest rooms and most public spaces including the theme parks.

    Note: Hotel brands grouped in the same box share common ownership.

    —Tod Marks

    Find out how to get a hotel room at a great price. And find the best luggage for your trip.

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

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    Deflating reality of run-flat tires

    Run-flat tires promise to remove a key travel worry—being stranded roadside. However, the ownership experience can be both expensive and frustrating, as we have heard from owners.

    A reader recently recounted a nightmarish run-flat tire tale that captures the potential downsides to this technology and mirrors other feedback we have received. (Even our staff has had their own run-flat adventures.)

    This consumer wrote us about driving his dream car, a 2012 BMW 550i, on a long trip. When a tire-pressure warning light illuminated, he pulled off the highway, stopped, and discovered a flat tire. Ready to tackle this misfortune, he looked for a spare tire in the trunk, but there was none to be found.

    Without the option to solve the dilemma on his own, he called BMW roadside assistance, only to be told there was no spare tire since the car comes with run-flats.

    Because the flat was caused by a sidewall failure, the owner was told not to drive on it.

    Late on a Sunday night, far from home, the driver spent 2 ½ hours waiting for a flat-bed tow to get the expensive car to safe ground, followed by an unexpected night in a hotel.  

    The disappointed owner got his car back on the road the next day and was fairly satisfied knowing flats are a rare event. But he felt that he would have bought a different car with regular tires instead of the run-flats, had he known.

    Since the initial troublesome experience, the owner was stranded four more times, accumulating a total of eight road-hazard flats in less than 30,000 miles. Adding insult to injury, in the best of times, the owner found the run-flats to be stiff riding and noisy. Plus, they cost a bundle to replace (claimed $500 apiece) and even at that, replacements are hard to find.

    Although eight failures is extreme for any car, the issues related to comfort and replacement are not unique to this individual. We’ve heard them similar complaints from many others. In this case, a BMW dealer suggested he buy tire insurance for a mere $2,500—an astronomical sum that sounded ridiculous at the time. To be fair, the owner confided a BMW dealer did make some concessions on the cost of some of the replacement tires, but he no longer has confidence in his beloved car.

    The owner suggests that anyone buying a car with run-flats inquire about tire insurance and negotiate the price down to make the car deal happen. We estimate that about 15 percent of the cars sold last year came with run-flats, so be sure to ask the dealer what kind of tires are on the car before you buy it. Many cars today come with just a tire repair kit, rather than a spare tire. Be sure you are getting what you expect when you buy a car, and if it doesn’t include a spare, ask if one is available.

    Have you experienced the benefits, or frustrations, with run-flat tires? Share your insights in the comments below.

    Check out our tire ratings, including models available in run-flat configurations.

    Gene Petersen

    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.)

    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 19, 2015: NHTSA and Honda confirm that an 8th fatality was attributable to a Takata airbag rupture, which took place in Los Angeles in September of 2014. The car was identified as a rented 2001 Honda Civic. Honda said the car had been under recall since 2009 but that various owners, including the small rental company in Los Angeles, had failed to have the repairs made.  

    June 17, 2015: NHTSA VIN look-up tool is updated to include all affected models. Often, there can be a slight delay between announcements and when data is available. 

    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 15, 2015: NHTSA and Honda confirm that Takata airbag rupture was implicated in a seventh death. The driver of a 2005 Honda Civic was fatally injured following a crash on April 5, in Louisiana.

    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.

    Eight 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
    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 airbags now numbering more than 34 million, replacing them all could 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. However, since a number of confirmed deaths have occured in places outside the priority recall area, this recall should not be ignored.

    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.

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

    Repairs conducted under the recall 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:


    2005-2010 Chrysler 300 - Driver’s side airbag

    2007-2008 Chrysler Aspen - Driver’s side airbag



    2008-2010 Dodge Challenger - Driver’s side airbag

    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:



    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


    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:


    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  


    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.

    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:


    2002-2005 Lexus SC - Passenger side  


    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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    Comcast Stream: the Internet TV service you can't get on your TV

    Comcast customers who are not exactly thrilled with their big, high-priced cable TV package will soon have another option: Comcast Stream, a new Internet TV plan, that provides about a dozen networks, including major local broadcast channels and HBO, plus a cloud-based DVR, for just $15 per month.

    But there are a few catches. For one, the Stream "beta test," as it's described in the Comcast blog, will only be available to those within the Xfinity Internet service footprint, and it will apparently roll out market by market, starting with Boston at the end of the summer and followed by Chicago and Seattle. The company hopes to make the service available in all other markets by early next year.

    The bigger issue is that it looks like you won't be able to access the service on your TV; it appears to be designed primarily for a younger generation of users who prefer to watch programs on their laptops, tablets, and smart phones.

    Details about the service are still sketchy, including the specific channels it will offer. If you click through to the Stream notification page—where you can sign up to learn when the service will arrive in your area—though, the site lists ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, CW, PBS, Telemundo, and Univision. It looks like HBO is part of the package, too, though the streaming HBO Now service costs $15 per month on its own through other services. It's also unclear if you can pay for additional storage beyond the 20 hours granted on the cloud-based DVR.

    Like other new, slimmed-down Internet-based plans such as Sling TV, Stream is clearly targeted to cord-cutters. But Comcast is the first carrier to remove TV viewing from the options. Comcast says it tried to make the whole process, from ordering to viewing, as simple as possible. You just sign up online, download the Xfinity app, and start watching.

    As we recently wrote in Consumer Reports magazine, we're happy to see the growing number of TV options for consumers. Just remember that as you offload more of your entertainment to your Internet connection, you may have to up your broadband speed, especially if several family members will be streaming at the same time. For more info, check out our recent blog on the various broadband speeds you'll need for streaming.

    —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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    Should you buy a large appliance online?

    Buying a small appliance—say, a blender or toaster—online is one thing, but what about big-ticket items, such as a refrigerator or washing machine? In a recent survey, in which Consumer Reports asked more than 21,000 readers to tell us about their appliance shopping experiences in the last year, only 11 percent of respondents said they took the plunge and bought a major appliance online. It can be a money-saving strategy, but keep these tips in mind:

    Taxes usually apply

    Though you might be able to save on shipping, don’t count on the purchase being tax-free. The rules are complicated and vary by state, so the best policy is to assume that the tax will be included.

    It still pays to shop in stores

    Spending a few thousand bucks on a refrigerator, range, or other high-priced appliance without first seeing it in person can be a pricey leap of faith. That’s why we recommend a hands-on visit to a store showroom before you make a big purchase online. Be on the lookout for flimsy parts, tricky-to-handle controls, or other flaws that could be annoying, especially on appliances that you use every day.

    Always try to get a better deal

    It’s not quite as easy as walking up to a salesperson in the store, but once you get through to the right customer-service rep (either by phone or online chat), it’s worth asking whether the price is negotiable. In our national reader survey, people who haggled spent about $100 less on their appliance purchase.

    What to do with your old unit

    Many brick-and-mortar retailers offer free haul-away of old units. Online shoppers typically have to get rid of their appliances on their own. Check with your utility company to see if it offers free haul-away as part of an energy efficiency program. You might even receive a small rebate, say $50, for removing an older, energy-wasting appliance from the power grid. If the unit is still working, consider donating it to a local charity.

    Where to buy large appliances online

    Abt Electronics. Superb selection in the 100,000-square-foot showroom of this Chicago area-based appliance store is one reason that Abt Electronics has landed at the top of our appliance retailer survey year after year for large appliance sales. Abt delivers free within 100 miles of its store, and orders of $35 or are shipped free within the continental U.S. Our readers give the retailer high marks across the board. A favorite of our readers for buying small appliances, Amazon didn’t get top marks for price—that was Costco. But for selection, product quality, ease of checkout, and other categories, it gets top honors in our appliance survey. You can also buy large appliances on Amazon’s website although the order may be fulfilled by one of Amazon’s partners. According to Amazon’s customer service policy,  “large item shipping is free of charge,”  but check details before submitting your order.

    —Adapted from 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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  • 07/13/15--12:24: How to find unclaimed funds
  • How to find unclaimed funds

    Consumers are missing an estimated $41.7 billion in financial property, says the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). That includes everything from forgotten bank accounts and stock certificates to uncashed insurance policies. All 50 states and the District of Columbia administer unclaimed property programs to help return holdings to their rightful owners. But how much work is it—and how much time does it take—to find and retrieve that property? And what’s the payback?

    A Consumer Reports reporter decided to find out. Here are the steps she went through to find and retrieve unclaimed funds in her name.

    Our reporter checked at, run by NAUPA, which directed her to the Office of the New York State Comptroller’s unclaimed funds page. She typed in her name and found two listings, both showing her address as that of her deceased grandmother. Clicking on the link led to details: The lost property, reported in 2002, was shares in Medimmune, a biotech company that was purchased by AstraZeneca in 2007. Her grandmother had apparently bought the investment in both of their names. The Web page didn’t say how much the holdings were worth.

    Time: 15 minutes.

    At, another free website endorsed by NAUPA, our reporter found that she could check unclaimed property in any state. She found nothing for herself but did uncover holdings for two relatives.

    Time: 10 minutes.

    Our reporter read the New York State online directions for how to claim her money. She couldn’t figure out how to handle property when a co-owner is deceased, so she called the unclaimed funds division directly. A worker said she’d need her grandmother’s death certificate. She called her father for a copy. A few months later, death certificate in hand, she filled out and printed an unclaimed-funds form from the New York website. It had to be notarized; a co-worker in her human-resources department did that free of cost. The reporter mailed the two documents, as the worker recommended. For good measure she included an explanatory note and a copy of an old Medimmune document she’d found showing both owners’ names and her grandmother’s address.

    Time: 35 minutes (not including the two-month wait for the death certificate).

    Cost: $3.79 for certified mail.

    A letter from the New York Office of the State Comptroller arrived 15 days later, indicating that claims involving deceased owners take longer than most to review. The claim could take 90 days, the letter stated. But exactly two months after her original mailing, our reporter received her first check from New York State, for the value of the first stock holding: $174. A day later, she got a second check, for $61.34.

    Time: 2 months.

    Gain: $235.34.

    Total time: 1 hour active, two months waiting.

    Net gain: $231.55.

    Consumer Reports Money offers unbiased, experts advice on investing, managing, and spending your money wisely.

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

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    How to make the perfect ice cube for every drink

    Oversized cubes, spheres, and other fun ice shapes are popular at fancy bars and restaurants, and they’re easy to make at home. Larger cubes not only look cool, but they also melt more slowly than smaller ones, preventing drinks from becoming watered down too quickly. You can try the trend with the many specialty trays and molds on the market; you might even have some nice ice shapers already on hand. And if you love those machine-made crystal-clear cubes at the store, you can easily make them yourself.

    The secret to clear ice

    The key to perfectly clear ice is boiling the water before freezing it. That gets rid of trapped gases, which can cause cloudiness in the center of cubes. If you really want to make sure your ice is as see-through as possible, start with distilled water—but still boil it first. Preparing ice that way not only looks nice but also creates denser crystals, which make slower-melting cubes. To keep your ice fresh, take the frozen cubes out of the tray and store them in freezer bags. That will keep ice tasting fresh and also keep it from shrinking.

    Store-bought and DIY ice trays

    Buy and try. For ice-cold shots, forget the glassware and go for glasses made of ice. The silicone FineLife Icy Shots mold, $12.50, pops out four fully formed frozen shot glasses.

    Try and DIY. To make one huge ice block, simply cut the top off a half-gallon milk or juice carton, fill it with water or juice, then freeze.

    Buy and try. Large spheres are great for scotch and other drinks you don’t want waterlogged. The Spherical ice set, $18, from the Museum of Modern Art does the trick.

    Try and DIY. For a really giant sphere, fill a balloon with water and freeze, then peel it away.

    Buy and try. For colorful and tasty summer drinks, use the no-spill Lekue covered tray, $18, to make extra-large cubes to encase berries, cherries, or lemon or orange slices.

    Try and DIY. Turn a hunk of ice into sculpture by freezing water or juice and fruit in a bundt pan.

    Refrigerators that make twice as much ice

    Always running out or ice cubes? Check out these bottom-freezer refrigerators with dual icemakers. They have icemakers up top for easy access as well as in the bottom freezer section. Both get high marks from our testers.

    Full refrigerator Ratings and recommendations.

    —Adpated from ShopSmart magazine

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    White House conference: Affording a secure retirement

    How can a home healthcare worker making $13,000 or less annually afford to save for retirement? That tough question was asked today to panelists at the White House Conference on Aging, where the discussion was about planning for financial security at any age. 

    The answer wasn't very comforting. "It is really, really difficult," said Jean Chatzky, a personal-finance journalist serving as the AARP's financial ambassador. "You should, of course, be paid more money."

    Chatzky went on to say, "In the interim, though, there are two essential ways to save. One way is just to save small, consistent chunks, $5 or $50. Every little bit helps. If and when you get a small windfall, a tax refund, or a birthday gift," she added, "try to put away as much as you can. We do what we can when we can do it, and hope we can make more money in the future."

    Consumer Reports' Retirement Planning Guide offers unbiased, expert advice on planning for the next stage of your life. 

    Income equality was among the many complex issues forming the backdrop of this once a decade meeting, and the question seemed to sum up the frustration of many Americans in planning for a secure retirement. Fifty years after the signing of laws enacting Medicare and Medicaid, and 80 years after the birth of Social Security, seniors are in better financial shape than many other age groups. But Americans also are operating in a financial and labor environment that's far less friendly to workers than it has been in decades. That can prove a challenge when saving for retirement.

    Barriers to retirement security

    U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, the panel moderator, asked panelists to name the biggest barriers to retirement security. Vicky Elisa, president of Mothers' Voices of Georgia, a health advocacy organization, mentioned that individuals are living longer than in the past, which can make saving a huge challenge. "You never meet retirees who say they've saved enough or too much," she noted. 

    Robin Diamonte, vice president of pensions investments at United Technologies Corp., noted that even individuals who have saved through their 401(k)s have to learn to resist withdrawing that money when they change jobs, and to invest appropriately for their risk and stage in life. And unlike past generations, which could depend on employers' pension experts to figure out how to provide an adequate income stream, individuals now have to do that job themselves. In some instances, aggressive marketing encourages them to leave 401(k)s at retirement when they could stay put, she added. "Once they're out, they can find themselves vulnerable" to investment advice that may not be in their best interest." 

    "The biggest barrier is that we're human," Chatzky noted. "When we ask people to plan for retirement, we're asking them to do what's the antithesis of human behavior: saving, investing consistently, sticking with the markets when they're not a lot of fun. And once it's accumulated, not to pull it out and spend it all at once. ... We're climbing a mountain that previous generations didn't have to climb."

    —Tobie Stanger (@TobieStanger on Twitter)

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

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    Stop-sale finds Ford Edge under water

    Ford has issued a stop-sale action on its all-new 2015 Edge SUV due to water leaks. The automaker is encouraging Edge owners to bring the vehicle into their local dealership for inspection and possible repair. Meanwhile, dealers will be performing the same checks on new models in their inventory.

    Customer Satisfaction Program 15B21 aims to minimize potential damage from water leaks that could require more extensive repairs down the road. This affects 2015 model-year Edges produced through April 28, 2015, including the Edge we’re in the midst of testing. (Read our Ford Edge first drive.)

    The concern is that water may seep into the cabin through the sheetmetal joint in the front pillar, directly behind the hood hinge on both sides of the vehicle. When the problem occurs, water enters the cabin at the lower A-pillar areas behind the lower dash trim panels.

    The service technicians are directed to look for dampness in the front and/or rear carpeting, floor pan sheetmetal, dash panel, console insulation, and the lower A-pillar area. This work is expected to take half a day.

    During a routine evaluation, we noticed that the carpet in our test car was wet. Initially, we thought someone may have left the window open. After a closer look, we realized nothing else was wet. The mystery was solved when we found the notice from Ford.

    Upon hearing about this action, we brought our new Ford Edge over to the Auto Test Center car wash bay. Sure enough, hosing the SUV down led to a sopping wet floor on the driver’s side. Given the dark carpet, there wasn’t a significant visual cue, but the carpet was more than damp. We let the vehicle air out over the weekend, and it dried up by Monday.

    Among the concerns, a small, unnoticed leak could lead to mold and mildew, in addition to potential electrical problems due to corrosion of connectors.

    For vehicles without evidence of a leak, the dealership will apply a urethane sealer in the A-pillar seams. SUVs found to have a leak will be held for a three-day assessment, including inspection, repair, time for the sealant to dry, and then test to confirm the fix worked. Depending on the damage, technicians are given instructions to replace a range of related components, such as carpeting. Dealers are authorized to provide a loaner vehicle to cover the three-day period.

    It's interesting to note that vehicles that do have evidence of water damage after the three-day procedure may qualify for a buy back. Customers would need to work through their customer service rep on the details.

    Ford will notify owners, but consumers can contact their local dealership to schedule an inspection and repair.

    Jeff Bartlett

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

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    5 summer lawn care tips that save time and money

    The newest approach to lawn care is a little rough around the edges and much more relaxed. Eco-friendly lawn-care pros call it “the freedom lawn” because weeds are in and nasty chemicals and excessive watering are out. Follow Consumer Reports’ tips and you can save an estimated 35 hours of yard work this year, cut your water bill, and still enjoy a great-looking yard. You’ll still have to mow, just not as often.

    Go for less grass and more garden

    Ditch the idea that your lawn has to be a lush green carpet.Your lawn should take up only about 40 percent of the yard, with the rest going to trees, gardens, and hardscapes (paved areas and walkways, as well as features such as fire pits). In the front of the house, use flower beds to flank your home’s entry or edge a walkway. Even less work: Raised beds filled with compost-rich soil are a great alternative to in-ground gardens. And because they’re better at retaining moisture, they can be watered less frequently.

    The cost: Figure on spending $50 to $150 for a 75-square-foot garden when using plants, or $10 if starting from seed. And don’t stop at flowers—for about $50 you can plant a 75-square-foot veggie garden. Just be sure to choose an area of the yard that gets full sun.

    Feed your lawn

    Mulch grass clippings instead of bagging and tossing them. You’ll not only deposit nutrients back into the soil but also skip the tedious task of bagging, which can save you up to 15 hours per year. Compost is another natural lawn food; apply a quarter-inch to your lawn once or twice each year.

    Learn to accept weeds

    Some are actually good for lawns, according to Diane Lewis, a physician and founder of the Great Healthy Yard Project, which teaches homeowners how to have beautiful chemical-free yards. Dandelions have deep taproots that help bring grass-nurturing calcium to the surface, and the bacteria and fungi that grow on the roots of clover take nitrogen from the air and feed it into the soil.

    Chill out and enjoy a shaggier look

    Don’t be tempted to cut the grass too short, thinking that you won’t have to mow as frequently. A scalped lawn results in weak, shallow roots, so let your grass grow to about 4½ inches before cutting it down to about 3 inches. That approach will help cut mowing frequency by about 25 percent—or about 10 hours in a year.

    Be stingy with water

    A healthy lawn needs only about an inch of water per week, including rainfall. So instead of dousing your grass with a daily watering, give it a thorough weekly soak. And during hot, dry spells, don’t be afraid to let the lawn turn brown. The color change simply indicates that it’s entering a dormant state to conserve nutrients; it will turn green again. But don’t wait until it starts to look like straw to give it some water. Get that sprinkler going— a hard, straw-like consistency means the grass is dying.

    Walk-behind mowers for smaller lawns

    Honda HRR2169VKA, $400
    Why we like it. This model is great for feeding your lawn with clippings. The self-propelled, gas-powered mower was excellent at mulching and great at bagging. It’s easy to start and has multiple speeds and rear-wheel drive, making it easier to use on a hilly lawn.
    Where to get it. Home Depot and Honda dealers.

    Toro 20370, $280
    Why we like it. It’s great at mulching and very good at side discharging, but paying less gets you a single-speed, front-wheel-drive mower, which takes longer to get the job done. And if you’re sucking up clippings, the front wheels will rise and lose traction as the bag fills.
    Where to get it. Home Depot and Toro dealerships.

    EGO LM2000
    , $500

    Why we like it. It’s definitely pricey, but this battery-powered model is worth it if you want a mower that’s light, easy to use, and good at mulching. The battery recharges in less than an hour; other electric mowers can take 20 hours.
    Where to get it. Home Depot.

    More mowers. For more great choices, including the results of our tests of walk-behind and riding mowers see our full mower Ratings and recommendations.

    —Adapted from ShopSmart magazine

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    Will Amazon Prime Day or Walmart have better deals?

    Can't wait four months for Black Friday? Two of the country's biggest retailers, Amazon and Walmart, feel the same way, and they are facing off tomorrow with massive, mid-July online shopping events. Both Amazon Prime Day, which offers special sales only for Amazon Prime members, and Walmart's online sale day, which features pricing "rollbacks" on numerous items, will cover a number of product categories, including electronics, home, baby merchandise, and toys.

    Amazon started promoting its sale a week ago when it announced Amazon Prime Day for July 15, ostensibly to commemorate the company's 20th anniversary. Tomorrow, special offers will be available only to Prime members who pay a $99 a year for its free two-day shipping service, which also includes access to the company's Prime streaming video and music services. Amazon promises its Prime Day sales will be bigger than what consumers find on Thanksgiving weekend's Black Friday, and that new deals will be unveiled every 10 minutes. The event, which will feature seven bigger "Deals of the Day" and numerous time-limited "Lightning Deals," kicks off at midnight tonight Pacific Standard Time (3 a.m. E.S.T.) and expires at 11:59 p.m. P.S.T.  

    Among the electronics deals on Amazon Prime Day will be specials on some of Amazon's own products, including the following.

    • The Fire TV Stick will be $25 instead of $40
    • Kindle—we assume the basic $79 model—will be $30 off its regular price
    • Fire HD 7 will have a $60 savings, though its unclear if it's the 8GB or 16GB version
    • The Fire HD 7 Kids Edition will be $60 less than its regular $149 price

    There will also be a several deals on TVs, though right now there's no specific info on brands and models. They include:

    • a 32-inch LED LCD TV for $75
    • a 40-inch 1080p LED LCD TV for $115
    • a name-brand 32-inch smart LED LCD TV for under $200
    • and a 50-inch 4K UHD TV bundle priced under $1000

    Other deals include a $199 Chromebook, two Nikon Coolpix camera models at half their normal price, and Bose headphones at the lowest price ever offered on Amazon.

    But you don't really have to be a Prime member to take advantage of the sale, since Amazon is offering a free 30-day trial to its service.

    Walmart countered this week with its own special sale day, saying that its customers don't have to pay a premium to get great deals, which is true to a point, though the company started testing a Prime-like free shipping service this summer, called ShippingPass, where those spending at least $50 get free unlimited three-day shipping. But during tomorrow's online sales event, Walmart is lowering its free shipping minimum to $35, and will have special discounted prices on some 2,000 items. Walmart also offers a free "ship to store" option, where you can buy online and pick up the item at the closest Walmart brick-and-mortar store. Walmart says the sale prices will be good for 90 days.

    So far Walmart has tipped its product plans, but we'll be updating this story as soon as we find out the specific deals.

    And Amazon and Walmart aren't only retailers looking to break up the high seasonality of shopping, which is skewed to the fourth quarter with pre-Black Friday sales. (The term Black Friday was coined to note the day after Thanksgiving, the biggest shopping day of the year when retailers' balance sheet traditionally went from red to black, into profit territory.) This week Target is holding its own pre-Black Friday sale in July, and Best Buy is holding a two-day sales event—both online and in stores— next week, on July 24 and 25.

    If you're wondering which retailer has the best deals, check back with us again tomorrow when we compare the sales on a number of electronics items.

    —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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    5 best laptops and tablets for back to school

    Back in the days when all kids needed for school was a pencil and a notebook, buying decisions were pretty easy. After all, a pencil is a pencil, whether you're learning simple addition or calculus. Not so with computers, where the laptop or tablet you buy for your college student will be wildly different from what a young child needs.

    These five choices should simplify the decision-making process, for everyone from kindergarteners on up.

    —Donna Tapellini


    Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition 7” ($190). This special kids’ version of Amazon’s 7-inch tablet rocked our durability tests, but Amazon offers a two-year replacement guarantee in case your kindergartner roughs it up too much. You also get a year’s free subscription to Amazon Free Time Unlimited, which includes access to games, movies, books, and other content geared specifically toward children. (After the first year, the subscription is $2.99 a month.) Battery life was among the longest at 9.1 hours.

    Check out more shopping tips on buying tablets for kids.


    Acer C740-C3P1 ($250). No need to spend a fortune on a laptop for your elementary-school student. Chromebooks can cost hundreds of dollars less than other laptops, and they’ve become the computer of choice in many classrooms. With a battery life of 16.25 hours, this Acer model has enough juice for a couple of days worth of classes, plus time to spare for homework. Just make sure your child has Wi-Fi access most of the time, since Chromebooks are built mainly for online use.

    Middle school to high school

    Lenovo Z40 ($550). The homework’s ratcheting up, so now’s the time to start putting more power into your student’s hands. Lenovo’s 14-inch Z40 earned high scores for peformance, plus it’s got ample battery life. Extras include Lenovo’s facial-recognition and voice-control software. Speedy video- and photo-editing are definitely in this system’s wheelhouse, so presentations will get done quickly. And that could leave some spare time for playing video games, another “task” easily dispatched by the Z40.

    For more information and help on making buying decisions, take a look at Consumer Reports Buying Guides on tablets and computers.

    College: for the graphic-design major

    Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display MF839LL/A ($1,300). Most college-bound kids can get by with the same machine you would buy for high school, but a higher education in the visual arts can require a bit more horsepower. With a stunning 2560x1600-pixel display, excellent processing performance, and 19 hours of battery life, the MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display is about as premium a laptop as you can get, and its price reflects that. Nevertheless, for art professionals (and soon-to-be-professionals) who run graphics-intense programs such as Adobe’s Creative Suite or  Autodesk Maya, the MacBook Pro is the gold standard (although for those applications, Apple’s starter 128GB solid-state drive is pretty skimpy). And buying with Apple’s education discount brings the price down to $1,200.

    College: for the double major

    Microsoft Surface Pro 3 ($925). A student who is running from one end of campus to the other, say from the business administration lecture halls to the art department,may be tempted to skip the laptop and buy a lightweight tablet instead. Microsoft conceived Surface as the ultimate bridge between the two types of devices. The Pro 3 is the most laptop-like Surface yet, and was an excellent performer in our tests. With a large 12-inch, 2160x1440-pixel touch-screen display and adjustable kickstand, it can live comfortably on a lap. The Surface Pro 3’s backlit Type Cover can magnetically prop up at an angle, which may make typing easier, although it’s a shame that the $130 accessory is not included with the base price. Business students will appreciate that the Surface Pro 3 runs full Windows desktop productivity applications, and creative types will enjoy the pen interface that lets you draw or write directly on the screen.

    Find the right model for you with the help of our tablet buying guide and Ratings.

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    Bold, high-tech 2016 Volvo XC90 is truly all new

    Many car companies tend to abuse the term “all-new” by claiming a merely freshened model with an updated grille or reshaped taillight is worthy of attention. But in the case of the Volvo XC90, this SUV is as new from the ground-up as it gets. It has a new engine, new platform, new body—all entirely new.

    Volvo had no choice: the outgoing XC90 dated back to 2003 and it showed. Since then Volvo was sold by Ford to a Chinese company, Geely. Through the ownership change, Volvo no longer had access to existing platforms or powertrains, thereby creating a timing wrinkle and numerous engineering challenges.

    Fast-forward to summer 2015 and the new XC90 has just gone on sale, starting $48,900. Typically equipped, most versions will land around $56,000, placing the Volvo XC90 somewhere between an Acura MDX and a BMW X5 in the luxury three-row segment.

    Volvo is betting big with the new XC90. It offers one four-cylinder engine—a 2.0-liter powerplant that’s both supercharged and turbocharged. Peak output is 316 hp and a 295 lb.-ft. of torque. This forcefed Four is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. In another bold move, the XC also brings a new infotainment system that’s interfaced through an iPad-sized touchscreen.

    Four trimlines are available: Momentum, Inscription, R-Design, and the T8 plug-in hybrid. The latter is meant to be a socially responsible answer to competitors’ V8 offerings with its 400-hp and with a claimed 25-mile all-electric range.

    All versions get three rows of seats and a seven-passenger capacity. Folding the third row is now much easier than it was in the outgoing Volvo XC90. Our rented XC90 was the Inscription version—a sumptuous package with buttery soft leather and gorgeous wood. Mamma Mia!

    Volvo takes its Swedishness very seriously and wants to make sure no one perceives the brand as anything else—a capital concern in the era of Chinese overlords. To that end, you get a tiny Swedish flag sewn into the passenger seat and a Thor's hammer light pattern in the headlights. No word as to whether or not actor Chris Hemsworth is buying one…

    Of course, Volvo is long-known for safety and that reputation is built upon with a full available suite of safety systems. On the structural side, there is a lot of high-strength boron steel. Among other things, that material helps make for thin roof pillars that don’t hinder visibility. The optional 360-degree surround view camera is terrific, taking the guesswork out of parking maneuvers. On the advanced active safety front, the Volvo XC90 comes with its forward-collision mitigation system (known as City Safety), driver alert (to watch for drowsy or distracted driving behavior), and lane-departure warning. Also available is a blind-spot monitor, rear-collision warning, cross-traffic alert, and lane-keep assist, which can literally steer the car in case your attention wanders while you’re futzing with the screen.

    Being so closely associated with safety, one might expect an easy non-distracting control interface. Oddly, that’s not the case. And while the 12.3-inch touchscreen is very attractive, bright, fast acting, and pleasing to read, it’s not the most intuitive. It takes frequent flipping among all of the functions and various pages, which means a lot of eye-off-the-road time and hand-off the wheel.

    Android Auto and Apple CarPlay will be incorporated into the screen down the road. 

    Any doubts about the four-cylinder’s ability to haul around this hefty SUV go away after a few miles. It turns out that mid-range oomph is just fine, but it certainly doesn't sound like a smooth, lush V6 with its underlying muted thrum. The automatic shifts very smoothly. It remains to be seen how fuel efficient the Volvo XC90 will be. The EPA rates it at 25 mpg highway. We saw around 22 mpg overall during the car’s stay with us.

    The ride is more comfortable than in any Volvo in recent memory, but with the air suspension and 21-inch tires, some bumps, seemingly out of nowhere, punched through rather harshly. The standard 18-inch tires ought to deliver a more absorbent ride. That said, the cabin stays noticeably quiet. 

    Handling is responsive but this big Swede is not exactly a dancing queen; you’re not getting the agility you’re getting with the German competitors. When you crave more personality, the Dynamic mode stiffens the steering, holds gears longer, and creates a more interesting exhaust sound.

    Being all new and full of novel features, this is a bold move—one with reliability risks. Volvo is almost saying “take a chance on me” as it aims to recast itself as a legitimate luxury player.

    We’ll buy our own XC90 very soon for testing.

    Mike Quincy

    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 be suckered into buying a reverse mortgage

    Reverse mortgages sound enticing: The advertisements you see on television, in print and online give the impression that these loans are a risk-free way to fill financial gaps in retirement. However, the ads don’t always tell the whole story.

    A reverse mortgage is a special type of home equity loan sold to homeowners aged 62 and older. It takes part of the equity in your home and converts it into cash payments. The money you get is usually tax-free and generally won’t affect your Social Security or Medicare benefits. The loan doesn’t have to be repaid until you or your spouse sells the home, moves out, or dies. Also, these loans, usually called Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs), are federally insured.

    But while a reverse mortgage may increase your monthly income, it can also put your entire retirement security at risk. And, according to a report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, many advertisements are incomplete or contain inaccurate information. 

    To learn about more ways to tap your home equity read, "Reverse Mortgages and Their Alternatives."

    The reverse mortgage market makes up approximately one percent of the traditional mortgage market, but this figure is likely to increase as the Baby Boom generation—those born from 1946 to 1964—retires. That’s because an increasing number of Americans are retiring without pensions and, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, nearly half of retired Baby Boomers will lack sufficient income to cover basic expenses and uninsured health care costs. Women, in particular, have a greater likelihood of outliving their assets due to lower savings and pensions.

    This makes them all the more vulnerable to sales pitches for reverse mortgages from trusted celebrities such as Robert Wagner, Pat Boone, Alex Trebek, former Senator Fred Thompson and Henry Winkler, who played the lovable cut-up “Fonzie” on Happy Days.

    Yet, the CFPB study found, many of these ads were characterized by ambiguity about the true nature of reverse mortgages and fine print that is both difficult to read and written in language that is difficult to comprehend. Many ads did not mention information about interest rate or repayment terms. “The incompleteness of reverse mortgage ads raises heightened concerns because reverse mortgages are complicated and often expensive,” the report states.

    Here’s what you need to know to avoid being misled by reverse mortgage advertisements:  

    • A reverse mortgage does not guarantee financial security for the rest of your life.
    • You don’t receive the full value of loan. The face amount will be slashed by higher-than-average closing costs, origination fees, upfront mortgage insurance, appraisal fees and servicing fees over the life of the mortgage. In addition, the interest rate you pay is generally higher than for a traditional mortgage.
    • Interest is added to the balance you owe each month. That means the amount you owe grows as the interest on your loan adds up over time. And the interest is not tax-deductible until the loan is paid off.
    • You still have to pay property taxes, insurance, utilities, fuel, maintenance, and other expenses. If you don’t pay your property taxes, keep homeowner’s insurance or maintain your home in good condition, you can trigger a loan default and might lose your home to foreclosure.
    • Reverse mortgages can use up all the equity in your home, leaving fewer assets for you and your heirs. Borrowing too soon can leave you without resources later in life.
    • Generally, you don’t have to pay back the money as long as you remain in your home. But when you die, sell your home or move out, you, your spouse or your estate, i.e., your children, must repay the loan. Doing that might mean selling the home to have enough money to pay the accrued interest.

    If you’re tempted to take out a reverse mortgage, be sure to do your homework thoroughly.  

    Catherine Fredman

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