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Consumer Reports

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    New Nest Thermostat is Slim and Bright

    Nest, which put the sexy in thermostats, is at it again with a newer, slimmer, easier-to-read version of its Learning Thermostat. The third generation Nest is proof that a thermostat can never be too thin or too pixel-rich. Among the enhancements are a larger, higher-resolution screen and software upgrades that will also be available to its two older siblings.

    When Consumer Reports tested the first Nest thermostat, we liked its graphic display, ease of setup, and intuitive controls. The next Nest was a little slimmer and a little smarter. Still, other thermostats in our tests topped the $249 Nest with excellent scores across the board including the Honeywell RTH9590WF, $300, American Standard AccuLink AZone950, $450, and Trane ComfortLink II Smart Control TZone950, $550.

    We’ve already added the $249 Nest to our shopping list and will include it in our next batch of thermostat tests, which get underway in the coming weeks. So what are the new features?


    What's New About the Nest?

    The display on the new Nest is 40 percent larger than its predecessor and has 25 percent more pixels, which makes it really pop. Nest has made that display even easier to see by adding a feature, Farsight, that detects motion from across the room and lights it up. In earlier versions, you had to be within three feet of the thermostat. Another new feature is called Furnace Heads-Up and works with your furnace to detect problems. The thermostat also integrates with Nest’s other two products, the Nest Protect CO and smoke detector, and the Nest Cam, according to the Nest press release.

    While Nest touts the thermostat’s sleek design, what it’s really selling is savings. Nest, which is owned by Google, claims that the Nest saves consumers 10 to 12 percent on their heating bills and 15 percent on their cooling costs. Nest is also working with power companies and home security firms to offer customers rebates and access to energy-saving programs with the Nest often thrown in at no cost.

    We look forward to testing the Nest and its competitors. The thermostat is available today at Nest.com, Amazon.com, and BestBuy.com and will be coming to brick-and-mortar stores soon. If you don’t care about the new bells and whistles, you can buy earlier generations of the Nest for $199 while supplies last.

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

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    Freezing at Work? Try a Personal Heater.

    Outside temperatures are rising but in the office some cubicle dwellers are dressed for winter. To cope with today’s overly chilled work spaces, employees break out sweaters, blankets, and other woolen wear. But sometimes even the trusty office sweater isn’t enough and that’s when space heaters start appearing under desks. Consumer Reports recently tested four personal space heaters that don’t draw a lot of power so perhaps your office manager won’t object to you using one. But first, why is it so cold in offices anyway?

    Office temperatures are calibrated according to a decades-old formula developed when men regularly wore suits to the office and before women made up almost half of the work force. That’s what two (male) scientists reported in a recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Picture a 40-year-old man who weighs 155 pounds dressed in a suit. Women typically have a lower metabolic rate than men and need higher temperatures to feel comfortable.

    The researchers found that women prefer temperatures about five degrees warmer than men do. A woman might be more comfortable in a 75 degree room while a man is happy at 70 degrees, a common office temperature. That’s where the personal space heater comes in. While most of the heaters in Consumer Reports' space heater tests have an output of 1,500 watts, the output of the personal space heaters ranges from 200 to 900 watts. They cost between $20 to $45.

    Four Personal Heaters

    Tops in this batch is the Vornado SRTH, $45, with an output of 900 watts. It was good at spot heating, stays cool to the touch and is relatively quiet. The 3-pound heater has a safety switch that turns it off if it tips over. The Bionaire BCH4562E, $40, wasn’t quite as good at heating but it was super quiet and has a motion sensor that shuts the heater off if no motion is detected within two hours. That’s handy if you get stuck in a long meeting and forgot to switch your heater off. We also tested the Honeywell HCE100B, $25, and the Lasko MyHeat 100, $20. They didn’t perform as well but with outputs of 250 and 200 watts, respectively, will not put much strain on a building’s grid.

    If you work in a frigid office that discourages space heaters, try this convincing argument: Employees are more productive when the temperature is just right—not too hot and not too cold. With a little extra warmth this summer, you can spend more time working and less making hot tea.

    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 Peek at Your 401(k) Statement

    If you looked only at the weekly change in stock prices, the end of August 2015 would seem to be unremarkable. Stocks, as measured by the Dow Jones industrial average, were up 1.1 percent for the week. That's close to typical: Over the past year, there's been a weekly change of 1 percent or less in the Dow about 50 percent of the time. 

    But to those glued to market headlines, that week was anything but ordinary. Over that five-day period the Dow recorded its largest ever single-day point decline. Later in the week, stocks rebounded as sharply, posting a record two-day point gain.

    The Ostrich Effect

    During stock market tumults like those in August, many investors will react in one of two ways.

    The first group will have been tempted to immediately check their 401(k) statement and retirement savings plan balances. And of those, some might have been further tempted still to make changes to their investments, if their plans allow daily exchanges between investment choices. Those who did choose to impulsively sell—some $11 billion flowed out of U.S.-based stock mutual funds during the historic week—almost certainly lost money.

    The second group—let's call them the ostriches—were presumably unable to bear the pain of loss, so they simply avoided checking the balances in their investment accounts. Recent academic research suggests that investors monitor their accounts, including 401(k) statements, more during rising markets than they do during declining markets.

    Although the impulse may be borne out of fear, the ostriches may be onto something. For some time, John Bogle, founder of index fund giant Vanguard Group, has been encouraging investors to shred their monthly or quarterly 401(k) statement. By adhering to Bogle's "Don't Peek" rule, investors won't be tempted to lurch into and out of stocks at exactly the wrong time, something many individual investors do with frightening regularity. According to Bogle, only savers nearing retirement age need to check on their 401(k) investments.

    Peeking is a temptation many will find difficult to resist, especially when stock prices are rising. And those who periodically rebalance their stock and bond allocations will need to "peek" to make any necessary asset allocation adjustments. (Bogle isn't a big fan of rebalancing, having referred to it in the past as a relatively pointless activity.) But for those willing to virtually stick their heads in the ground after designing an appropriate retirement savings strategy, benign neglect might be handsomely rewarded.

     

     

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

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  • 09/01/15--05:29: 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.

    2015 Kia Cadenza

    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 Potential savings below MSRP
    2015 Kia Cadenza Limited $44,625 $41,718 $3,814 15%+

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

    Small cars

    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 Sedan EX $17,815 $17,207 9/8/2015 5%+
    2015 Kia Rio 5-door EX $18,015 $17,382 9/8/2015 5%+
    2015 Kia Soul + $19,515 $18,731 9/8/2015 10%+
    2015 Mazda Mazda3 i Touring 4-Door  $21,465 $20,844 8/31/2015 5%+
    2015 Nissan Versa Note SV  $17,155 $16,905 8/31/2015 10%+
    2015 Toyota Corolla LE Plus $19,800 $19,058 9/8/2015 5%+

    Sedans

    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 2LTZ $31,305 $30,238 8/31/2015 10%+
    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%+
    2016 Hyundai Equus Signature $62,450 $59,029 8/31/2015 10%+
    2015 Kia Cadenza Limited $44,625 $41,718 9/8/2015 15%+
    2015 Kia Optima SX $26,615 $25,199 9/8/2015 15%+
    2015 Toyota Avalon Limited $40,815 $38,034 9/8/2015 5%+
    2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited $42,535 $39,628 9/8/2015 5%+
    2015 Toyota Camry XLE 4-Cyl $26,985 $25,483 9/8/2015 5%+
    2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE $30,815 $29,382 9/8/2015 5%+
    2015 Toyota Prius Four $29,270 $28,236 9/8/2015 5%+
    2015 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SE $27,100 $26,173 9/7/2015 5%+

    SUVs

    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model name MSRP Invoice Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2016 Buick Enclave Leather AWD $46,585 $45,215 8/31/2015 5%+
    2016 Chevrolet Traverse AWD 1LT $36,900 $35,820 8/31/2015 5%+
    2015 Dodge Durango AWD Limited $40,490 $39,106 8/31/2015 5%+
    2015 Ford Flex SEL AWD $34,945 $33,454 9/30/2015 5%+
    2016 GMC Acadia AWD SLT1 $43,945 $42,654 8/31/2015 5%+
    2016 Hyundai Santa Fe AWD GLS $33,045 $31,828 8/31/2015 5%+
    2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T $33,895 $32,501 8/31/2015 5%+
    2015 Nissan Rogue SV AWD $26,725 $25,590 8/31/2015 5%+
    2015 Toyota RAV4 4X4 XLE $27,525 $26,677 9/8/2015 5%+
    2015 Toyota Venza LE 4-Cyl AWD $31,415 $29,794 9/8/2015 5%+
    2015 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL 4MOTION $36,430 $35,158 9/7/2015 5%+

     

    Minivans

    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,  $36,100 $34,392 9/8/2015 5%+

    Wagons

    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 $28,895 $27,876 9/8/2015 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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    How to get rid of lice? Comb them out instead of using Nix, Rid, or other chemicals

    Many parents, desperate to get rid of lice crawling around in their child's hair, will dash out to the pharmacy to buy Nix or Rid, the most widely sold lice-control products in an estimated $130 million over-the-counter market.

    There's a reason those chemical products are so popular. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on their websites recommend using those pesticides, as well as even stronger prescription-only products, to get rid of the nasty insects. But Consumer Reports says you should physically remove them instead.

    “There’s no reason for parents to douse their children’s heads in chemicals,” says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., director of consumer safety and sustainability for Consumer Reports. “Physically removing lice, while it seems daunting, is safest for your child’s head.”  

    The over-the-counter products are losing their fight against lice because studies suggest that most of the bugs in the U.S. have evolved to become genetically resistant to the insecticides found in those products. That includes pyrethrum in shampoos such as Rid and the permethrin in creme rinses such as Nix. Pyrethrum is a naturally occurring pyrethroid extract from the chrysanthemum flower, and permethrin is a synthetic form of that drug. Products with those ingredients have been available to consumers for decades.   

    A study published in the March 2014 issue of the Journal of Medical Entomology found that 99 percent of the head lice collected by school nurses and professional lice combers in 12 states and three Canadian provinces were genetically resistant to permethrin. “It’s not surprising that we are seeing a resistance to these products,” Rangan says. “That’s what happens with insecticides and pests over time.” 

    Find the best way to stop mosquito and tick bites with our ratings of insect repellents.

    And despite the label claims, pyrethrin- and pyrethroid-based products have only a marginal ability to kill the eggs that remain attached to the hair shaft after treatment. “They can’t be relied on to kill all lice eggs,” says Michael Hansen, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Consumer Reports. When the makers of Nix were asked for the evidence to support the claim that Nix “kills lice and their eggs,” a lawyer for the company said its labeling is scrutinized by the Food and Drug Administration, but the content behind it is considered “proprietary and confidential.”

    A scourge of the playground

    Lice are sesame-seed-size wingless insects that feed on human blood. They don’t transmit disease, but their bites cause intense itching, which can lead to sores and possible secondary infections. Lice can crawl from one head to another in seconds when children touch their heads together during play or when they share combs or hats. The affliction is now second only to the common cold when it comes to conditions that affect elementary-school students in North America. The U.S. has 6 million to 12 million cases a year among children 3 to 11 years old.  

    So what is a parent to do? First, don’t panic, and don’t be mortified. “Anyone can get lice,” Rangan says, including the parents of the children who bring them home. In the U.S., African-Americans are less likely to get head lice because North American lice can’t get a good grip on the tightly curled oval hair shafts common in African-American hair.  

    If you get a warning letter that lice have been discovered at your child’s camp or school, inspect your child right away. A female louse (singular for lice) can lay five to six tiny pearl-colored eggs, or nits, a day near the base of a hair shaft, especially behind the ears or at the back of the neck, and before you know it a few generations could be living on your child’s head if you ignore the problem.

    But a child with a first case of head lice may not notice anything for four to six weeks. That’s generally how long it takes for the immune system to develop sensitivity to louse saliva. There’s a chance that the itching could be caused by eczema, dandruff, or an allergy. But if it is a case of lice, it will not clear up on its own. Here’s what Consumer Reports’ experts recommend.

    1. Look for live bugs

    Combing your child’s hair with conditioner or another lubricant, such as olive oil (wet-combing), is much better than just looking for the bugs on your child’s head, according to a study in the March 2009 Archives of Dermatology. German researchers compared the two methods on 304 students, ages 6 to 12. They found that wet-combing identified infestations in 91 percent of the cases, compared with about 29 percent for visual inspections on dry hair. "Wet combing is the only useful method if active infestation has to be ruled out," researchers wrote. 

    Make sure you work in bright light; you can do this outside on a sunny day. Otherwise, use a bright lamp. To wet comb, first coat your child's hair and scalp with conditioner or another lubricant. Use a wide-tooth comb to separate hair into very small sections. Follow with a metal nit comb—not plastic—that is thin-toothed and finely spaced (you can also use a flea comb, available at most drug stores), concentrating on very small sections closest to the scalp.

    After each comb-through, move the section over, wipe the comb on a paper towel, and inspect for lice. Seal the paper towels in a resealable plastic bag and dispose. Remember to clean combs in very hot, soapy water.

    2. If you find any lice, comb and comb

    Consumer Reports’ experts say the safest method of getting rid of lice is to physically remove the insects and their eggs by combing with a lubricant such as a hair conditioner. “The chemicals on the market don’t kill 100 percent of the eggs, most pose some level of risk, like itchy eyes or chemical burns or seizures, and they are unnecessary in most cases compared with physical removal,” Hansen says. The key, he says, is to continue to comb out your child’s hair every day until no live lice are seen and then every few days for about a month. 

    A study of two “bug busting” campaigns in the United Kingdom showed that persistence pays off: All lice were eradicated when combing-out treatments were extended from 14 days to 24 days.

    3. Consider smothering the bugs

    Some products containing dimeticone (aka dimethicone) or natrum muriaticum (aka sodium chloride or table salt) have emerged on the market claiming to eliminate all lice and their eggs in minutes. One popular product containing dimeticone is LiceMD, a liquid gel applied to dry hair, which works by smothering live lice. The other ingredient, natrum muriaticum, dries out live lice. It’s contained in a hair mousse sold as Vamousse and in a spray called Licefreee Spray, which are also applied to dry hair.  

    While Consumer Reports did not test those products, several studies indicate they are somewhat effective at killing lice. Lice won’t develop a resistance to those ingredients because the insects are killed by a physical—rather than chemical—process. But dimeticone products don’t kill all the eggs that the lice lay, despite what the labels say, according to a study in the April 2011 Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.*

    So you still need to comb out hair daily. And make sure you use a metal comb: Vamousse and Licefreee provide one in the box, but plastic ones, such as the one in the LiceMD box, tend to break.  

    Coating the hair with homemade remedies such as olive oil, mayonnaise, and petroleum jelly may also help to suffocate some lice, especially if left on overnight under a shower cap, though those methods haven't been proved. But they do make it easier to comb through hair to remove nits, which is the essential step. And you may want to pass on petroleum jelly, which is very difficult to wash out.  

    Dangerous products such as gasoline, kerosene, or products that are made for use on animals kill or maim a few children each year when the volatile fumes accidentally ignite. Even if they were effective lice killers (they are not) they should never be tried. 

    4. Skip the chemical products

    As a general rule, younger children have thinner skin, making them more susceptible to chemical absorption, and they are more vulnerable to the side effects of pesticides.

    As noted above, over-the-counter chemical treatments such as Rid and Nix (about $20 each) have become less and less effective over the years as the bugs have evolved to become more resistant to them. And they are marginal at best when it comes to killing lice eggs. Possible side effects of using them include red, itchy, and inflamed skin or difficulty breathing, which may be problematic for people with asthma. The products shouldn’t be used near cats because felines are especially sensitive to this class of drug.  

    Prescription treatments come with a range of risks or side effects, and the drugs can be expensive. Some include:

    Product Price Details
    Benzyl alcohol (Ulesfia)
    About $195 for 7.7 ounces A topical lotion for children 6 months old and older (the safety for people over 60 is not established). It claims to kill live lice but not their eggs. Possible side effects include skin or eye itching, redness, and irritation.
    Citronellyl acetate (Lycelle) About $190 for 3.4 ounces A topical gel for children 2 and up and people under age 60. It claims to kill live lice and some eggs, but not all. Possible side effects include skin or eye itching, redness, stinging, irritation, and burning.
    Ivermectin (Sklice) About $300 for 4 ounces A topical lotion for children 6 months and older and people under age 65. It claims to kill live lice but not their eggs. Possible side effects include conjunctivitis, eye irritation, dandruff, dry skin, and a burning sensation on the skin.
    Lindane About $125 for 2 ounces A topical drug in the form of shampoo, it is banned in California. Consumer Reports petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to outlaw this neurotoxic pesticide as a lice treatment first in 1981, and wrote the agency again in 2015, after lindane was found to be a known carcinogen by the World Health Organization. It's still on the market as a prescription drug for lice despite reports of seizures and even deaths from improper use. And it's the only lice treatment that carries a black-box warning (the worst kind).
    Malathion About $230 (generic) and $265 (Ovide) for 2 ounces A topical lotion for children 6 and older. This drug is flammable, so any source of heat, such as a hair dryer, could cause your child’s hair to go up in flames. Possible side effects include second-degree chemical burns. Accidental contact with eyes can result in a mild form of conjunctivitis.
    Spinosad About $265 (generic) and $280 (Natroba) for 4 ounces
    A topical treatment for children 4 and older. Approved by the FDA in 2011, it was found to be more effective in killing lice than permethrin, according to two manufacturer-sponsored studies, and it claims to kill lice eggs. Possible side effects were minimal, including skin and eye redness or irritation.

     

    5. Prevent it from spreading

    If your child has head lice, all household members and close contacts should be checked and treated if necessary. Also tell your child's teacher, who can then advise other parents to check their children's hair and treat them if necessary. 

    You don’t need to spend a lot of time or money on housecleaning since head lice won’t survive long if they fall off a person and cannot feed. To prevent reinfestation, concentrate on cleaning or vacuuming anything your child’s head was in contact with in the previous few days:  

    • Wash or dry clothing and bed linens at temperatures above 130° F. This will kill stray lice and nits.
    • Seal in a plastic bag for two weeks clothing and items that are not washable or put them in the dryer.
    • Soak combs and brushes in very hot water for 5 to 10 minutes.
    • Do not use fumigant sprays; they can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin, and there is a risk of explosion near heat sources.
    • Remind your child not to share combs, hair ornaments, or hats. And ask her to stuff her jacket in a backpack rather than hang it on a communal hook at school.
    Don't waste your money on shielding shampoos

    Parents eager to prevent their children from bringing home lice may be tempted to buy a shampoo or spray called Lice Shield, which claims it can prevent or reduce the risk of getting head lice. But the Federal Trade Commission charged its maker, Lornamead, with false advertising in May 2014.

    The products and ads for it claimed that citronella and other essential oils used in the Lice Shield line would “dramatically reduce” the risk of head lice infestations, the FTC said. The company claimed that its products, sold at CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, WalMart, and other stores, were “scientifically shown to repel head lice.” But it doesn’t have a well-controlled human clinical study to support that claim.

    As a result, Lornamead must shell out $500,000 as part of the settlement and is banned from making any similar claims in the future. “As any parent knows, an outbreak of lice can wreak havoc,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “When marketers say their products can be used to avoid these pests, they’d better make sure they can back up their claims.”

    —Sue Byrne

    This article has been updated to reflect manufacturers' price changes.

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

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    Mow Your Lawn From Your Lawn Chair

    Robotic mowers offer the same promise of effortless work as robotic vacuums. But while the greatest challenge for a robotic vacuum is such obstacles as electrical cords, chair legs, and the nearest stairway, robotic mowers have a world of wonders to derail them in the great outdoors. That makes them more demanding of your attention than you might expect, considering that these mowers start at about $1,000. And it may make you wonder whether hiring a lawn service is a better option.

    Better With Robotics?

    In Consumer Reports' lawn mower tests, the best robotic mowers we've seen so far came from the Worx Landroid WG794, which was the easiest to use and had the best quality of cut of the four models we're testing. To define the mower’s range, all robotic mowers require a perimeter wire to be laid and staked. For optimal performance, the lawn being maintained should also be relatively flat, with few depressions.

    But: The machines are pricey compared to any other mowers. And you don’t get out of maintenance altogether: Cutting blades need to be changed or sharpened during the year to keep up cut quality, though even at their best, robotic mowers fall short of cutting provided by a typical walk-behind mower. Get behind in your mowing and you’ll need to use a regular mower to bring the grass down to a height the robotic can handle. And most models were hard to set up; their perimeter wires tended to catch on passing feet and break.

    Lawn Service Options

    Whether they’re one-man shops or larger companies, these services typically do much more than cut grass. They’ll aerate your lawn, treat it for weeds, pests, and disease, and sometimes clear it of leaves come the fall. A few smaller outfits also plow snow in the off-season. Another plus: They’re not limited by the size of your property, as are robotics. And you can stay in your lawn chair.

    But: Although lawn service prices vary by region and the size of the company, it’s a safe bet that in two seasons, you’ll have paid more than the cost of a robotic even if all you’re paying for is mowing. Lawn services work on a tight schedule, so getting your property done matters more than delivering stellar cutting. As a result, some services will show up to cut even when the lawn is wet (an ill-advised practice), and they can bring in diseases from other lawns.

    Other Alternatives

    You might be surprised to know that the robotic mowers we’ve tested (we'll post the Ratings soon) can handle up to a half-acre of grass. If your lawn is that large, any of our recommended lawn tractors would do; think about a zero-turn-radius rider if your lawn is flat and you want to finish quickly. But if your lawn is on the small side, any walk-behind mower can handle the job for far less money. The Honda HRR2169VLA, $500, is one of our top-ranked self-propelled gas mowers; the Yard Machines 11A-B96N, $240, is a gas push model that should suffice for a small, flat lawn. But if the point is also being green, consider the EGO LM2000, $400, which wasn’t tops at cutting but was ergonomically excellent. The Black & Decker CM1936, also $400, performed less well overall but delivered better mulching. Both are battery-powered push mowers. Need more guidance? See our lawn mower buying guide.

    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 for Photographers

    When the world shifted from Kodachrome to digital cameras, the computer became a vital tool for unlocking the full potential of your images. With the right tools, you can tweak photos far more extensively today than ever before. The downside, of course, is that you have to buy a laptop with features and specs that let you work on your masterpieces on the go.

    So, what are the best laptops for photographers? Apple might be the go-to manufacturer for many professional photographers, but Windows machines can use many editing apps that you can download, often for free, from the Microsoft store.

    It's important to have a fast processor, such as an Intel Core i5 or AMD A10, particularly if you’re working with lots of files at once or doing extensive editing in Adobe Photoshop or other image editors—otherwise, your system may behave sluggishly. Another important decision is how much memory (RAM) to get. Most photographers will want 8GB or more.

    You’ll also want to consider what type of storage to buy. In the past, you really had only one option: external hard drives, which are available in high capacities, such as 1, 2, 4, and more terabytes. Solid-state drives provide much quicker performance than hard drives. They offer less capacity, though, and are more expensive than hard drives. One way to get the best of both worlds is to buy a 256GB or 512GB solid-state drive for photo editing. Then, use a large hard drive to store the photos you’ve completed.

    The size and resolution of the laptop screen is another key consideration when looking for the best laptops for photographers. Obviously, the larger the size, the more room you have to view your images and edit them. And a high-resolution screen such as the one found on the Apple MacBook Pro provides more detail when you're cropping photos or zooming in on a high-megapixel image.

    Multiple USB ports, built-in card-readers, and a DVD or Blu-ray drive for burning photos to a disc are also worth thinking about, although the smaller and thinner a laptop is, the fewer of those features it will offer.

    Be sure to check the battery life of your laptop, particularly if you’re a traveling shutterbug. We've found vast differences in that performance area, and you’ll want to make sure you at least get eight hours between charges.

    Here are five of the best laptops for photographers.

     

    Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch With Retina Display MJLQ2LL/A, $2,000

    Put simply, the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch With Retina Display MJLQ2LL/A was built for photo and video editing. The very high-resolution (2880x1800) display shows the fine detail in your photos, while granting ample workspace for large files and editing tools. The 256GB solid-state drive delivers fast performance, but you might want to add an external hard drive for more storage. You get 16GB of memory, which helps if you’re opening a lot of files at once. Performance was excellent, plus you get 16.5 hours of battery life. If you want more portability, there’s a 13-inch model, too.
     

    Dell XPS 15 Touch, $1,600

    Many laptop manufacturers are opting for smaller solid-state drives, leaving you with less storage. The 15.6-inch Dell XPS 15 Touch has a large 500GB hard drive and, thanks to a Core i5 processor, it's speedy enough for smooth photo editing. Colors on the display are accurate and natural-looking.
     

    Lenovo ThinkPad L540, $650

    You won’t blow your budget with the Lenovo ThinkPad L540, but you’ll still get very good performance. Although color reproduction isn’t the very best we've seen, this 15.6-inch model features a low-glare matte screen, making it useful for working in bright light or sunlight. And the 500GB hard drive gives you substantial space for storing your photos.

    Microsoft Surface Pro 3, $925

    If you’re among those who prefer to work on a tablet, the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is a great choice. The 12-inch display is bright (though prone to glare) and it represents colors beautifully. The solid-state drive delivers excellent performance, so you shouldn’t encounter speed issues when editing. And, though you only get 128GB of storage space, there's a USB port for an external drive. And if you do need a laptop, you just connect the keyboard.
     

    Acer Aspire S7-392-6832 Ultrabook, $1,000

    If you need to take your laptop into the field, the 13-inch Acer Aspire S7-392-6832 Ultrabook won’t load you down. It weighs just 2.9 pounds, and battery life is a substantial 12 hours. The device meets the challenge for quick photo and video editing, too. An excellent performer, it features an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, and a fast solid-state drive (although you might want to add an external hard drive to get more than 128GB of storage). Colors look great, and the display is bright.

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

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    2016 Scion iA Delivers Affordable Thrills

    The Scion product line is a decidedly blended family, adopting models from other markets and even those with mixed parentage. Among the latest additions is the Mazda-sourced 2016 Scion iA. This subcompact sedan serves as a new entry point into Scion, and ultimately, into the Toyota empire.

    On the surface, it may be easy to criticize Toyota for recruiting and co-developing cars from outside its global portfolio. But a quick stint behind the wheel of the 2016 Scion iA will instead have you questioning the wisdom of the retired, lackluster xA and xD—two efficient, reliable cars that otherwise spelled mobile misery.

    Look beyond the Toyota-style angry bass visage and prerequisite badging, and the 2016 Scion iA is a compelling sibling to the enjoyable Mazda3. Here is an affordable car, starting at $16,495, that limits the compromises associated with shoestring budgets.

    Unlike those other Scions, the iA has a rather engaging character. We rented an example from Toyota with the smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission. Even rowing the gears ourselves, acceleration is tepid, with all the verve one could expect from a 106-hp small-displacement engine. The clutch action is light, with a soft, mid-travel engagement that would make it especially easy for a beginner to learn to drive. This is a good thing, as shifts are frequent as the 2016 Scion iA races to keep up with traffic. (A six-speed automatic transmission is available for $1,100.)

    The Mazda DNA can be appreciated in the responsive steering and capable road holding that make the iA more fun to drive than its peers, like the Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and Toyota Yaris. Ride quality is decent for the class, having poise on rough surfaces, although on some pavement, a taut rebound can be felt.

    The driver’s space is narrow, with tight pedal placement and an intruding center stack that risks forming a knee callus from rubbing. The front bucket seats are fairly supportive. Controls are straightforward, aside from the Mazda touch screen perched atop the dashboard like an iPad Mini tablet. The screen-based controls, such as for audio and navigation ($419 option), require a practiced hand on a rotary knob positioned between the seats. The mode selection buttons that flank the controller require one’s eyes to move far, far away from the task at hand: driving.

    The cabin inside the 2016 Scion iA is nicely finished with a sprinkling of soft-touch elements and tasteful accents that visually separate the iA from some rivals. Backseat space is intimate with limited head room, aggravated by the sloped roof and intrusive head rests.

    For the class, some standard equipment serves as a welcomed treat, including low-speed pre-collision system, backup camera, and keyless ignition. Active safety systems are appreciated at this price category, and, frankly, are rare even on many mainstream models. This may especially benefit the youthful drivers this car targets.

    The 2016 Scion iA has a relatively large trunk opening. But the commodious cargo space is compromised by slender gooseneck hinges and the need to essentially load from the back, rather than set contents downward.

    Entry-level cars tend to be rather sad purchases, marred by overt shortcomings. But the 2016 Scion iA twists the convention, bringing Miata-flavored character and notable standard features to the class. Sure, cheaper cars can be had, but they simply won’t be as enjoyable.

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

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  • 09/02/15--09:29: Best Labor Day Deals on Cars
  • Best Labor Day Deals on Cars

    As summer winds down and nation prepares for a long weekend to celebrate the American worker, the airwaves are thick with promotions for Labor Day deals on cars. Many seem too good to be true, promising low monthly payments, often offset by significant upfront costs on leases and long terms on loans. As smart shoppers know, the real savings start with choosing a good all-around car, then negotiating a great deal.

    To size up the buying opportunities for these Labor Day deals, our analysts have studied recent nationwide transactions, then layered in current available incentives to predict the average savings for this holiday shopping weekend. This is labeled as "Market average." Among the many discounted models, we narrowed our focus to those that meet Consumer Reports’ stringent criteria to be recommended, meaning they scored well in our testing, have average or better reliability in our latest subscriber survey, and performed well in government or insurance-industry safety tests, if evaluated.

    The transaction prices on average for these models is 9 percent below MSRP, saving about $2,700 or more. (Of course, some greater deals can be found on non-recommended vehicles, including full-sized pickup trucks.) For this grouping, we ranked the models based on predicted dollar savings, with the GMC Acadia example showing that buyers are expected to save $5,300 off MSRP on average. Typically, the best Labor Day deals are found on the largest, priciest vehicles and often those that are late in their model cycle or due for imminent replacement.

    You'll find specific savings for each model, including other trim variations, on the Consumer Reports car model pages.

    Each vehicle featured below in our roundup of Labor Day deals on cars is a 2015 model and made in America.

    Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service

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

    GMC Acadia

    Though it's starting to feel a little dated, the Acadia is still competitive among three-row SUVs. Like its twins, the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave, it has a spacious and quiet interior, with a third-row seat that's roomy enough for adults. Seating for eight is available. Handling is relatively agile and secure, with responsive steering, and the ride is comfortable and steady. Its 3.6-liter V6 is smooth and refined, but it has to work hard and it gets mediocre gas mileage. Upgraded touch-screen infotainment systems bring more capability. Rear visibility isn't great. Denali versions have more features but no better functionality or performance.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Market average
    GMC Acadia AWD SLT1 $43,745 $42,460 $38,450

    Cadillac CTS

    The CTS is a luxury sedan with agile handling and a firm, absorbent ride that crowns it as one of the sportiest cars in the class. But as satisfying as it is to drive, the CTS can also be frustrating. Much of the blame goes to the overly complex Cue infotainment-system. The cabin is super-luxurious, with impressive material quality. But rear-seat room is snug and the trunk is relatively small. Neither the four-cylinder turbo nor the 3.6-liter V6 is as refined as the best in class. The high-end Vsport version is better, with effortless thrust. And 2015 marks the return of the CTS-V, which gets its engine from the Corvette Z06.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Market average
    Cadillac CTS Sedan 3.6L AWD Luxury $55,965 $53,766 $51,310

    Kia Cadenza

    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.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Market average
    Kia Cadenza Limited
    $44,625 $41,718 $39,777

    Buick Enclave

    Even after six years on the market, the large Enclave remains a competitive three-row SUV. We liked its firm, comfortable, and quiet ride and its agile, secure handling. But like its corporate cousins, the Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia, it's beginning to show its age. The 3.6-liter V6 engine and six-speed automatic are smooth and powerful enough, but at times they work hard in this large SUV, and its 15-mpg overall is paltry. A big plus is the ability to fit adults in the roomy third row. Fit and finish is impressive, and advanced safety systems including forward-collision and lane-departure warning are available.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Market average
    Buick Enclave Leather AWD $46,375 $45,012 $42,476

    Chevrolet Traverse

    Although it dates back to 2008, the large Traverse is among the most competitive three-row SUVs. We liked its firm, comfortable, and quiet ride, and its relatively agile, secure handling. But like its corporate cousins, the Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia, it's beginning to show its age. The 3.6-liter V6 and six-speed automatic powertrain is smooth and powerful enough, but it works hard in this large SUV, and its 16-mpg overall is uncompetitive. A big plus is the ability to fit adults in the roomy third row. Fit and finish has improved, and for 2015 forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems are available.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Market average
    Chevrolet Traverse 1LT AWD $36,670 $35,596 $33,198

    Chevrolet Malibu

    More than a humdrum midsized sedan, the Malibu has a comfortable ride and a well-finished and exceptionally quiet interior that set it apart. Handling is sound, if a little soggy at its limits. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder with an unobtrusive start/stop system, paired with a six-speed automatic, is standard. The uplevel 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder delivers plentiful power and gets 24-mpg. Controls are straightforward to use. The wide, soft front seats lack support on long trips, and the backseat is cramped. But trunk room is sufficient, even in the hybrid. Changes for 2015 include a standard built-in Wi-Fi hot spot with three months of complimentary data. A redesigned version goes on sale in the fall.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Market average
    Chevrolet Malibu 2LTZ $31,305 $30,238 $28,522

    Kia Optima

    The Kia version of the older Hyundai Sonata falls a bit short of its cousin in ride comfort, braking, and fuel economy. It handles well, but the ride is borderline stiff and road noise is noticeable. The standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder performs well. Top-level trims get a turbo four-cylinder that's economical and powerful, yet it trails competitors' V6 engines in terms of refinement. A hybrid is also available, but we weren't impressed in our tests of the similar Sonata Hybrid. The front seats are comfortable, but the rear seat is low. Reliability has been average. A redesigned 2016 model, coming out late in 2015, is longer and wider, and will have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Optima will be among the first vehicles on the market to feature both of these systems.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Market average
    Kia Optima SX $26,615 $25,199 $23,554

    Ford Fusion

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

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Market average
    Ford Fusion Titanium AWD $33,115 $31,326 $29,721

    Chevrolet Impala

    One of our top-rated sedans, the Impala is roomy, comfortable, quiet, and enjoyable to drive. It even rides like a luxury sedan, feeling cushy and controlled. Engine choices include a punchy 3.6-liter V6 and an adequate 2.5-liter four-cylinder, both paired with a six-speed automatic. The V6 accelerates and brakes capably, with secure and responsive handling. The full-featured cabin stays very quiet, with a sumptuous backseat and a huge trunk. Controls are intuitive and easy to use, but rear visibility is restricted. Advanced electronic safety features are readily available.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Market average
    Chevrolet Impala 2LTZ
    $36,265 $35,025 $33,173

    Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

    Hyundai's five-passenger midsized SUV is roomy and comfortable, with a good ride and quiet interior. Power comes from a responsive 190-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder mated to a smooth and responsive six-speed automatic. We got a very good 23-mpg overall with this drivetrain. A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is also available. Handling is sound but not exceptional, and the steering feels numb. The well-finished cabin is packed with a lot of standard features. Thankfully, the price of the optional backup camera has come down, because rear visibility leaves a lot to be desired.

    Make & model MSRP Invoice Market average
    Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T
    $33,895 $32,501 $30,975

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

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    Your guide to back-to-school shopping

    Whether your kids are starting kindergarten or taking their first steps into college this fall, send them back to school with the right gear and most helpful advice. Our guide will help you get the best deals on electronics equipment, small appliances, new and uses cars, and much more.

    Electronics gear & computers

    Best Online Resources for Book Lovers and Students
    When the e-book reader was introduced, I worried that the arrival of this high-tech device would be the end of print. But the opposite has happened, according to a 2014 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. Print remains America’s preferred way of reading.

    5 cheap laptops for college students
    Need a budget laptop to take to college? We combed our computer Ratings to find some of the best cheap laptops—those in the $375 to $650 range. It's not always easy to find a budget laptop good enough to get you through college, but the models we found should do just that.

    Trick out your dorm room
    Surround yourself with our high-rated tech to get the most out of your semester. Whether it’s for cramming a paper the night before it’s due or to take a study break, these electronics are affordable and could help reduce some of the stress of school.

    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.

    Small appliances & laundry

    The best sheets for college dorms
    College students will be off to campus in the coming weeks and are shopping in earnest to furnish the rooms where they'll be spending the next nine months. Towels? Check. Pillows? Check. Sheets? Not so fast.

    Best small appliances for college students
    If you are among the parents packing college students off to school for the first time, you may be tempted to equip their dorm rooms with all the creature comforts of home, including small appliances to satisfy their needs. But before you do, check the university’s website for what to bring and what not to. (Of course, students living off-campus can bring whatever they need.) Here are some affordable, top-rated small appliances from Consumer Reports tests.

    Laundry tips for college students help them take a load off
    With all the studying and, ahem, extracurriculars that are part of campus life, doing laundry is the last thing college students want to do. Still, unless you're going to pay to get it done or wait until an upcoming break to wash your clothes at home (who has that many pairs of underwear?), it's a necessity. But if you don't do it right, all kinds of problem can ensue.

    Shopping & personal finance

    Go to college for free if you're over 50
    Want to study social work for a career reboot? Brush up on your computer skills? Or take up ancient Greek just for the heck of it? Thanks to programs and discounts for mature students, you can find free and inexpensive college courses—in classrooms and online—to keep your brain active.

    6 Ways College Students Can Protect Against Identity Theft
    Identity theft hits college students harder than many older age groups because younger people not be aware of how it can affect them far into the future—from being hounded by a debt collector for a debt that you did not incur; to being unable to access your own credit cards or bank account; to being arrested for crimes committed by people who have stolen your identity; to not receiving proper medical care because an identity thief stole access to your medical insurance. Identity theft can also ruin your credit rating, which can affect your ability to rent an apartment, get a loan, apply for a job, or buy insurance.

    How to get the lowest prices on textbooks
    Many students head to college every fall distraught over how much they will have to pay for textbooks and supplies. The College Board estimates that students attending a four-year public college will have to spend an average of $1,200 annually. That's because an accounting textbook can easily cost $270. A human anatomy and physiology textbook can cost well over $200.

    Back away from back-to-school stocks
    It feels as if summer vacation has barely started and the back-to-school ads are already showing up in flyers and on television. As you rush to meet the needs of your kids—buying everything from pencils and paper to smartphones and laptops—plenty of stock-market pundits are touting something else: back-to-school stocks.

    3 easy ways to prevent theft on campus
    Back in the day—that is, in the 1970s—college students didn’t have a lot of valuable stuff in their dorm rooms. Sure, there was a bevy of stereo gear ideal for blasting the latest Grateful Dead bootleg cassette, but a would-be thief wasn't going to easily slip out of a dorm schlepping a pair of giant speakers.

    Best everyday products for college students
    When children are in elementary school, teachers typically send home a list of school supplies that parents should buy. When they go off to college, students need some of the same everyday items but this time you have to come up with the list. Keep in mind that students will be moving into unfurnished spaces and will want familiar things such as paper towels, tissues, batteries and laundry detergent within easy reach. The experts at Consumer Reports scoured our labs and found some extraordinary everyday products.

    Save when shopping online for dorm supplies
    Brace yourselves for back to school spending. According to a poll conducted by the National Retail Federation, out of 6,400 adults with college aged kids, nearly 30 percent plan to spend more on supplies for back to school season this year than they did last year. And much of that shopping will be done online, according to another poll, this one by Prosper Insight’s & Analytics which surveyed some 6,500 consumers on the matter.

    Discover fails to provide sufficient student loan customer service
    For the past two years, Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has been collecting stories from students and families about their personal experiences when it comes to taking out loans to pay for college. Unfortunately, most of those stories have not been pretty.

    Ways to save with student discounts
    With the start of school just around the corner, you may be fretting about how much you'll have to spend on clothing, electronics, and other back-to-school must-haves. Luckily, if you or your child is a college student, many stores and services offer discounts that make purchases more affordable.

    3 foam mattresses that are easy to ship
    When your child is heading off to college, your shopping list expands beyond the usual supplies to also include towels and toiletries. But if off-campus housing is in the plans, you may need to buy something else, a mattress. Here are a few good choices from among Consumer Reports' list of top mattress picks.

    How to go to college for free
    Starbucks made headlines when it partnered with Arizona State University last year to finance four-year college degrees for employees. Through a combination of ASU grants, federal grants, and Starbucks kicking in the remainder, eligible employees of the coffee giant are able to cover 100 percent of tuition and fees for the school's online degree program.

    Best cars and travel safety tips

    Tips for safe carpooling
    As summer winds down, kids will soon return to school, resuming their hectic schedules and extra-curricular activities. For many families, dealing with the logistics of an active child means sharing transportation duties in a carpool. But not every parent adheres to safe practices when it comes to strapping young children into safety or booster seats, and that can put a child in danger. Likewise, many adults are content to buckle a child in an adult three-point belt before the kids are large enough.

    How to get to school safely
    The new school year is upon us and children are settling into their fall routines. High on the to-do list is working out which mode of transportation the kids will use to get to and from school. Depending on where you live—city, suburb, or country—and how far away from school you live, some transportation choices can be safer or more practical than others. Find out which will work best before school starts, if possible, and always have a backup plan in mind. Here are tips to keep the kids safe no matter which you choose.

    10 great used cars for teens under $10,000
    Choosing a car for a teen driver requires making tough financial decisions just as college bills loom on the horizon. The temptation, and often the necessity, is to buy an inexpensive older model. But going too cheap has trade-offs that could jeopardize the safety of your child.

    New federal safety rule for electronic stability control misses the bus
    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has enacted a new rule that would require electronic stability control, or ESC, on many types of heavy trucks, including tractor trailers and intercity buses. The rule has the potential to save many lives. But much to our dismay, school buses were exempted from the requirement.

    Smart car-packing tips for heading back to school
    After endless trips to stores to stock up on back-to-school supplies and dorm essentials, you’re ready to send your child off to college. Of course, it never looks like a lot of stuff until you try to fit it in a car. College necessities don’t just include clothes and toiletries, but bigger items such as computers, electronics, furniture, and small appliances. The challenge is to pack your car safely in a way that doesn’t interfere with visibility and secures all items so they don’t become dangerous projectiles. Use our tips on how to pack up your car for a back-to-school road trip.

    Health advice

     

    6 ways to keep off the pounds during college
    Although recent research has found that most first-year college students don't gain the "freshman 15," they are still likely to pack on some weight—typically about 3 pounds. Those numbers, like student-loan debt, grow over the four years of college: On average men add on about 13 pounds; women, about 9 pounds.

    The HPV vaccine and three others that every college kid needs
    Making sure you’re fully vaccinated is critically important for college students—especially if you’ll be living in a dorm or other shared space. That’s because large groups of people in close proximity provide the ideal conditions for spreading diseases—including those that are vaccine-preventable. "Vaccines can keep students from contracting serious illnesses and keep them from missing classes," says Sarah Van Orman, M.D., the head of university health services at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    Whooping cough alert: Get a booster before school starts
    The words “whooping cough” conjure up a bygone era of gravely sick babies and desperate parents hoping their feverish, hacking children make it through the night. The devastating disease, called pertussis, is characterized by several weeks, or even months, of low-grade fever and incessant bouts of rapid coughing that have a "whoop" sound (you can listen to it here) as the child tries desperately to expel thick throat mucus. At its worst, the disease can bring on pneumonia and, due to lack of oxygen during the coughing spells, even seizures and death.

    Will you be able to help your college-age child in a medical emergency?
    Early one October morning, Sheri E. Warsh, a mother of three from Highland Park, Ill., stepped out of the shower to a ringing phone. On the other end, her 18-year-old son’s college roommate delivered terrifying news: Her son—270 miles away at the University of Michigan—was being rushed by ambulance to a nearby emergency room with severe, unrelenting chest pain. “I was scared out of my mind, imagining the worst,” Warsh said.

    6 back-to-college health tips
    Staying healthy at college is no easy task between busy schedules, limited budgets, and lots of germs. Here are six ways to maintain your well-being when you head back to college.

    Healthy food choices for students on the go
    Raiding the refrigerator is a cinch when you want a late-night snack at home. But when you’re living in a dorm without a full kitchen, it can be slim pickings. Fortunately, there are plenty of good, healthy choices that take little or no preparation and can be easily stored in a dorm room or compact refrigerator. Here are some breakfast foods, snacks, and frozen entrees that received high marks from the food testers at Consumer Reports.

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

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    Mattress Shopping Without the Pressure

    Perhaps the most dreaded part of mattress shopping is being swooped down upon within seconds of entering the store, followed by a sales staffer’s efforts to nudge you toward the most expensive models in the store. But what if you entered a mattress store, looked around at the array of mattresses, and were approached by … nobody?

    That’s the business model of Hassless—spelled HASSLEss—whose four stores in the Milwaukee area are completely devoid of personnel. The retailer claims it can sell mattresses for less than its competitors without paying for salespeople, and its return/exchange policies are spelled out on the website. Models on the floor, all from Sealy and Simmons, are labeled with specifications, and you can try out the beds without listening to a sales pitch. Have a question? You can call, text, or e-mail the company, which promises to get back to you quickly between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. CST.

    Consumer Reports can appreciate the retailer’s refreshing style, for many of our readers complain of feeling duped after buying a mattress. But we advise you to check our mattress Ratings first to learn how well the mattresses we’ve tested support your back and side, how well they endure our simulated eight years of use, and how they fare in other tests, such as our assessment of how well an innerspring mutes vibration, important for couples.

    Video Buying Guide

    Our mattress buying guide, including the updated video, talks more about our testing and the challenges of buying a product you’ll enjoy for years—at a price you can afford. Which brings us to the first of two concerns about the Hassless business model. Our standard advice is to haggle down the price of any mattress you buy, so long as it’s a business that expects to negotiate prices. (At warehouse clubs such as Costco, online sellers, and some others, the prices are fixed.) If there are no salespeople, you’ll have to call, text, or e-mail your proposal for what you’d like to pay, a prospect that can take the wind out of a good, honest haggle.

    Second, some shoppers might prefer to have someone there who can answer questions. Anyone who isn’t equipped with a cellphone or is hearing-impaired might feel dismayed that there’s nobody physically present. We recommend that those shoppers bring a friend—or consider shopping elsewhere.

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

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    Living With the Pebble Time Smartwatch

    For the past several weeks, I’ve been living with the Pebble Time, the new smartwatch from the company that practically invented the genre. Almost a 0.25 inches thick and 1.5 inches square, the Pebble Time ($200) is significantly smaller and less boxy than the 2013 original, but its plastic case still falls on the bulky side and its thick-bezeled display seems to riff on 1970s digital watches.

    Its pricier twin, the Pebble Time Steel ($250 to $300), shares the same chunky dimensions, but it sports a more-luxurious-looking “marine grade” stainless steel case and comes with a selection of metal and leather bands.

    While Apple, LG, and Samsung strive to cram telephony, mapping, photos, biometric sensors, and other smartphone apps into their tiny wrist-bound form factors, the Pebble Time keeps things simple. Its main mission is to alert you about e-mails, texts, and other app notifications fielded by your smartphone. It does this quite well using a simple interface that can be traversed via a button push or two (it lacks a touch screen). The watch is also rugged, with a claimed water resistance of 100 feet. Our testers will confirm that claim and others over the next few weeks before we add this model to our smartwatch Ratings.

    But the display is not always easy to read and the relatively thick case can easily snag on a desktop edge or wall corner. What’s more, the charger only comes with a USB connector. If you want to plug it into a wall instead of a computer, you’ll have to lay down an extra $5 to $10 for an aftermarket AC adapter—or use the one from your smartphone.

    Despite these flaws, I like the Pebble Time. Here are more details:

    Key Features

    Display. The Pebble Time boasts of an “always on color e-paper display with LED backlight,” which sounds more impressive than it is. The screen itself—only 0.8 × 0.9 inches—provides a so-so resolution of 182 pixels per inch. That only allows for a cartoonish selection of watch faces. The display is quite easy to see in sunlight, but nearly illegible under the subdued lighting conditions you frequently encounter indoors. The backlight button on the Time’s left side does little to brighten things. And the color is nothing close to the dynamic hues you’ll find on an Apple or other LCD-based smartwatch. The dull tint is reminiscent of a comic book with pages that have been bleached by the sun.

    Comfort. Despite the occasional shock of inadvertently scraping the bulky case against a wall (no scratches) or snagging it on a door handle, I found the Pebble Time quite comfortable to wear. Putting it on and taking it off was a simple task, too, compared to my Apple Watch Sport, which has a funky “tuck under” design. The pliable silicon band can be pulled and stretched with ease through the conventional watch buckle, and secured firmly.  

    Interface. You control the Time via three buttons on its right side and the backlight button on the left side, which brings you back to the main watch face when you’re done with a sub menu or get into trouble. The top and bottom buttons are for scrolling, the center button is for selecting a menu item or message. This system is quite intuitive, and makes scrolling through new and old messages and calendar appointments quite easy—at least for right-handed users. My colleague Joyce Ward, a lefty, reported having a difficult time pushing the buttons with her left hand when the Time was on her right wrist.

    Notifications. Almost immediately after downloading and activating the Pebble Time app on your smartphone, it begins herding many of the apps on you phone into its notification system. If anything happens on Facebook, eBay, your calendar, and other apps, the Time vibrates to tell you to look at its screen. You can reply to e-mails and texts by selecting one of nine canned responses on the watch, send an emoji, or dictate your own response via the Time’s microphone. The Pebble Time’s dictation feature correctly interpreted most of my utterances, though it had trouble with some names, such as Kerry.

    You can read e-mails, text messages, calendar appointments, and weather forecasts in full.

    Notification from other apps show much less info beyond subject line or the sender. But that’s often enough to let you decide whether you want to open the app on your phone, which you can do by pushing the select button on the watch.

    Having my wrist vibrate 4 to 6 times an hour wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be, which is why the vibration “mute” in the Time’s settings menu is a welome feature. There’s also a Do Not Disturb feature to silence alerts during meetings or after hours.

    Battery. The Pebble Time has a claimed battery life of up to 7 days, and I got something close to that when syncing only my calendar and e-mail accounts to it. But when Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Dunkin Donuts, and other accounts were added to the mix, the Time died in about three days. The frequent updates also took their toll on the battery of LG G3 to which it was paired. The Pebble Time Steel promises a battery life of up to 10 days.

    Other apps. The Time Pebble also includes a stopwatch/timer, and it works with tracking apps from Jawbone, Fitocracy, Runkeeper, and Misfit, which I did not try. The Time can also remotely launch and control music apps such as Pandora and iHeartRadio on your phone, which I did try and quickly regretted. The Pandora app started launching itself unexpectedly at high volume when paired to the watch, so I had to pull the plug. You can also download simple games—many of them free—from the Get Apps store (within the Pebble Time phone app). These include Virtual Dice, which use the Time’s accelerometer. But I didn’t think twisting my wrist to throw a pair of virtual dice was worth the risk of carpal tunnel.

    I did, however, find a pretty good aftermarket watch face there by David Rodriquez Rincon. The YWeather watch face attractively presented the data I most often wanted to see on my Time: date, time, weather, Bluetooth pairing status, and battery level.

    Supported phones. The Pebble Time works with iOS 8 on the iPhone 4s and above and with all Android 4.0+ phones.

    Case colors. The plastic Pebble Time is available in black, red and white, with matching silicone wristbands. The Pebble Time Steel comes in three stainless steel finishes: silver, black, and gold. The choice of wristband, leather or steel, determines the price.

    Bottom line: The Pebble Time’s crude styling and visually challenged display may put off smartwatch shoppers drawn to the sleeker, more advanced, and versatile designs from Apple, Samsung, and others. But the genius of its intuitive, more focused take on what really works on a tiny screen might be the smartest approach to smartwatch design yet. 

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

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    What does DeflateGate have to do with your tires?

    You might have heard about air disappearing from footballs, but it’s no mystery that air does vanish from your tires. All tires tend to leak over time—some models more than others, as we found in a year-long test. We measured an average pressure loss of 3.5 psi for 31 performance all-season models.

    Cooler temperatures will also lower pressure in both tires and footballs. Your tire pressure will drop about 1 psi for every 10 degrees F the outside temperature lowers. Overall, you might be driving on significantly underinflated tires if you haven't checked them for months, especially in the winter.   

    Underinflated tires lower fuel economy and tread life, and they hurt handling. Further, having low air can weaken the tire, increasing the chance of a failure.

    Learn more at our complete guide to tires

    To help keep your tires safe:

    Check the air pressure each month when the tires are cold (before they've been driven more than a couple of miles). Be sure that they're inflated to the air pressures listed on the placard on the doorjamb or inside the glove compartment or fuel-filler door.

    —Jake Fisher

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  • 09/03/15--11:24: Best and Worst Gas Grills
  • Best and Worst Gas Grills

    A rusty firebox, uneven flames, and a cracked hose are signs that you’ll be needing a new gas grill sometime soon. Your timing couldn’t be better, as retailers mark down prices on grills Labor Day weekend. But not every sale is a bargain. Here’s a look at some of the best gas grills Consumer Reports tested, and some of the worst.

    5 Best Midsized Grills

    These grills can fit 18 to 28 burgers and made our recommended list, including CR Best Buys, which combine impressive performance and good value. The grills appear in descending order based on overall score.
    Weber Spirit SP-320 46700401, $600
    Char-Broil TRU-Infrared 463435115 (Walmart), $260, CR Best Buy
    Char-Broil Advantage 463240015 (Lowe’s), $300, CR Best Buy
    Kenmore Elite 33577, $950
    Brinkmann 810-6420-S (Home Depot), $170, CR Best Buy

    5 Worst Midsized Grills

    Unimpressive high and low-heat evenness helped put these gas grills near or at the bottom of our midsized gas grill Ratings, earning overall scores ranging from 21 to 39 (out of 100)  Here they are in descending order based on overall score.
    Delta Heat DHBQ32G-C, $2,100
    Summerset Sizzler Series CART-SIZ32, $2,000
    Member’s Mark 720-0778C (Sam’s Club), $400
    NXR Stainless 7 Burner 780-0832C (Costco), $1,100
    Fervor Icon 350S, $1,300 

    5 Best Small Grills

    Room for 18 burgers or less, these small grills were very good overall. All made the recommended list, except for the $200 Brinkmann—but it came close.
    Weber Spirit E-220 46310001, $450
    Broilmate 165154, $200, CR Best Buy
    Napoleon Terrace SE325PK, $600
    Brinkmann Patio 810-6230-S (Home Depot), $130
    Brinkmann 810-3800-SB (Home Depot), $200

    5 Worst Small Grills

    With scores ranging from 25 to 43 (out of 100), these small grills were unimpressive at high heat evenness, and most had trouble on low-heat too. They appear in descending order based on overall score.
    Cook Number Grill JAG24C, $900
    Solaire AGBQ-27GIR, $1,800
    Cadac Stratos 98700-23-01 (Home Depot), $350
    Better Homes and Gardens BH14-101-099-04 (Walmart), $360
    Captain Cook CC-3B, $500

    Want a Large Grill?

    We test those too. See our gas grill Ratings and the buying guide for shopping tips. Check the Facebook pages of retailers and manufacturers for the latest on sales and special coupons. And be sure to look online for mail-in rebates. Napoleon grills are expensive, so it’s good to know that they’re offering a $150 rebate for the Napoleon Prestige Pro 665RSIB. It’s our top-rated large grill and $2,600.

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    7 Products on Deep Discount in September

    Back-to-school deals may be waning, but end of summer sales are just underway. We've found seven products on deep discount September, including MP3 players, bicycles, lawn mowers, snow blowers, and gas grills. Our market research experts keep track of price fluctuations, and can spot what's on sale all year long. This month you'll be able to take advantage of some great sales for the whole family.

    A couple of caveats about our calendar of deals: There will always be exceptions. Stores in your neighborhood could find they're overstocked on an item at any time and mark it down, for example. So keep an eye on Sunday circulars, text alerts, and social media for price cuts in your area. And bear in mind that the best time to save money isn't always when you'll find the best selection. Deep discounts on some items here, like bicycles, mowers, gas grills, and garden goods, occur now because their season is coming to an end, which means inventories are thin. Other sales occur when new inventory is about to be delivered, like snow blowers and small electronics, so you'll find the best prices on older models.

    Digital Cameras

    Whether you're looking for a basic digital camera (simple point-and-shoots with just the features needed for routine shots), or an advanced model (feature-laden cameras that include sophisticated models that let you change lenses), now is a good time to shop. Our digital camera buying guide and our Ratings give you the details on different models, as well as information on features and brands.

    Shopping Tips

    Do your research. Buying a digital camera can be confusing. There are hundreds of cameras available at many different types of retail outlets (online and in traditional stores), with prices ranging from $75 to several thousand dollars. Some cameras are small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. Others are large and can weigh up to two pounds. Some are easy to use. Others look like you need an engineering degree to operate them.

    Take the next steps. After you consider the type of camera you want and the number of megapixels you need, but before you dive into specific models, be sure to check out our brand profiles, which outline many of the most popular camera product lines and their respective character traits. 

    Gas Grills

    You don't need to spend a fortune to get great-tasting burgers, steaks, and chicken at your fall barbecues–especially this month. Our tests have shown that many lower-priced gas grills now have at least some stainless-steel trim, side burners for side dishes, and other perks once found only on the priciest grills. Check out our gas grill buying guide and our Ratings to help you find the right model before you hit the stores.

    Shopping Tips

    Give it a push. The more stable the grill, the better. Gently push the grill from several angles to see if it tips. Check the cart, firebox, lid, and shelves for sharp corners and edges.

    Grip the handle. Your knuckles or fingers shouldn't be too close to the lid or your hand could get burned. And while some flaring is normal, typically the greater the distance between the grates and burners or flavorizer bars, the fewer the sustained flare-ups.

    Lawn Mowers

    While you're checking out the great deals on mowers this month, read our buying guide to decide which type of mower fits your needs; subscribers can find our recommended models in each category in our Ratings.

    Shopping Tips

    Don't be swayed by numbers. Our latest tests confirm that more horsepower doesn't necessarily mean higher-quality mowing. Mower manufacturers have swapped horsepower numbers for engine-size and torque specifications, but even those don't guarantee better results.

    Consider your lawn. A gas or electric push mower is fine for a small lawn. But you'll probably prefer a self-propelled gas model for slopes and a lawn tractor for a lawn one-half acre or larger.

    Small Electronics

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

    Shopping Tips

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

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

    Snow Blowers

    Many sales started on snow blowers last month, but prices will still be low in September. So if you couldn't bear to think about the white stuff piling up on your driveway in August, there's still time to get a great deal. You can pick up lots of shopping and safety tips in our buying guide, and you'll see which models did best in our Ratings.

    Shopping Tips

    Don't fall for sales pitches. Manufacturers and retailers also push bigger engines—typically expressed in cubic centimeters of piston displacement (ccs)—and wider clearing swaths. But as our Ratings show, size isn't everything when it comes to snow blowers. Some smaller machines can out-clear and out-throw the big boys for less money.

    Look for important features. For example, it's a good idea to check out floor samples. Make sure you're comfortable with the height of the handle and with the chute adjustment. Look for a critical safety feature that stops the spinning auger or impeller when you release the handlebar grips. 

    Bicycles

    We may be on fall's doorstep, but there are still months to take spins in many parts of the country. Follow our bike buying guide to find the best model for you.

    Shopping Tips

    Find a good bicycle shop. You'll probably pay more, but we think you're more likely to be satisfied. Bikes from big-box stores might not be properly assembled or well matched to your body. If you don't like the pedals or seat on a particular model, some bike shops will swap components at little or no cost.

    Consider spending a few extra dollars. More money buys a lightweight frame made of carbon fiber, aluminum (or a combination of both materials), or high-strength steel and other high-quality components. But you can still buy a good bike for just a few hundred dollars.

    Trees, Shrubs, Flowers, and Other Plants

    September is a great time to fill in neglected parts of your yard. Trees, shrubs, flowers, and other plants will be discounted at your local garden centers. For tips on buying, planting, and caring for them, read our fall lawn and yard checklist.

    Planting Tips

    Time it right. For cooler regions, planting now through the end of October gives most plants a head start in the spring, since roots will grow in still-warm soil long after air temperatures drop. Where winters are mild, the fall planting season extends into winter. Be sure to soak the root ball thoroughly at least weekly if the weather is dry in your area. In the frigid North, apply mulch after the soil freezes to prevent the soil around plants from thawing and refreezing, which can damage tender new roots.

    Measure the depth. Large bulbs, such as daffodils and tulips, should be planted about 8 inches deep, and smaller bulbs, such as crocus, about 5 inches deep. If you're combining them with other bulbs, figure on two to three daffodil and tulip bulbs (full-size varieties) per square foot. For smaller bulbs, plant three to five per square foot—twice as many for a solid bed of color.

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    Tesla Model X Crossover Races to Production

    In less than a month, the Tesla Model X will roll off its California assembly line and into the driveways of the initial buyers. The much-anticipated follow-up to the ground-breaking, top-scoring Model S promises to expand the appeal for premium electric vehicles by adding SUV-like packaging.

    The Model X costs about $5,000 more than comparable Model S versions due to the greater size and body complexity, putting starting prices at about $80,000. Like most new car roll outs, the Model X production will initially focus on top-end versions.

    Beyond its elevated ride height, the Model X will be distinguished from the Model S, and near every other car, by its unique rear “falcon wing” doors that swing upward. Certain to turn heads in a parking lot, these doors are intended to aid access and are programmable to accommodate different garage ceiling heights.

    The Model X further features an automatically retracting rear spoiler, rear accessory hitch for a bike rack or ski carrier, and power-folding and heated side mirrors, parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, and automatic braking. Like the Model S, it is supported by the free Supercharger network, allowing quick, free roadside recharging, and an eight-year, unlimited-mile warranty.  

    Model X Signature Series

    The initial run of Model X Signature Series cars will use a 90-kWh battery pack, with a claimed output of a staggering 762 hp. These AWD models boast a 3.8-second 0-60 mph and an EPA-estimated 240-mile range. (Less powerful 70-kWh and 85-kWh versions will soon follow.) Fully loaded, the Signature Series includes Autopilot with self parking and automatic lane steering; smart air suspension with location memory; premium interior and lighting; power liftgate; ventilated leather seats with heating and cooling; and flat-folding third-row seat.

    While configuring, adding Ludicrous speed (lowering 0-60 mph times to 3.2 seconds); Subzero Weather package with heated steering wheel, wipers, and washer nozzles; and tow package with a two-inch receiver and wiring harness will bring the total to $143,750, plus $1,200 for destination and fees.

    Customers who paid a hefty $40,000 deposit when ordering a Signature Series will be the first to receive a Model X, followed by customers who merely put down $5,000 (even as long as three years ago). Those buyers will get their vehicle later in the fall.

    For those who order now, Tesla estimates deliveries will be in early 2016 based on the current queue. In other words, get in line, behind Consumer Reports.

    Tesla Model 3

    While the Model X will remain a high-tech, high-priced dream machine to most consumers, the Model 3 promises to bring many of the virtues down to mainstream budgets. Production will start in about two years, according to Tesla, when the battery-producing Gigafactory is fully operational. Prices are expected to start around $35,000 and no doubt climb from there with additional features and larger battery packs.

    Read our complete Tesla Model S P85D road test—for free.

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    New 2016 Jaguar Models Have Lower Prices, Improved Warranties

    Backed into a corner by criticism that its products are overpriced and unreliable, Jaguar bared its teeth by announcing a new strategy of lower pricing and “best-in-class” warranties, starting with its 2016 model-year vehicles.

    Despite offering some sexy, powerful, and alluring products, Jaguar sales significantly trail other luxury brands. Rather than pricing its cars near the top in each category where it competes, as it’s done up to now, Jaguar plans to play the “value” card, hoping that lower advertised prices will broaden the potential customer base. Jaguar says its pricing strategy is “attacking the core of every segment.”

    As an example, the compact XE sedan, which competes against the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, will start at just under $35,000. Psychologically at least, that’s way more appealing than the XE’s current $40,000 starting point.

    The standard warranty is also getting a significant boost, growing to five years and 60,000 miles. Those with a good memory will recall that an extra-long basic warranty was a strategy Hyundai used successfully when that brand had earned itself a reputation for shoddiness. Hyundai really did improve its manufacturing quality, though it took a while. We’d love to see Jaguar pull the same turn-around.

    As announced, next year’s Jags have lower starting prices than many, if not all, competitors in the various lux-brand segments. And where the MSRP hasn’t changed much, the company is including a bunch more standard features.

    Jaguar has been putting some big rebates and other incentives on current models, so the price reductions would seem to bring the sticker price closer to what people have already been paying. At the same time, price cuts effectively hammer the residual prices for any leftover ‘15 models, making them more attractive to buyers looking for an end-of-model-year deal.

    Of course, those 2015s won’t feature the new Jaguar EliteCare warranty and service package. Starting with the 2016 models, the EliteCare will be standard on every Jaguar.

    EliteCare

    • Five-year/60,000-mile new vehicle limited warranty
    • Five-year/60,000-mile complimentary scheduled maintenance
    • Five-year/60,000-mile 24/7 roadside assistance
    • Five-year/unlimited mile Jaguar InControl Remote & Protect

    This coverage does beat that of Jaguar’s direct competitors, which typically offer a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty and often don’t include free scheduled maintenance, like oil changes and such. 

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    Honda Pilot's Adaptive Cruise Control Problem Solved

    When you buy a brand-new car, you want to believe it’s a pristine paragon of mechanical virtue, free from the world weariness common in a used car. Sometimes, though, a brand-new car has already experienced a mishap. That was the case with our new 2016 Honda Pilot, which developed a weird recurring problem with its adaptive cruise control system shortly after we took delivery.

    It’s not all that unusual for one of the 70 or so new cars we buy every year to develop an early-onset malady, like a rattle, warped brake rotor, electrical problem, or check-engine light. The experience of getting those problems sorted out gives us more insight into the consumer experience than if we relied only on the specially groomed “press fleet” cars that automakers supply to most of the media. Normally, the dealer’s service department can diagnose and readily fix those issues.

    However, a quick cure at the dealer wasn’t in the cards for our Pilot when its adaptive cruise control showed a penchant for misbehavior, and the ultimate explanation for its faultiness would have been worthy of an NPR Car Talk Puzzler.

    Here’s the Background

    The new Honda Pilot’s adaptive cruise control system uses a video camera and millimeter-wave radar to maintain its distance from the car ahead. In ours, the adaptive cruise would sometimes conk out after roughly eight miles of driving. Warning indicators would light up the gauge cluster, while the system defaulted to standard cruise-control mode.

    Our first trip back to the dealer failed to solve the problem. The service department thought the issue was a misaligned or dirty radar unit and they tidied it up and adjusted it, assuming all was well. But that didn’t work. The malfunction recurred whenever we took our Pilot out on a trip.

    Back to the dealership it went, and this time the service department enlisted help from higher up Honda’s service food chain. After some deep study, the service engineering team figured out that the radar problem was caused by the grille emblem!

    Specifically, our Pilot had the wrong plastic “H” in the middle of its grille. Turns out there are two emblems in inventory, one for Pilots, like ours, that have the fancy Honda Sensing radar system and another, very similar looking H, for Pilots without the Honda Sensing system. The standard emblem was interfering with the radar signal.

    So why did we wind up with a duff emblem? Honda officials explained to us that apparently our car had met a mishap on the assembly line, necessitating the replacement of its front bumper and grille. Somehow, the wrong emblem cover was used for the repair.

    It was a relief to hear that our car’s radar glitch was probably a one-off event. Certainly that’s the impression Honda officials left us with.

    The lesson here is that whenever anything the least bit abnormal crops with a new car, return it to the dealership right away—especially while the the original warranty remains in force.  

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    It's time to reboot the FCC Lifeline program

    Broadband Internet service is critical to an ever-growing number of tasks in our daily lives, from job hunting to doing schoolwork to managing a family’s medical issues.

    Yet millions of Americans don’t have access to affordable broadband. To help close this broadband gap, the Federal Communications Commission has a plan that we at Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, believe could be an important step in the right direction.

    The plan focuses on the FCC’s Lifeline program for low-income consumers. Lifeline was created in 1985 during the Reagan administration to help people get access to phone service. Today, Lifeline provides an eligible household with a $9.25 monthly credit toward landline or wireless phone service.

    The FCC plan would extend the Lifeline subsidy to include broadband service. This would be part of a larger effort to modernize and restructure the program.

    We think this plan is vital to keeping pace with consumers’ evolving needs. To realize the true value of the Lifeline program, participants must have access to quality, competitive voice and broadband service.

    In comments we recently filed at the FCC, we stressed that, as the Commission works to determine the appropriate funding levels, eligible consumers should be able to apply the credit to broadband and phone service, rather than having to choose one over the other. Both are important; it shouldn’t be “either or.”

    We urged the Commission to consider increasing the amount of wireless minutes allotted for Lifeline users—the limit is currently at a low 250 minutes a month—as more consumers are depending on their mobile phone as a substitute for a landline.

    The plan would also strengthen reforms aimed at waste and abuse of the system, as well as ensuring the program is being targeted to those who need it most, which we support.
     
    Too many Americans are cut off from the many benefits—economic, entrepreneurial, and social—that flow directly from having broadband Internet. The problem cuts across a wide swath of low-income families across the country, from seniors to veterans to the disabled. Bringing the 30-year-old Lifeline program up to date is vital to helping more Americans access the communications and information services they need. As FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently wrote, this plan would "help 'reboot' Lifeline for the Internet age."

    Learn more about Lifeline and the plan to modernize it.

    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.

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    More People Are Cutting the Pay-TV Cord

    Is cord cutting ever going to stop? That's what some pay-TV companies must be wondering after a new study discovered that the industry lost more than 658,000 subscribers during the second quarter of 2015.

    While cable companies have been bleeding subscribers for some time now, market-research firm IHS, which conducted the study, says its the first time that non-cable pay-TV operators—meaning satellite and telephone (telco) companies—also had a net loss of subscribers. According to IHS' "State of the U.S. Pay TV Operator" report, Dish lost twice as many subscribers as DirecTV (now owned by AT&T) if you subtract the subscribers from Sling TV—Dish's Internet streaming TV service—from Dish's numbers.

    However, DirecTV often gets a subscriber bump once the NFL season starts, thanks to its exclusive on the NFL Sunday Ticket package.

    Telecom companies. such as AT&T and Verizon, fared just a bit better, with less than 1 percent growth compared to the same period a year earlier. But AT&T U-verse TV, an Internet-based service, lost customers for the first time during the quarter, IHS says. It's still not quite clear, though, how the telecom giant will integrate DirecTV into its overall pay TV, broadband, and wireless strategy.

    In an interesting twist, cable companies slightly increased their second-quarter numbers compared to the same stretch last year, primarily due to an ability to bundle TV service with faster broadband speeds, the latter a growing part of their business. For some top cable companies, broadband subscribers now surpass video subscribers.

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

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