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Consumer Reports

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    What's the Future of the Chromebook?

    There has been no shortage of stories over the few weeks speculating on the potential end of the Chrome OS. Google vigorously denied those rumors, but now there's renewed talk of Alphabet (Google's parent company) creating a new version of Android for desktop computing.

    Of course, we've already seen a spate of Android-based laptops. Most have come and gone quickly over the past few years, although HP's Slatebook is still around.

    Still, it's not a stretch to say the status of Google's laptop operating system strategy is in flux. And if you're planning to buy a Chromebook, or already own one, you could be wondering whether your laptop is going to stop receiving OS support sometime in the next few years.  

    Don't worry. Here's a list of reasons why you should still be able to use your Chromebook no matter how Chrome OS morphs, and almost as many reasons to think Chrome isn't going anywhere for quite some time.

    Because Google said so. A company blog asserts that "there's no plan to phase out Chrome OS." Of course, a little skepticism doesn't hurt when it comes to corporate communications. But new Chromebooks do keep coming, and Google says it's continuing to develop new features for Chrome while emphasizing the security that's built into the OS.

    Support will continue until 2020. Continued OS support is crucial to keeping your laptop going. Users of Microsoft Windows XP, one of the most popular Windows versions, found this out when Microsoft finally pulled the plug on support for the ancient—in tech terms—OS in 2014. As for Chrome, Google's End of Life policy includes a list of Chrome devices it promises to support until 2020.  

    Most Chromebook apps are web-based. Chromebooks are cheap at least partly because they were built to run simple apps. And most of those apps are web-based, which means you'll be able to continue running them on other devices and platforms, said David Mitchell Smith, a VP at Gartner Group.

    Your files are stored in the cloud anyway. Doing everything online is the whole idea behind the Chromebook. That includes the apps you use, as mentioned above. And it also includes file storage, and the ability to access your data from anywhere on a variety of devices. To that end, all your files, photos, videos, and any other data are stored on Google servers. So even if the worst happens, and your Chromebook becomes completely obsolete, you'll still be able to access your stuff. With Chrome and Chromebooks, it's all about being connected.

    "This is a product that's been optimized for that experience," says William Stofega, a mobile analyst with IDC. As a result, he says, if there is an OS change, this is the perfect platform for making that change.

    More emphasis on Android is inevitable. Just consider what's been happening with other operating systems, Stofega points out. Apple has in many ways merged iOS with Mac OS, and Windows has become significantly more focused on mobile in the past few years. Google itself has been working on porting Android apps to Chrome for some time.

    Android on Chrome could mean better apps. Whether Google eliminates Chrome and moves to Android-only devices, or if it somehow merges the two operating systems, the change would make it much easier and more attractive for developers to come up with Android apps for Chromebooks. And that should be good for consumers.

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

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  • 11/17/15--15:16: Good Deals on Great Ranges
  • Good Deals on Great Ranges

    When did Black Friday morph into Black November? Many deep discounts on appliances can be found right now. And, unlike some sales, even really good appliances are discounted. Here’s a look at deals on some of the best ranges from Consumer Reports’ tests. And if you love to bake, note that these top picks were very good, or even excellent, at turning out evenly browned cookies and cakes.

    We test dozens of ranges, baking hundreds of cookies and cakes. We do not move the pans to different racks or rotate them to get impressive results—we let the oven do what it's made to do. An excellent baking score means the oven turned out evenly browned cookies and cakes when baked on two racks simultaneously. Cakes and cookies must be cooked properly, with the centers done. If you enjoy filling tins with homemade chocolate chip cookies, also consider ranges that scored very good in baking. The results were impressive, although browning was slightly less even than ranges scoring excellent.

    We also test ranges to find out how quickly they bring a large pot of water to a near boil, how well they simmer, and whether they're impressive at broiling and self-cleaning. Manufacturers tell you the oven's capacity in cubic feet. We measure the oven's usable capacity and then rate it.  

    Here's a look at some of the ranges that made our top picks, were very good or excellent at baking, and are on sale now.  

    The Best Ranges for Baking

    Gas double oven

    Gas single oven

    Induction single oven

    Electric smoothtop double oven

    Electric smoothtop single oven

    Shopping for a range?
    Check our range Ratings before you decide, and use the range buying guide to help you get started.

    And if you have questions, send me an email at kjaneway@consumer.org.

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

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    5 Ways to Save on Appliances on Black Friday

    Savvy shoppers know there’s almost no reason to pay full price for a large appliance in November. Black Friday is no longer just a day but a season so you can skip the long lines and shop right now. We breezed through the sale sections of the websites of Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe's, and Sears and found some of our top-performing appliances at bock-bottom prices of 40 percent off or better. But not every discount is a good deal, especially if you end up with a brand that’s repair-prone. So do your homework before opening your wallet.

    Here are five things to know:

    1. Not every suite is a sweet deal
    You might be tempted by offers and rebates on various kitchen suites—typically a refrigerator, range, dishwasher, and microwave from the same maker—but Consumer Reports' tests have shown that it’s difficult to find brands that combine top performance and reliability across all four categories. Take the Samsung Chef Collection suite, for example. In our tests, the Samsung RF34H9960S4 4-door refrigerator, $5,400, and the Samsung NE58H9970WS induction range, $3,600, were top performers but the Samsung DW80H9970US dishwasher, $1,450, and the Samsung ME21H9900AS over-the-range microwave, $600, missed the cut although they still have their plusses. And, at those prices, they should.

    2. Don’t buy large appliances by brand alone
    Some consumers are brand loyal and if you’re one of them, keep in mind that not all models from one manufacturer are created equal. We tested two Kenmore 3-door French-door refrigerators with comparable prices. Our top performer, the Kenmore Elite 74093, $2,800, was aces at temperature control and energy efficiency. Its brandmate, the Kenmore 73063, $3,000, had very good temperature control and energy use but was one of the noisiest models in our tests. We found it on sale at Sears for $1,899.

    3. Always try for a better bargain
    Sure the prices are low but you may be able to get an even better bargain by haggling. In a national survey conducted by Consumer Reports, 89 percent of those who negotiated for a better price were rewarded for their efforts at least once in the past few years. Appliance shoppers who haggled typically saved about $100 on major appliances and $40 on small ones. And here’s a winning trick: Ask whether you can buy a floor model or one that's slightly blemished (in a spot that won't show) for less.

    4. Don’t overlook online
    While you wouldn't think twice about buying a toaster or a coffeemaker online, ordering a large appliance online takes a bigger leap. But it’s one that more and more shoppers are willing to make, especially if they visit a store first. After all, you’ll probably want to get a firsthand look at the materials and controls of the refrigerator or dishwasher you’re considering. Ordering online often comes with free shipping although you likely can’t skip out on the taxes. And you can still attempt to barter by contacting a customer-service rep either by phone or in an online chat.

    5. Get those free extras
    Even if you fail to chip away at the sale price, there are other ways to save on a large appliance, such as asking the retailer to waive fees for shipping or delivery. Many already offer this service and also include free haul-away of your old appliance. Ask whether installation is included, especially if you’re just replacing one appliance with another and not undertaking a kitchen remodel.

    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 Clean Up Common Holiday Messes

    Getting Ready

    Dealing with dusty decorations, polishing Grandma’s beloved silver platter, getting last year’s candle wax off menorahs and candlesticks, cleaning stained tablecloths—there’s always plenty to do around the holidays. So Consumer Reports asked our cleaning and textile experts how to make the prep work easier and faster. They offered advice about what to do before company arrives and after the last guest has left but their stains remain.

    Removing wax from candlesticks and menorahs

    Place silver or other metals in the freezer until the wax hardens, then gently scrape it off with a plastic spatula. If wax remains, pour boiling water over the item or immerse it in a pot of boiling water, making sure any felt covering on the base remains dry. For glass or wood, point a blow-dryer at the wax and then blot the melting wax with a paper towel, but be careful not to overheat wood because it can crack.

    Freshening up sheets, towels, and linens

    There’s no need to rewash clean guest room sheets and towels that haven’t been used in months. Just toss them in the dryer on low heat for 15 minutes. And if you don’t want fold lines on your freshly ironed tablecloths, roll them up on empty wrapping-paper tubes.

    Dusting an artificial Christmas tree

    Set up the tree and spread out a sheet at its base to catch debris. Cover the vacuum’s upholstery attachment with a piece of hosiery or mesh netting fastened with a rubber band. Starting from the top of the tree and moving down, gently vacuum on the lowest setting, holding the attachment about an inch away from the branches to remove dust and cobwebs. Still dingy? Check the manufacturer’s website for any wipe-down tips.

    Dusting artificial wreaths

    Hold a blow-dryer, set on a low speed and the cool setting, about 10 inches from the wreath and then fluff. A soft feather duster may also work, or try the Christmas tree dusting tip.

    Cleaning glass ornaments

    Surface decorations are usually applied with water-soluble paint, so avoid treating them with soap, water, and cleaning solutions. Use a soft feather duster instead.

    Caring for silver

    Remove tarnish with a polishing mitt or by applying silver cleaner with a damp sponge; buff dry. Washing by hand is usually recommended, but there are lots of no-nos to keep in mind.

    • Don’t soak silver for long periods because non-silver parts can rust. And the salt and acids in leftover food particles can stain or pit the silver.
    • Never wash silver and stainless together because a chemical reaction between the metals can cause pitting.
    • Avoid lemon-scented detergents because they can damage silver.
    • Never pour detergent directly on silver. Instead, add a mild detergent to water, wash and rinse thoroughly, and dry right away with a soft cloth to prevent spots.
    • Don’t leave silver out; air accelerates tarnishing. Instead, store silver in a clear, heavy, sealable plastic bag.

    The Aftermath

    Once the guests are gone and all the dust has settled, it’s time to survey the damage. It pays to act quickly, even with messes that have been there for a while. Another rule of thumb: Always blot stains on carpets, napkins, clothing, and the like, because scrubbing can damage their surfaces. Below are specific treatments for seven common problems. Whatever the recommended cleaning solution, try it first on an inconspicuous spot, and follow any care-label instructions that apply.

    Wine and soda on fabrics or carpet

    Cure: For white wines and clear sodas, launder washable items as soon as possible. Blot carpet with water, apply our homemade detergent solution (1 teaspoon of a mild clear or white dishwashing liquid without bleach in 1 cup of warm water), and blot again with water. For red wine, follow the same instructions and then dab with 3 percent-strength hydrogen peroxide. For colas on carpet or fabrics, blot with our detergent solution and, if needed, then try our vinegar solution (⅓ cup of white vinegar with ⅔ cup of water). Blot with warm water, and if a trace remains, dab with 3 percent-strength hydrogen peroxide.

    Christmas tree sap on carpet or upholstery

    Cure: Whether your tree is a pine, fir, or spruce, the sticky sap is basically the same, according to a tree expert at Cornell University. Blot sap with isopropyl rubbing alcohol to dissolve it and then use our detergent solution. Blot carpet or upholstery with the solution, then blot with clean water. Dry with a white cloth.

    Chocolate on carpet or fabrics

    Cure:  Scrape off excess. Blot carpet with our detergent solution. If the stain remains, try the vinegar solution. Dry with a white cloth. For washable items, use your washer’s soak cycle and one of our top-rated detergents that’s tough on chocolate, such as Wisk Deep Clean, then wash.

    Cranberry sauce on fabrics or carpet

    Cure: Scrape away excess. Pretreat washable tablecloths and other fabrics with Resolve stain remover, launder, and line dry. If the stain persists, dab with 3 percent-strength hydrogen peroxide and line dry. For carpet and upholstery, blot with our detergent solution. If the stain remains, use 3 percent-strength hydrogen peroxide. Repeat with clean white cloths until none of the stain transfers to the cloth. Then blot with water to remove cleaning solution. Dry with a white cloth weighted down with a stack of books.

    Gravy on table linens

    Cure: Scrape off excess with a spoon. Pretreat with a Fels-Naptha paste or Resolve stain remover and wash. Do not put items in the dryer until the stain is gone or it will be even harder to remove.

    Lipstick on cloth napkins

    Cure: Blot with acetone-based nail polish remover. If the stain remains, apply our homemade detergent solution, then rinse.

    Candle wax on tablecloths

    Cure: Pour boiling water through the washable fabric from a height of 12 inches (the height increases the velocity of the water, helping separate the wax from the fibers). For fabric that can’t be washed, sandwich it between paper towels and apply a warm iron; repeat with a clean towel until the wax is lifted.

    Holiday Planning & Gift Guide

    Check Consumer Reports' 2015 Holiday Guide for our picks of the best gifts, details on the latest deals, time-saving tips, and much more. And see our countdown calendar for top gift ideas for everyone on your list.

    This article appeared in the December 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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

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    Behind the Wheel of the More-Efficient 2016 Toyota Prius Hybrid

    There isn’t a more sensible car than the Toyota Prius.

    With the interior room of a midsized car, the footprint of a compact, phenomenal fuel economy, bulletproof reliability, and hatchback versatility, it’s a genius transportation solution. For that reason, the Prius is among Consumer Reports’ subscribers’ most popular cars. It just works brilliantly as a headache-free transportation solution.

    For 2016, Toyota rolls out the fourth generation—promising to retain the sensibility but add ingredients the Prius never had, namely styling and a fun-to-drive quotient.

    The 2016 Toyota Prius hybrid goes on sale in January with pricing starting at $24,200 for the base Prius 2 trimline and reaching $30,000 for the Prius 4 Touring. Only the base Prius retains a nickel-metal battery; all other versions get a more compact and advanced lithium-ion battery.  

    Based on a new platform to be shared with the next Camry, the 2016 Toyota Prius hybrid includes a more sophisticated independent rear suspension in order to optimize ride and handling. The car is a bit longer, lower, and slightly wider. It retains its hatchback configuration, although that may not be obvious from the outside, due to the loss of the third side window in favor a blacked-out rear roof pillar. The styling bears a family resemblance to Toyota’s fuel-cell car, the Mirai, granting it a high-tech look that might resonate with some buyers.

    The powertrain is largely a carryover, relying on a 1.8-liter gas engine that’s augmented by an electric drive that Toyota claims is now lighter and more compact. The continuously variable transmission, or CVT, is also improved. Based on an initial drive, the car is quicker to react in passing situations.

    The EPA estimate for combined fuel economy is 52 mpg. An Eco trimline, which will account for about 10 percent of sales, is rated at 56 mpg due to limited options, higher tire pressure, and weight-saving tweaks such as eliminating a spare tire. The outgoing Prius got 44 mpg overall in Consumer Reports’ test cycle.

    In a peculiar quirk, the Prius’ total system horsepower is 121, which might seem underpowered compared to the outgoing car’s 134. But Toyota says that’s due to a different Japanese calculation method that takes into account the gas engine’s 95 hp and the electric motor’s 71 horses. Toyota declined to give an apples-to-apples horsepower comparison. 

    Our first drive of the 2016 Toyota Prius hybrid revealed that the engine now roars less when you floor the gas pedal, and the CVT is more palatable without overly amplifying engine noise. As before, the Prius can propel itself solely on electric power, typically up to about 20 mph, which is handy and gratifying in stop-and-go traffic or just when loafing around on Main Street.

    Our drive included a mix of suburban driving and some freeway cruising and yielded an average of 50 mpg—according to the onboard computer in uninstrumented conditions. And a 27-mile coastal loop in the Prius 2 Eco returned 66 mpg, according to the onboard computer.

    Evidently, Toyota worked on making the brake pedal response feel smoother, more progressive, and less grabby than that of a typical hybrid.

    The Prius’ ride comfort is improved, both in terms of bump absorption and in keeping the body steady and more settled. Road noise isolation is improved as well over the outgoing Prius, but not by a huge margin. Rough pavement still comes through with a noticeable rumble.

    Handling is more responsive with prompt turn-in, sharper cornering, and less tendency for hippo-like body roll—all of which make the car more enjoyable to drive. That said, it’s still doesn’t possess the agility of a Ford Fusion Hybrid.

    The powertrain and handling improvements might be more evolutionary than revolutionary, but the interior shows a major upgrade. Gone is the hard and hollow plastic interior of the previous generation. Instead, the 2016 Toyota Prius hybrid brings some soft-touch surfaces, flashes of chrome, and a modern, high-tech look. It has dual 4.2-inch color-display touch screens that interface with audio, phone, navigation, and vehicle performance readouts.

    Due to the car’s lower stance and seating position, getting in and out of the 2016 Toyota Prius hybrid requires a bit more ducking, and more of a controlled fall than a proper sitting motion. Slamming the doors results in a rather tinny sound. The seats are fine for a short drive, but the lack of lumbar support adjustment in most versions becomes uncomfortable on a longer trip. Power lumbar adjustment comes with the power driver seat and faux-leather upholstery in the 4 Touring, which is a $30,000 car. 

    Toyota Safety Sense is an advanced suite of active safety features that comes in the $1,935 Advanced Technology package. It includes auto braking from 6 to 25 mph, lane-departure warning with a slight lane correction, and active cruise control. Fortunately, if you just want blind-spot monitoring, you can get that in the Prius 4, priced at $28,650.

    An AWD version will be available in Japan, but it is still under consideration for the U.S. We think it would be a hit in the Snow Belt. A plug-in version is also coming down the road.

    Toyota clearly managed to instill more able driving dynamics, created a vastly improved interior, and included all the latest connectivity and active safety features, while retaining much of the Prius’s laudable practicality and fuel efficiency. But in a true conservative Toyota way, this redesign amounts to an incremental improvement rather than a metamorphosis. For a successful, genre-defining car, that may be a good thing.

    We look forward to buying our own Prius soon and fully testing it. 

    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 Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics in Our Food Supply

    About 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to animals raised for food—including hogs, cattle, chickens, and turkeys. The drugs are mostly used to prevent disease or promote growth, not to treat sick animals. This practice is contributing to the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance, where the drugs no longer work to destroy the bacteria that cause serious, sometimes life-threatening, illnesses. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration released voluntary guidelines to reduce the use of antibiotics on farms and some meat and poultry companies and restaurant chains have pledged to reduce the production or sale
    of meat or poultry from animals raised with antibiotics. These are good first steps, but government and industry must do more to create meaningful change. Below are the steps Consumer Reports recommends. To make your voice heard on the issue, click here.

    The Government Should:

    • Ban the routine use of antibiotics important to human medicine. The FDA has issued voluntary guidelines that phase out the use of these drugs for growth promotion but still allow their use for disease prevention with a veterinarian’s approval. That leaves the door open to animals getting antibiotics routinely. At a minimum, the FDA should prohibit all uses of medically important antibiotics except for the responsible treatment of sick animals. Congress should pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), sponsored by Congresswoman Louise Slaughter of New York, to require the FDA to move in that direction, and state legislatures should establish similar requirements. Ideally, CR believes, no drugs should be given to healthy animals routinely.
    • Improve monitoring of antibiotic use. Right now, because of inadequate and untimely data, it’s very difficult to measure how well programs to reduce the use of antibiotics are working—and it’s impossible to identify problem areas. The FDA, working with the Department of Agriculture, should collect more detailed data from feed mills and veterinarians on the actual use of antibiotics in food animals—including the particular drug, animal species, and purpose for which the drug was used—and publicly release the data. Congress should pass the Delivering Antimicrobial Transparency in Animals Act (DATA) or similar legislation that would make that mandatory.
    • Prohibit misleading labeling. The USDA requires producers making a no-antibiotics claim to submit paperwork that states that animals were raised without antibiotics. But the agency has approved some claims that imply “no antibiotics,” when in fact they can still be used for disease prevention. One example, found on turkey, is “no antibiotics used for growth promotion” accompanied by the USDA Process Verified shield. The claim does not mean “no antibiotics,” but the shield gives a false sense of credibility. The USDA should not approve such claims unless antibiotics are never used. The department should also address the misleading use of the “natural” label, which can be used on meat and poultry raised with antibiotics and other drugs.
       

    The Food Industry Should:

    • Implement more sustainable agriculture practices. The vast majority of animals are raised or finished in crowded, confined, and unsanitary conditions, where they are susceptible to disease outbreaks. Drug use in animal agriculture will be more likely to decline if changes are made to the way animals are raised.
    • Use clear and meaningful labels. Those such as the USDA Organic seal, or a true “no antibiotics” claim accompanied by a USDA Process Verified shield, are reliable because they are independently verified. Other labels, which either prohibit antibiotic use or allow antibiotics only for the treatment of sick animals, include Animal Welfare Approved, Global Animal Partnership, and American Grassfed. Companies should not use the “natural” label.
    • Offer consumers more sustainable options. Grocery stores and restaurants—large chains in particular—should phase out the sale of meat and poultry raised with the routine use of antibiotics and other drugs. They should use their purchasing power to encourage suppliers to raise animals in more humane and hygienic conditions.
       

    Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the January 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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

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    Making The World Safe From Superbugs - Consumer Reports

    One of the greatest medical discoveries of the 20th century happened by accident.

    In 1928 scientist Alexander Fleming found mold growing in one of his petri dishes—then noticed that the bacteria all around it had been destroyed. That bacteria-killing mold was the first form of penicillin—and we as a society embarked on a brave new world in medicine. Suddenly, deadly diseases such as tuberculosis, scarlet fever, bacterial meningitis, and diphtheria could be cured with a pill. Surgery for heart disease and organ transplants, as well as chemotherapy, could succeed because those miracle drugs wiped out the infections that arose after treatment. 

    But less than 100 years after that breakthrough, antibiotics are losing their lifesaving effectiveness. Their overuse has allowed bacteria to evolve so that they are almost impervious to the drugs. That has led to the rise of “superbugs”—which include methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and bacteria resistant to three or more types of antibiotics. And as the number of superbugs increases, the development of new antibiotics to kill them has lagged. At least 2 million Americans fall victim to antibiotic-resistant infections every year; 23,000 die. “The antibiotics we’ve relied on for decades are becoming less effective—and we risk turning back the clock to a time where simple infections killed people,” says Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

    Over this past year, Consumer Reports has investigated the dangers of antibiotic overuse in hospitals and doctors’ offices. But nowhere are the drugs more inappropriately employed than in the meat and poultry industries. About 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to animals raised for food—including hogs, cattle, chickens, and turkeys. The most recent data from the Food and Drug Administration show that more than 32 million pounds of antibiotics were sold for use in food animals in the U.S. in 2013—up 17 percent from just four years earlier.

    Recently, several meat and poultry producers, such as Tyson, and restaurant chains, like McDonald’s and Subway, have pledged to reduce the production or sale of meat or poultry from animals raised with antibiotics. “But whether such measures will end up significantly reducing antibiotic use remains to be seen,” says Gail Hansen, D.V.M., who has more than 25 years of experience in veterinary public health and infectious disease. 

    “In the last few years we’ve witnessed some of the bacteria most commonly found in food—germs such as salmonella and campylobacter—become increasingly resistant to some important antibiotics,” says Robert Tauxe, M.D., M.P.H., deputy director of the CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases. Those resistant strains can cause infections that are “more severe, longer lasting, and harder to treat,” Tauxe says. In fact, our calculations using data from the CDC show that about 20 percent of people sickened by an antibiotic-resistant bug don’t pick it up in the hospital or from another person—they get it from their food. 

    More From Consumer Reports

    Read parts 1 and 2 of our series: "The Rise of Superbugs" and "How Your Hospital Can Make You Sick." Plus, check our special report "How Safe Is Your Ground Beef?" and antibiotic resistance guide.

    Superbugs in Your Meat

    Four years ago, Ruby Lee of Sandy, Ore., wound up fighting for her life against a superbug. She was only 10 months old when her parents rushed her to the emergency room with severe diarrhea and a high fever. “Ruby was so sick the first five days that she barely moved,” says her mother, Melissa Lee. “We were terrified of losing her.” Doctors eventually determined that Ruby’s illness was part of a salmonella Heidelberg outbreak involving ground turkey that sickened 135 other people in several states. That bacteria was resistant to several antibiotics, but luckily Ruby’s doctors found one that still worked.

    Even just handling contaminated meat poses a risk. Ken Koehler, 55, always cooked his burgers to well-done. But he still got sick during a 2011 outbreak of salmonella typhimurium linked to ground beef. Public health officials told him that he may have gotten the resistant bacteria on his hands when shaping the raw meat into patties. Bedridden for weeks, the Old Orchard Beach, Maine, resident counts the experience as one of the worst of his life. Antibiotics tackled the infection, but recovery was slow. “It was a month before I could eat a full meal,” he says. “My digestive system is still not back to normal.”

    Ruby and Ken’s stories aren’t isolated incidents. Information on cases like these is often incomplete, but according to data from the CDC, at least six multi-state outbreaks of food poisoning involving antibiotic-resistant bacteria have occurred since 2011. The largest one, linked to Foster Farms chicken, began in spring 2013 and continued through summer 2014, infecting 634 people in 29 states. About 40 percent were sick enough to be hospitalized—double the usual percentage in salmonella outbreaks. 

    “Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are all too prevalent in our meat supply,” says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., executive director of the Food Safety and Sustainability Center at Consumer Reports. “Multistate outbreaks get a lot of attention, but the data underestimate the total number of illnesses because there are many more that occur at the local level.” For example, this past August, pork contaminated with salmonella immune to four antibiotics sickened 152 people in Washington state. “Over the years, we’ve tested hundreds of packages of supermarket meat, poultry, and shrimp, and found multidrug-resistant bacteria in samples from every type of animal,” Rangan says. 

    Why Animals Are Drugged

    The practice of feeding drugs to animals dates back some 70 years. Thinking it would be easier to study nutrition in “sterile” chicks, a group of researchers fed them antibiotics with the intent of wiping out their gut bacteria. The “rather unexpected result,” according to the 1946 study, was that the chicks grew faster. By 1950, researchers had discovered that when given antibiotics, animals reached market weight sooner while consuming less feed. “At the time, they didn’t know why the animals grew faster,” Gail Hansen says. “We still really don’t.” But the profit advantage seemed clear, and adding the drugs to feed became standard practice. But research from the past 15 years suggests that today, antibiotics probably don’t work well to promote growth, at least in some animals. According to Hansen, that may be because animals farmed today differ genetically from those of yesteryear or because any effect from the antibiotics declined as bacteria grew resistant to the drugs.

    The other reason producers give healthy animals low doses of antibiotics is to keep them from getting sick. Under pressure from large processors, over the past few decades small to midsized farms have increasingly been replaced by industrial-scale farms and feedlots that confine thousands of animals together, according to a recent analysis of Department of Agriculture farm census data by Food & Water Watch. In such crowded conditions disease can spread rapidly.

    These days farmers often have little say in how their animals are raised. “The majority of food animals now are raised under contracts with major meat-producing companies that require farmers to use feed supplied by the company that may be premixed with antibiotics,” Hansen says. “Many have no idea how much and what kind of drugs their animals get.” Most of the antibiotics given to animals are in the form of drug-laced feed or water, according to the FDA.

    Why Resistance Is Risky

    Antibiotics do have their place on the farm: to treat sick animals. When the drugs are used in therapeutic doses, antibiotic resistance is less likely to occur. But the low doses given to animals routinely are problematic. “The combination of frequent antibiotic use and the conditions the animals are raised in creates a hospitable environment for superbugs to develop and proliferate,” Rangan says. The drugs can kill off weaker bacteria in the animals’ digestive tracts, leaving a few hardy survivors to multiply. Those bacteria, as well as certain antibiotic residues, are excreted in manure, which is the perfect medium for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to grow. Over time, you wind up with colonies of almost indestructible superbugs. “On industrial farms, the animals are literally surrounded by their own waste,” Rangan says. So those bacteria get on the animals’ hides and skin, and can contaminate the meat we eat when the animals are slaughtered. And, Rangan says, the bacteria continue to reproduce and spread resistance to other bacteria in the animal waste and can get into our environment if the waste is not well-managed. 

    The problem doesn’t just lie with the bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Once resistant bacteria are in the environment, they can mingle with other bacteria and share genetic material, which could contribute to additional antibiotic-resistant infections in hospitals and communities.

    What has experts most concerned is the use of antibiotics that are important in human medicine or similar to ones that are. For example, tetracyclines are used in people, but certain types are used primarily in animals. If bacteria develop resistance to the animal drugs, they may also become resistant to the human tetracyclines. When resistant infections occur, doctors have limited options to treat them. For example, the strain of salmonella that sickened Ken Koehler was resistant to nine of the 15 antibiotics the CDC tested it against while investigating the outbreak.

    Animal-only antibiotics are also a concern. A group of antibiotics called ionophores that are fed to animals are not generally important in human medicine. But there is a possibility that their long-term use could lead to problems with human drugs. And their use helps make it possible to continue to raise livestock and poultry in crowded conditions, where bacteria can quickly reproduce. 

    Industry Pushback

    Trade groups representing the meat and poultry industry mostly say that the drugs are not widely overused and that they do not put human health at risk. “An important point that’s often missing in this discussion is that antibiotics are really needed to both ensure animal health and welfare as well as food safety,” says Christine Hoang, D.V.M., assistant director of animal and public health at the American Veterinary Medical Association. Hoang says that the industry is already phasing out use of antibiotics for growth promotion and that drugs used for disease prevention are necessary. As for antibiotic resistance, she says the jury is still out. “The science that is available is unclear on how use of antibiotics in animals relates to human health and resistant infections in the community,” Hoang says. The association has gone on record as saying that the use of the drugs in food production “plays an extremely small role.” Other organizations that represent the animal agriculture industry echo that view. For example, the Animal Agriculture Alliance says that “layers of protection have been put in place to ensure that animal antibiotics don’t affect public health.”

    Lance Price, Ph.D., a professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., categorically disagrees. “As a microbiologist, I have dedicated my career to studying bacteria, and I know that those notions are false,” he says. “Studies dating back to the 1960s have repeatedly shown how antibiotic use in food-animal production contributes to the growing crisis of antibiotic-resistant infections in people.” 

    Consumer Reports’ tests show that, in general, meat and poultry from animals raised without antibiotics are less likely to harbor multidrug-resistant bacteria than meat from animals that get the drugs routinely. For example, in our most recent tests, we found that ground beef from conventionally raised cows was twice as likely as that from cows raised without antibiotics to contain superbugs. “Those results suggest that farming practices can profoundly affect the safety of our food,” Rangan says.

    What happens on the farm also has implications for our health overall. Research shows that resistant bacteria bred on the farm wind up reaching people in a surprising number of ways. For example, farm workers can pick up antibiotic-resistant bacteria handling animals and manure; even if the germs don’t make them sick, they can still pass them along to other people. 

    Disposing of the more than 700 billion pounds of manure generated by industrial farming creates a health hazard as well. Some is used as commercial fertilizer and can spread superbugs to crops and taint streams and groundwater. Studies also suggest that resistant bacteria can be picked up and transmitted by flies and spread by the wind. In one study, for example, rural Pennsylvania residents living near fields fertilized with manure from pig farms were up to 38 percent more likely to develop MRSA infections than others in their community.

    Government Loopholes

    In 2013, the FDA announced a voluntary plan to change the way veterinary antibiotics are labeled and sold. The plan is voluntary, the FDA says, because “it is the fastest, most efficient way to make these changes.” People need a prescription for antibiotics, but currently almost all of the drugs are available over the counter for use in food animals. By the end of 2016, though, the FDA’s plan calls for requiring a veterinarian’s approval before feeding animals antibiotics that are important in human medicine. And those drugs will no longer be labeled for use for growth promotion. 

    But that doesn’t mean food producers will immediately cut back on antibiotics. Under the FDA plan, they can continue to use them by saying they’re to prevent disease. “That’s a pretty big loophole,” says Laura Rogers, deputy director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. “In fact, it has the potential to make the FDA plan meaningless.” What’s more, producers are free to use other drugs to promote growth. 

    Indeed, for certain veterinary antibiotics, label directions—the dosages used and the way they are administered—for preventing disease are the same as those for promoting growth, according to a 2014 analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts. What that means is that “the spigot of drugs can keep flowing,” says Rogers, who at the time of the study directed Pew’s campaign on human health and industrial farming. 

    Government actions have been “weak baby steps,” according to Price. “Until we take a stronger stand, we’re not leading the world in protecting important antibiotics,” he says. “We are just supporting an industry trying to maximize profits at the expense of causing drug-resistant infections in people.”

    Progress on Poultry

    If you’ve read the headlines about companies pledging to reduce antibiotic use over the past year, you might think that the marketplace is solving the problem, even without tough regulations. Last spring, for example, McDonald’s announced that it would move toward serving chicken raised without antibiotics important to human medicine within two years, Tyson said it would phase out those drugs in chicken, and Wal-Mart called on its vast chain of suppliers to adopt guidelines for “responsible use of antibiotics.” And in the fall, Subway pledged to stop all antibiotic use, starting with poultry but expanding to other animals within 10 years. But a closer look reveals a lot of wiggle room in the way some of those pledges are phrased. “When a company says it will stop selling or producing meat or poultry with antibiotics important in human medicine, it can mean they simply switch to using other drugs like ionophores for disease prevention,” Rangan says. “That can increase our exposure to bacteria because it allows animals to continue to be raised in conditions that promote the bugs’ growth and spread.” And, she adds, claims such as “sustainable” and “responsible antibiotic use” aren’t regulated. Companies are free to define them as they see fit. “Moreover, some of these changes won’t take place for many years.” 

    Much of the progress in reducing antibiotic use has been in chicken, not in other animals. Certain chicken producers, including Perdue and Tyson Foods, have pledged to reduce their use of antibiotics and are already making changes. For example, Perdue says that 96 percent of its chickens are not given antibiotics used in human medicine; more than half receive no antibiotics ever. To achieve that, the company had to “relook at virtually everything,” says Bruce Stewart-Brown, D.V.M., senior vice president of food safety, quality, and live production at Perdue. Changes include constructing cleaner hatcheries, using probiotics (which may help foster the growth of healthy bacteria) in the birds, and expanding the use of vaccinations to prevent disease. 

    Even when it comes to chickens, though, Rogers points out that not every pledge involves eliminating all antibiotics. “When people say, ‘Good job, you’re almost there,’ I say, ‘Whoa, we’re so far from almost there,’ ” she says. “There’s been a lot of ‘me too’ on chicken, but until it’s verified to be raised without antibiotics and there is movement when it comes to turkey, pork, and beef, it’s far from time to raise the victory flag.”

    “It’s good that change is taking place, but it’s moving too slowly,” Rangan says. “Ideally not only would all meat be raised without any routine antibiotics, but we also would raise animals for food differently. Crowded conditions and unsanitary practices on factory farms are a big part of what makes daily antibiotics and other drugs necessary in the first place.

    Consumers as Change-Makers

    The biggest driver of change, the CDC’s Tauxe says, is likely to be consumer demand: “It comes down to millions of consumers making choices every day about what food to buy and the level of safety they want for their families.” 

    More than one-quarter of Americans report that they are buying meat and poultry raised without antibiotics more often than they did a year ago, according to a nationally representative survey of 1,008 adults from the Consumer Reports National Research Center in September 2015. Almost half said that they check products for a “no antibiotics” claim. 

    And it is becoming easier to find those products. The percentage of labels on meat and poultry packaging with claims about animals raised without antibiotics more than doubled between 2011 and 2014, according to a recent report from the market research firm Mintel. Meat and poultry sold at Whole Foods, for example, never comes from animals treated with antibiotics, but Consumer Reports’ shoppers have also found a wide selection of no-antibiotic products at chains across the U.S., including Giant, Hannaford, Publix, QFC, Ralphs, and Trader Joe’s.

    But consumers don’t always know what they’re buying in their quest for no-antibiotic meat. “We also see quite a bit of confusion about what claims mean,” says Julia Gallo-Torres, a senior analyst at Mintel. The report found that one of the top factors people consider, for example, is whether a product is “all natural.” But that claim doesn’t indicate anything about how an animal is raised or whether drugs are used. Two reliable claims to look for: “organic” and “no antibiotics administered.”  

    Some argue that changing current farming practices to make antibiotics unnecessary would make meat prohibitively expensive for the average consumer to buy. But that assumption is not always true. A 1999 report from the National Research Council (the most recent data available) found that if all routine use of antibiotics were eliminated, the cost to consumers would be about $10 per year—around $14 in today’s dollars. 

    Farms in the U.S. and around the world are proving that it’s possible to raise all types of livestock without the excessive use of drugs. For example, Niman Ranch, one of the largest suppliers of sustainable meat in the U.S., eschews factory farming. Instead it relies on a network of more than 700 family ranchers and farmers that supply the company with meat raised according to its strict standards, which include never using antibiotics. “If your animals are living in a healthy environment—they are given enough space and not stressed—and you vaccinate them against routine diseases, then antibiotics aren’t needed,” says Paul Willis, a hog farmer who was one of the founders of Niman Ranch. Willis says that sick animals would still be treated with antibiotics, but their meat could not be sold under the Niman Ranch label. But he says that rarely happens. “We take care of our animals,” Willis says. “I haven’t had a really sick pig that needed antibiotics for years.”

    Scandinavian countries are modeling how it can work on a large scale. For example, Denmark stopped the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in broiler chickens and pigs about 15 years ago without harming the animals’ health or the farmers’ incomes. And in 2009, the Netherlands, one of the world’s largest meat exporters, set a goal of halving the amount of antibiotics farmers use in four years; it met that goal a year early.

    “Europe has no more disease in livestock than we have here. They haven’t seen a difference in animal growth,” Hansen adds. “That experience proves that it is possible to maintain a thriving agriculture industry using far less drugs.” 

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

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    Consumer Reports: Meats Produced Without Antibiotics Harbor Fewer “Superbugs”

    Beef, shrimp, chicken studies over past three years show lower superbug contamination rates in foods produced without antibiotics compared to conventional products

    CR Survey finds that more than one-quarter of Americans report that they are buying meat and poultry raised without antibiotics more often than they did a year ago

    January 2016 CoverYONKERS, NY—A review of a series of in-depth studies conducted by Consumer Reports show that, in general, meat, poultry and shrimp from animals raised without antibiotics are less likely to harbor multidrug-resistant bacteria than conventionally-produced meat from animals that get the drugs routinely.

    During the past three years, Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center has conducted tests of bacterial contamination in four different types of primarily raw and uncooked meat while also examining antibiotic resistance of bacteria as a consequence of antibiotic overuse, including the presence of dangerous “superbugs.” Hundreds of packages of meat, poultry and shrimp were methodically tested for bacteria and antibiotic resistance and analyzed by an expert team of scientists and statisticians.

    CR’s testing demonstrates that in most cases, there are lower levels of superbug contamination in meat from animals raised without antibiotics than in products from animals raised using conventional methods. For example, in CR’s most recent tests, the organization found that ground beef raised from conventionally raised cows was twice as likely as that from cows raised without antibiotics to carry superbugs. The number and type of bacteria that Consumer Reports analyzed varied for different tests, so the results from one test can’t be compared with those from another.

    Which Chains and Producers Have the Best Prices [CR 01Nowhere are antibiotics more inappropriately employed than in the meat and poultry industries, mostly to promote growth and prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary conditions. About 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to animals raised for food—including hogs, cattle, chickens and turkeys.

    “Eliminating routine antibiotic use is an important step in protecting the effectiveness of these medicines for future generation,” said Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., executive director of the Food Safety and Sustainability Center at Consumer Reports. “Using drugs to promote growth and to compensate for hygiene problems puts everyone at risk.”

    “Making the World Safe from Superbugs” is featured at www.ConsumerReports.org/superbugs-in-meat and in the January 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine, which hits newsstands Tuesday, December 1. It’s the final installment in a three-part investigative series focused on America’s antibiotic crisis. This piece examines the progress—and work yet to be done—to stop the antibiotic overuse in meat and poultry production that gives rise to dangerous bacteria.

    The release of CR’s story comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and Consumers International, a federation of 240 member organizations in more than 100 countries, mount campaigns to curtail the overuse of antibiotics to prevent the spread of superbugs.

    Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Consumer Reports calculated that about 20 percent of people sickened by an antibiotic-resistant bug don’t pick it up in the hospital or from another person—they get it from their food. At least 2 million Americans fall victim to antibiotic-resistant infections every year; 23,000 die.

    Antibiotics are losing their life-saving effectiveness. Their overuse has allowed bacteria to evolve so that they are almost impervious to the drugs. That has led to the rise of “superbugs”—which include methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and bacteria resistant to three or more types of antibiotics. And as the number of superbugs increases, the development of new antibiotics to kill them has lagged.

    The most recent data from the Food and Drug Administration show that more than 32 million pounds of antibiotics were sold for use in food animals in the U.S. in 2013—up 17 percent from just four years earlier. In 2013, the FDA announced a voluntary plan to change the way veterinary antibiotics are labeled and sold. By the end of 2016, FDA plans call for requiring a veterinarian’s approval before feeding animals antibiotics that are important in human medicine. And while FDA says those drugs will no longer be approved for growth promotion they can still be used for disease prevention—which still allows healthy animals to be routinely fed antibiotics. However, California has recently gone further, passing a law to actually prohibit human antibiotic use not only for growth promotion but routine disease prevention as well.

    What Consumers Can Do

    “Consumers can choose meat and poultry raised without antibiotics both at the supermarket and when they are eating out,” Dr. Rangan said. CR’s new report includes charts that show which chain restaurants and meat and poultry producers have the best practices on the routine use of antibiotics and other drugs as well as farm management practices and a sidebar piece on meat label lingo—what various labels consumers see daily in the supermarket actually mean. Among fast food chains, Chipotle and Panera have virtually eliminated antibiotics from their supply chain while four other major chains—McDonald’s Chick fil-A, Dunkin Donuts and Subway—have indicated they are in the process of reducing antibiotic use in the meat and/or poultry they serve though some of those changes are being phased in and will take years.

    Consumer demand is increasingly a driver of change—and there are shifts in the marketplace already. More than one-quarter of Americans report that they are buying meat and poultry raised without antibiotics more often than they did a year ago, according to a nationally representative survey of 1,008 adults from the Consumer Reports National Research Center in September 2015. Almost half said that they check products for a “no antibiotics” claim. There are many reliable label options for consumers that indicate routine antibiotic use was banned and better production and hygiene practices were used like organic, Animal Welfare Approved, American Grassfed, GAP, and Certified Humane.  The “no antibiotics” label means no antibiotics were used which is value-added but does not address other drugs or farm hygiene practices.  There are also labels to avoid, like “natural,” that have nothing to do with routine drug use or how the animals were raised. Many stores provide no-antibiotics product lines.

    The percentage of labels on meat and poultry packaging with claims about animals raised without antibiotics more than doubled between 2011 and 2014, according to a report from market research firm Mintel. Meat and poultry sold at Whole Foods, for example, never comes from animals treated with antibiotics.

    What Government, Industry Should Do

    The changes recommended by the FDA to reduce human antibiotic use in livestock and poultry, and the changes that certain players in the food industry have made, are good first steps. But government and industry must do more to create meaningful change. These are the steps Consumer Reports recommends:

    The government should: Ban the routine use of all antibiotics in livestock and poultry industries, improve monitoring of ongoing antibiotic use, and prohibit misleading labeling, such as the “natural” label.

    The food industry should: Implement more sustainable agriculture practices, use clear and meaningful labels, and offer consumers more sustainable options.

    For more on antibiotics and superbugs, and how to help avoid them, visit ConsumerReports.org. Consumers can follow the conversation on Twitter at #SlamSuperbugs.

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

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    Auto Insurers Penalize Good Drivers with Higher Premiums Because Of Credit Histories & Other Non-Driving Factors

    Consumers Union To Urge Regulators to Ban Non-Driving Factors for Setting Premiums at National Association of Insurance Commissioners Hearing on November 19

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Many good drivers pay higher insurance premiums because of their credit history and other factors that have nothing to do with their driving record,  according to Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports. The consumer group will urge regulators to ban the use of credit histories and some other non-driving factors for setting premiums at a National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) hearing on November 19.

    “Auto insurance premiums should be based on your driving record, not your credit score, occupation or whether you graduated from college, said Norma Garcia, senior attorney for Consumers Union.  “But many insurers rely heavily on these non-driving factors when pricing insurance and good drivers may be unfairly penalized with higher premiums.”

    Garcia will testify at the NAIC hearing, highlighting recent Consumer Reports research and the stories of consumers showing how the use of credit histories and other non-driving factors hurts many good drivers.  During her testimony, she’ll deliver a petition signed by over 15,000 consumers calling on state Insurance Commissioners to ban the use of non-driving factors like credit scores so that premiums are based mainly on a policyholder’s driving record, miles driven, and years of driving experience.

    A recent Consumer Reports analysis found that credit histories may have more to do with how much consumers pay for auto insurance than any other factor, including arrests for drunken driving.  The analysis was part of a review of more than 2 billion price quotes for sample drivers obtained in August and November 2014 from up to 19 companies per state across all general zip codes in the country.   Consumer Reports found that single drivers paid a median of $190 more for merely having “good” credit compared to those consumers with the best credit.  That difference was $1,200 for consumers with “poor” credit scores.

    Consumer Reports also found that, for those states that do not prohibit the use of credit scores, more than 75 percent of the premiums were higher for good drivers with poor credit than those with a drunken driving arrest and excellent credit.  The median difference was $700.  In some states they paid significantly more. 

    The insurance industry’s use of credit scores, occupation, and education level for setting premiums has an especially negative impact on low income consumers, African Americans, and Latinos.  Government data and other research show that these rating factors closely correlate with race and income.  Insurers are prohibited from considering race and income to price insurance in all states. 

    A new report released by the Consumer Federation of America today found that good drivers in predominantly African American communities pay much more for auto insurance than good drivers in mostly white neighborhoods.  The report found that in communities where more than three-quarters of the residents are African American, premiums are 70 percent higher, on average, than in those communities that are less than one-quarter African American ($1,060 compared to $622).

    “It seems clear that low income consumers and people of color are hit hardest by insurance pricing based on socioeconomic factors instead of driving records,” said Garcia.  “It’s time for regulators to bring some fairness to the insurance market by banning these practices.”

    Consumers Union is urging a number of reforms to address the inequities in auto insurance premiums, including:

    • State insurance commissioners should ban insurers from using non-driving factors when setting premiums, including credit data / scores; education level; occupation; marital status; and price optimization (the practice of charging higher rates to policyholders whose shopping history shows they may fail to shop around for a better deal)

    • The NAIC should conduct a market conduct survey to learn more from insurers about their rating practices involving non-driving factors

    • The Federal Insurance Office should collect data from insurers to evaluate auto insurance access and affordability.

    __________

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

    Media Contacts:
    Michael McCauley, 415.431.6747 x 7606 or mmccauley@consumer.org
    David Butler, 202.462.6262 or dbutler@consumer.org
    Kara Kelber, 202.462.6262 or kkelber@consumer.org

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  • 11/18/15--07:46: 2015 LA Auto Show
  • 2015 LA Auto Show

    The Consumer Reports Cars team is in Los Angeles, covering the 2015 LA Auto Show. Highlights from this major new-car event will be posted here, including notable all-new models and concept cars. In addition, the team will be looking at tech trends and even doing a couple first drives to share the latest automotive information right here.

    Check back periodically for the latest coverage and follow us on Twitter @CRCars.

    Alfa Romeo Guilia

    Alfa Romeo claims this car has a “new platform and new engines,” but what’s more impressive is that the 505-horsepower Quadrifoglio zipped around the notorious Nürburgring race track in Germany 13 seconds faster than any production sedan before it—and faster than Porsches, McLarens, and Lamborghinis. At a starting price around $70,000, the twin-turbo V6 Quadrifoglio edition will be a fierce competitor to the Audi S4 and BMW M3, with a 0-60 mph time of 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 191 mph. The Giulia line will have more mainstream editions as well, starting with the base 276-hp model at around $40,000. The Giulia will arrive in showrooms in summer 2016, with the Quadrifoglio debuting about a month before the rest of the model line. The Giulia will be offered in a choice of rear- and all-wheel drive.

    CR’s Take: We’re sure Alfa will position this as a “passionate driver’s car” and trade on its Italian heritage so people overlook its tight fit inside and pick it over the omnipresent German sedans. The fit and finish appear solid, with the soft-click rheostats of the scroll-knobs feeling premium when they fall to hand. The exhaust note of the Quadrifoglio sounds burbly and delicious.

    BMW M2

    BMW is making sure that top-level performance is also available in a small package. Herein is the 2016 BMW M2, equipped with a 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine that gets a turbo boost to the tune of 365 hp. Gearheads will appreciate that a six-speed manual and rear-wheel drive are standard. Those who are phobic to leg-induced clutching can opt for a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. BMW says that the M2 will rocket to 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds with the automatic and 4.4 seconds with the manual. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.

    Infotainment fun comes via the optional ConnectedDrive Services and apps, which includes the GoPro app and the M Laptimer app. Aimed for those taking their cars to tracks, the Laptimer records the car’s speed, longitudinal and lateral acceleration, engine’s speed, the gear engaged at any one time, steering angle, accelerator position, and fuel consumption. You can also compare laps with others drivers and share the data by email or Facebook. We loved testing the BMW M235i and imagine that the new M2 is simply more of a good thing.

    2017 Cadillac XT5

    An all-new name kick starts the growing crossover lineup with the 2017 Cadillac XT5. Replacing the dated SRX, the XT5 claims a slightly larger size with reduced weight. In the sea of Cadillac reinvention, the XT5 will have the 3.6-liter V6 engine found in the Cadillac ATS, CTS, and CT6 sedans, while also employing start/stop technology to achieve better fuel consumption. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard, as well as an electronically controlled transmission shifter. The interior is simplified in an attempt to reflect the brand’s new goal of modern sophistication. It will feature infotainment already present in new Cadillacs, but the XT5 will be one of the first crossover in the industry to offer a digital rear-camera monitor system for the rearview mirror.  

    2016 Fiat 124 Spider

    The collaboration between Mazda and Fiat to share the latest MX-5 roadster platform sees its Italian iteration with the Fiat 124 Spider. But the Spider is more than a rebadged Miata. The Fiat carries a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder MultiAir engine from the Fiat stable that generates 160 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque, to be paired with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. While that’s a smaller engine than the Mazda’s non-turbo 2-liter, the Fiat makes more horsepower and torque. Both the Fiat and Mazda share a front double-wishbone and rear multi-link suspension, although they will be tuned differently to reflect the brands’ sensibilities. The Fiat will be built at Mazda’s Hiroshima, Japan, plant and go on sale in summer 2016. 

    2017 Ford Escape

    Making the scene at the LA Auto Show, the updated Ford Escape is boasting new technology in near every aspect of the compact crossover. From two new EcoBoost engines with start/stop technology, active park-assist, adaptive cruise control, and forward-collision warning with automatic braking, the Escape revisions are more about safe and efficient stopping than being the compact SUV that makes “customers feel unstoppable.” The Escape will be the first Ford product to feature SYNC Connect, a late-to-the-game smartphone app that allows owners to lock and unlock their Escape, remotely start the engine, and track location via GPS by cell phone. The freshened engines are the 1.5-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost and optional 2.0-liter turbo offering more horsepower and torque. Also look for a new Sport Appearance package, optional on the SE and Titanium trims. 

    2016 Honda Civic Coupe

    The Honda Civic gets an all-new Coupe design as it kicks off its 10th generation for 2016. Set to be available before the end of 2015, the new Civic Coupe is longer than the previous generation coupe and consequently boasts an increase in total cabin space and rear passenger legroom. The fastback profile and sharpened front end are reminiscent of some Acura siblings of generations past, and the sporty lines are accented by LED daytime running lights and taillights. The Civic Coupe will get its first turbocharged powertrain on higher-end trims with a 1.5-liter direct-injected engine with 174 horsepower, while lower-end trims will get the naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine with 158 horsepower. Both engines are standard issue for the Civic sedan.

    2017 Hyundai Elantra

    Redesigned for 2016, the Hyundai Elantra joins a graduating class of newly designed competitors, including the Chevrolet Cruze and Honda Civic, that aim to feel more substantial and upscale—regardless of their size.

    At first glance, it's easy to confuse the 2017 Hyundai Elantra for Hyundai's midsized Sonata sedan. While the Elantra retains a class-standard 106-inch wheelbase, somehow Hyundai eked out two more inches of rear-seat leg room. Cabin space feels much like a midsized sedan from a decade ago, rather than a cramped compact car. The open and airy feeling inside is helped by windows that seem slightly larger than the previous Elantra, as well as a dashboard design that avoids the enveloping, cockpit-like feeling found in many rivals.

    See our complete first look at the 2017 Hyundai Elantra with video.

    Indian Scout Sixty

    Cars aren’t the only things breaking cover in Los Angeles. America’s oldest motorcycle company, Indian, has unveiled the new Scout Sixty. Providing a lower-cost entry into the premium Indian line, the Scout Sixty starts at $8,999 for basic black. It is distinguished from the regular Scout by a new 60 cubic-inch engine, with 78 horsepower. For contrast, the $10,999 Scout uses a 69 cubic-inch engine with 100 horsepower. Both bikes share frame, suspension, and braking components, and they tip the scales at about 540 lbs. The Scouts both have an especially low seat height at 25.3 inches. The Scout Sixty should broaden the brand’s appeal, with a more affordable price point and milder powertrain that may attract less experienced riders.  

    Infiniti QX30

    The Infiniti QX30 is a four-door compact crossover built on the bones of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, and it is similar to its hatchback sibling, the Q30. Teased at previous auto shows, the QX30 is now set to be on dealer lots in mid-2016. The QX30 represents another offering from Infiniti’s pursuit to create global products that will be relevant in many markets, to many people, especially hoping that this model impresses young professionals seeking a luxury experience. Highly contoured lines and sloping roofline hide the back doors, giving the QX30 the appearance of a pinched coupe. Set to have all-wheel drive on an adapted front-wheel drive platform (referred to as Intelligent AWD), the curvy crossover touts a host of standard Infiniti safety and technology, including Around View Monitor and a touch-screen infotainment system for navigation and audio controls. 

    2017 Jaguar F-Pace

    The 2017 Jaguar F-Pace represents the brand’s foray into the competitive luxury SUV segment. Debuting as a midsized SUV, the F-Pace draws design cues from the F-Type sports coupe and convertible, while inside, the five-seater shares interior details with XE and XF sedans. Built on Jaguar’s aluminum architecture and combined with strategically placed steel, the combination of materials is meant to give the F-Pace a combination of safety and heightened responsiveness. The SUV will arrive on dealer lots with either the 340- or 380-horsepower V6 gasoline engines found in the F-Type, and it will be followed in late 2016 by a 180-horsepower, four-cylinder diesel engine. Safety features include stereo cameras enabling a 3D view of the road ahead, a pedestrian detection and alert system, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assistance to aid tired drivers. 

    2017 Jaguar XE

    The Jaguar XE compact executive sports sedan is getting an AWD option for the 2017 model year, one year after the F-Type rear-drive sports coupe was expanded to include an all-wheel drive version. The real news with the BMW 3 Series and Cadillac ATS competitor is the introduction of new safety and information systems, including a choice between two different infotainment systems, Apple Car Play, and Apple Watch device integration for locking and unlocking the sedan, monitoring fuel levels, and setting optimum temperature settings before even entering the car.  

    2017 Kia Sportage

    Aimed at capturing the current trends set by European design, Kia has redesigned its longest-running model, adding features and enhancing driving dynamics. The signature raked roofline is still there, but from the nose back, the overall look is now more aggressive, more firmly planted, and contemporary. The Kia “tiger-nose” grille stamp is offset by headlights and driving lights that lend an air of huffy sophistication. Inside, the Sportage has an updated design that compliments the focus on the new safety and technology features. The turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine promises to bolster performance and improve mileage in the SX trim, while the EX and LX trims will have a 2.4-liter naturally aspirated engine that has been tuned for efficiency. 

    Land Rover Range Rover Evoque

    Making its North American debut, the Range Rover Evoque Cabriolet is showing off its convertible SUV stuff at the LA Auto Show. The four-seater has a ragtop with a unique slope that reflects the hardtop design. With a 240-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Evoque Cabriolet has a system that is designed to deploy two aluminum bars to create potential protection if a roll-over should occur. Land Rover gets its first implementation of the Jaguar Land Rover infotainment system in the Range Rover Evoque, which promises an improvement on a system that was lagging behind current industry standards. 

    Mazda CX-9

    Mazda gains more independence from former Ford overlords with the redesigned CX-9 crossover, as the model moves from the shared CD3 platform to a stretched version of Mazda’s own midsize platform used for the Mazda6 and CX-5. Although slightly shorter overall, the redesigned CX-9 gains two inches of wheelbase, which pushes the wheels further to the corners of this three-row SUV. The CX-9 also ditches the 3.7-liter V-6 it shared with the old Ford Edge, and it now uses a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 250 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque when using 93-octane fuel. (Horsepower numbers drop to 227 with regular gas.) As part of its corporate weight-saving campaign, the CX-9 weighs nearly 200 pounds less than its predecessor in front-drive setup and 287 pounds less in all-wheel drive configuration. Mazda claims a 20-percent improvement in fuel economy. Despite the weight reduction, Mazda installed 53 pounds of sound-deadening material, which Mazda claims reduces interior noise by 12 percent. 

    2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS

    What was once referred to as the GL—Mercedes’ top-of-the-line SUV…as long as you’re not counting the limited-edition G-Class—is now called the GLS. The seven-passenger 2017 model gets new interior and exterior styling, enhanced nine-speed automatic transmission, and upgraded air suspension. The suspension is what we’re most interested in since our last tested GL earned a poor rating for emergency handling. Engine news for the 2017 model starts with the 255-hp GLS350d V6 diesel model. Next up is the 362-hp, 3.0-liter V6 twin-turbo found in the GLS450. V8 options continue with the 4.7-liter GLS550, which puts out 449 hp (a 20 hp boost over the last version). The flagship AMG GLS63 churns out up to 577 horsepower (27 additional hp compared to last year’s model). All but the AMG model are hooked up to the nine-speed transmission; the AMG GLS63 gets a seven-speed unit. Available safety equipment includes adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection, cross-traffic alert, blind-spot warning, and lane-keeping assist.

    2017 Mercedes-Benz SL

    The always lovely drop-top SL has several changes for 2017, including styling updates and more horsepower. The entry-level SL450’s twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 engine gets a boost to 262 hp and is mated to a new nine-speed automatic. The next step up the SL ladder, the SL550, is powered by twin-turbo 4.7-liter V8, now making 449 hp. The monster AMG models – SL63 and SL65 – make due with a 577-hp twin-turbo 5.5-liter V8 and 621-hp twin-turbo 6.0-liter V12 engines, respectfully. AMG models also work through a seven-speed automatic. Other notable features include a driver-adjustable system that allows the driver to custom tailor settings for the engine, transmission, suspension, and steering systems—from sporty to economical. Optional features include Apple CarPlay, autonomous braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot detection, and adaptive cruise control. The 2017 SL goes on sale late next spring. 

    2016 Nissan Sentra

    The mid-cycle freshening includes restyled sheet metal that shares a family resemblance with the Altima and Maxima, a retuned suspension, a five-inch center display screen, and available active safety features such as radar blind-spot warning, forward emergency braking, and rear cross-traffic alert. It will go on sale in December, at a starting price of $16,780.

    Subaru Impreza Sedan Concept

    The Impreza Sedan Concept is important to the brand, not just because it features a redesigned sedan that has previously held its own in the crowd of Honda Civics, Toyota Corollas, and Volkswagen Jettas, nor because it is coming from a brand aglow with hockey-stick-like sales charts. The Impreza Sedan Concept is noteworthy for introducing an entirely new design direction for Subaru. It will be the first model produced with a new modular design chassis that will underpin all future Subaru products. The Dynamic x Solid design language signals the inevitable end of Subaru’s traditionally slab-sided, angular designs and aims at more athletic attitude, reflective of the sportiness of Subaru as a lifestyle-oriented brand. Arguably, what is more important is the mechanicals beneath the skin, but we will need to wait for a future show to learn those details. 

    2016 Toyota Prius

    For 2016, Toyota rolls out the fourth-generation Prius—promising to retain the sensibility but add ingredients the pioneering hybrid never had, namely styling and a fun-to-drive quotient. The 2016 Toyota Prius hybrid goes on sale in January with pricing starting at $24,200 for the base Prius 2 trimline and reaching $30,000 for the Prius 4 Touring. Only the base Prius retains a nickel-metal battery; all other versions get a more compact and advanced lithium-ion battery.

    Read our 2016 Toyota Prius first drive.

    2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

    t was never a question of if, only a question of when Toyota would offer a hybrid version of the RAV4 small SUV. With the RAV4’s midlife freshening for 2016, a hybrid was added to the line. Toyota expects that about 15 percent of RAV4s will be sold as the hybrid. The hybrid comes only as XLE and Limited; both trims are fitted with all-wheel-drive. The XLE is priced at $28,370 and the Limited at $33,610. Not surprisingly, customers have been asking for exactly that kind of affordable small SUV hybrid. So in an odd homage to Toyota’s ad tagline from the Seventies, we can say: “You asked for it, you got it. Toyota”

    Learn more in our 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid first look.

    Volkswagen Golf GTE Sport Concept

    VW’s new concept combines what you love about road and race machines wrapped up in futuristic styling and powered by an advanced plug-in hybrid system. Fun and frugal at the same time? We’ll bite.

    The powertrain is a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine adapted from the two-time World Rally Championship winning Polo R WRC and puts out 295 hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s mated to a six-speed DSG automatic gearbox. The engine gets its green credibility via two electric motors – one in the front of the car and one in the rear. Both produce 113 hp apiece and total torque output of 494 lb.-ft. In ideal conditions, VW says the Golf GTE Sport operates as an electric vehicle (with an estimated 31-mile range). However, snapping into sporty mode gets all of the 395 total hp from the three motors to work together, giving the all-wheel-drive concept a 0 to 62 mph time of 4.3 seconds and a top speed of 174 mph.

    Citing the European NEDC cycle for plug-in hybrid vehicles, VW claims it returns 118 mpg.

    CR’s Take: As a styling exercise, the Golf GTE is a stunner. As a technical concept, the multiple motors and the ability to switch among them (and drive-wheel combinations) is quite tantalizing. 

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

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    Car Insurance Can Cost More in African American Communities

    A report released today by the Consumer Federation of America has found that a female driver could pay significantly more for car insurance if she lives in a predominantly African-American community rather than a mostly white one, even when all other factors are equal.  

    The CFA study looked at what five of the largest U.S. car insurers would charge a hypothetical 30-year-old single female driver with a fair insurance credit rating for a basic insurance policy providing the minimum required liability coverage. This example consumer was crafted to represent a typical moderate-income driver. Her profile specified that she rents her home, owns a 2000 Honda Civic EX she drives 10,000 miles a year, and has had no accidents or moving violations.

    The quotes for this hypothetical driver were priced out in 29,664 U.S. ZIP codes using January 2014 premium data from Allstate, Farmers, Geico, Progressive, and State Farm, collectively. CFA used data from Quadrant Information Services, a private company that collects the premium prices that insurers must file in almost every state.

    Of course, no insurance company asks about race or ethnicity when consumers apply for a rate quote, but the companies do adjust prices by location (based on factors such as crime rates, road and weather conditions, congestion, police and fire department response times, and more). The CFA report found that, on average, premium rate quotes for its example driver were 70 percent higher in predominantly African American communities than in communities that are mostly white. 

    The study found that on average, premiums were $622 a year in the ZIP codes where the population was less than 25 percent African American, but $1,060 where the population was more than 75 percent African American. Further, across ZIP codes, as the proportion of African American residents increased, so did the cost of the average premium.

    The CFA examined whether the pricing pattern might be driven by income and found that it wasn't. The example customer was charged more in mostly black communities vs. mostly white, regardless of the average income for that ZIP code. The study found that in low-income ZIP codes, the driver was charged 77 percent more if the community was predominantly African American as opposed to white. The difference was even greater when upper-middle income neighborhoods were compared: If the community was primarily African American, the driver was charged 194 percent more than if it was mostly white.

    "The Consumer Federation of America findings are extremely troubling, given the conversation we’re having as a society about inequality and race, and this begs for a close inspection by regulators and lawmakers to address any unfair inequities immediately," says Norma Garcia, senior attorney and manager of the financial services program at Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. 

    The CFA's findings are concerning, although not surprising, given what Consumer Reports recently found in our own investigation into the car insurance industry, published in September 2015. We analyzed more than 2 billion car insurance price quotes from more than 700 companies and found that the insurance industry relies upon a pricing process that judges you less on your driving habits and record, and increasingly on socioeconomic factors.

    The CFA's report on racial disparities should put further pressure on state insurance boards to act. "Our report strongly suggests that there is disparate pricing in African American communities all over the country, and we are urging regulators to take a hard look to find out why this is occurring," says Tom Feltner, director of financial services for the Consumer Federation of America.

    Urban Risk Doesn't Explain the Difference

    Car insurance premiums tend to be higher in urban areas, where traffic congestion and driver distractions are greater. But the CFA study states that it controlled for population density, and found that in the densest African American “urban core” neighborhoods, prices were still 60 percent higher than in white urban core neighborhoods that are just as dense. The study found the quote in an African American neighborhood was $1,797 per year vs. $1,126 per year in a predominantly white neighborhood.

    The CFA says its findings cannot be used as evidence of deliberately discriminatory practices, because the research does not attempt to assess the intention behind the pricing patterns, only the impact they have.

    But other researchers say that disparities are baked into consumer pricing for car insurance. A 2006 study of car insurance premiums in Los Angeles by UCLA professors Paul Ong and Michael Stoll found that prices were statistically significantly higher in lower income ZIP codes, which are often comprised of higher black and Hispanic populations. The researchers controlled for the differences for accident and stolen vehicle rates and insurer's incurred losses, according to that study.  

    "Even after you account for driving record and local risk factors, residents of these disadvantaged areas ended up paying more," says Ong.

    California has since changed its regulations to reduce how much insurers can use ZIP codes to determine car insurance premiums. According to the CFA report, auto insurance premiums in the Los Angeles area in mostly black ZIP codes averaged 15 percent higher than rates in mainly white Los Angeles ZIP codes. The report also found that the national average increase is 70 percent higher for car insurance rates in primarily African American ZIP codes versus primarily white ZIP codes.

    "I'm impressed by the scope of the CFA report, which is able to show that disparate pricing of car insurance is a pervasive national problem," says Ong. 

    The CFA report was just released today, and insurance companies have not yet had an opportunity to respond, but we will be reaching out to them for comment and will update this story when we hear back.

    What You Can Do

    If you’re concerned about being unfairly overcharged for car insurance, you can take control of the situation and look for a better deal. Here’s how:

    • Shop around. Start with the three insurers that our September 2015 report found to be generally lowest in price: Amica, State Farm, and USAA. (USAA is available to about 60 million people, those who are members of the U.S. military, honorably discharged veterans, and the families of members.) Call or get online quotes directly from the companies. 
    • Dig deeper. Get a wider view of the market by checking prices from at least a dozen companies in your state. Visit thezebra.com, a website that provides customized premium estimates from 18 to 35 insurers per state. This will help you assess whether you have a good deal, or it might come up with an even better one. 
    • Don't forget claims satisfaction. Price is key, but if you suffer a loss, how well your insurer handles the claim is critical. ConsumerReports.org subscribers can our claim satisfaction ratings online.

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

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    Are Self-Driving Cars Coming Too Soon?

    The idea of self-driving cars is a tantalizing promise. Get in the car, tell it where to go, and kick back. Already, YouTube videos show people sitting back and letting Google, Mercedes-Benz, and Tesla cars drive themselves.

    But Volkswagen’s top autonomous-driving executive warns about rolling out the technology too quickly—even as the company hires a self-driving car expert from Apple.

    Although big steps have been made in areas such as intelligent cruise control, and pre-collision warning and automatic braking, those advances are still a long way from a properly working autonomous vehicle in a larger traffic system, said Thomas Form, VW’s head of electronics & vehicle research.

    RELATED: The Latest on VW's Emissions Scandal

    “An automatic driving car will not take the role of the driver. (It) can be overwhelmed by a situation, whereas I, as a driver, would never fail in this situation,” Form said in a speech at the Connected Car Expo at the 2015 LA Auto Show. “There will be accidents with automatic driving cars. We must (decide) what kind of driving skills they will be allowed to have.

    Form noted several complicated obstacles that autonomous vehicle systems still must overcome:

    • Today’s autonomous systems often fail in inclement weather, dim light, or nighttime.
    • The system logic may become confused by a situation, such as a policeman telling a driver to run a red light or stop at a green light.
    • Although self-driving cars can identify other cars, how would an autonomous car react to a tumbleweed in the road? Would it run over a rabbit but stop for a hog? Would it know that a truck with a wide load extending into the adjacent lane should not be passed?
    • Road signs, street markings, and traffic signal locations are different in various U.S. states, let alone between different countries, making the software programming for self-driving cars that much more challenging.
    • If the car recognizes a difficult situation ahead that requires the driver to intercede, the driver may not be ready to take over the car. 

    “Either the car is capable to drive by itself, or the car must know well in advance—at least 10 seconds—to give the car control back to the driver,” Form said.

    Form said that there have been some “convincing” demonstrations of intelligent driving technology—such as automotive supplier Delphi taking a self-driving car across the United States, and VW subsidiary Audi racing a TTS around Thunderhill Raceway in California faster than a skilled human driver—but “the real world is 24-7.”

    “There are so many tiny problems that we must solve,” Form said in an interview following the speech.

    When asked what an autonomous car should do if faced with a Catch-22 accident situation—where someone will be hurt or killed no matter what action the autonomous car takes—Form took the question out of the realm of the ethical and into the pragmatic.

    “If the collision is unavoidable, the car should aim for the farthest ‘target,’ and brake as much as possible,” Form said.

    But what if the farthest target is a bus filled with children, and a nearer target might be a solitary driver?

    Said Form: “Giving a car decision algorithms leads to disaster.” 

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    Amazon Black Friday Deals: How Good Are They?

    We've been eager to know what kinds of Black Friday deals Amazon has this year and now we have a good idea. You'll need a bit of vigilance and effort to take advantage of them, though, as the holiday specials kick off on Friday, Nov. 20, and run for eight straight days, with new offers introduced every five minutes.

    There will be 10 Deals of the Day announced at midnight on Thanksgiving, plus 10 more on Black Friday itself, with Lightning Deals sprinkled throughout the entire eight-day shopping event.

    Some of the Lightning Deals will be available only through the Amazon Mobile Shopping App. Look for them, starting at 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving, Thursday, Nov. 26, on the “App Only Deals” tab. As we previously noted, Amazon Prime members will get a 30-minute jump on most Lightning Deals.

    The retailer will aggregate all the deals at the Amazon Black Friday hub. This year, it has also instituted a “Watch A Deal” feature that alerts you on a mobile device when the deal you're interested in goes live.

    TV Deals

    Amazon says it will cut prices by up to 45 percent on select Samsung and LG TVs this year. Here's our take on the retailer's specials:

    • A 32-inch Samsung 1080p TV for $178. Not sure which model it is, but the Samsung UN32J5003 will be included in Dell's Black Friday sale for $238, plus a $100 Dell gift card.
    • A 75-inch Samsung 1080p smart TV for about $2,000. If it's the Samsung UN75J6300, this is a common Black Friday price. Sears, among others, also has it.
    • A 49-inch LG 1080p TV for about $370. Not sure of the model, but the 49LF5500 is $448 at a number of places.
    • A 60-inch "top-selling" UHD TV from an unnamed brand for $800. Can't confirm it's a Samsung, but Best Buy will have a Samsung UHD TV for $800 in its Black Friday sale.
    • A 55-inch TCL Roku smart TV for $348. No model number given, but Walmart will have the TCL 55FS3750 for the same price on Black Friday. We tested the very similar TCL 55S3700.
    • A 55-inch Hisense UHD smart TV for $448 in an app-only deal. Unless Hisense has a new model, this is the 55H7B2. Walmart will offer this set at the same price.
    • A 50-inch 1080p TV from an unnamed brand for $150 in another app-only deal. No idea what TV this is, but the deal rivals the $149 Toshiba special Best Buy will have for Black Friday.
    • A 40-inch 1080p TV for $145.
    • A 32-inch TCL Roku smart TV for $125. Walmart will have the set for the same price; in an earlier post, we speculated it was the TCL 32S3700.
    • A 32-inch TV from an unnamed brand for $75. Probably a 720p set.
    • An Acer home theater projector for $300. We haven't seen many projectors in these holiday specials, but it could be the Acer H5380BD, which sells for $473 on Amazon right now.

    Electronics Deals

    In addition to the Black Friday deals mentioned below, the retailer will slice about $50 off video game console systems, which is comparable to what we've seen in other holiday deals. But Amazon has several bundles from which to choose.

    • 2.1-channel VIZIO 38-inch sound bar speaker system, $80
    • Sonos two-room streaming music starter set, $49 off
    • Polk Audio Omni S2 Wireless Speaker, $40 off
    • Denon HEOS 1 Wireless Speakers, up to 35 percent off
    • Sony Extra Bass Bluetooth headphones, 50 percent off
    • Sennheiser HD 598 Special Edition over-ear headphones in black, which the retailer claims is an Amazon Exclusive, at more than 50 percent off
    • Jawbone UP3, $99
    • Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, $99.99
    • Amazon Kindle and Kindle for Kids bundle, $30 off
    • Amazon Fire, $35
    • Amazon Fire Kids Edition, $85
    • Amazon Fire TV, $25 off
    • Amazon Fire TV Stick and Amazon Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote, $15 off

    There are also deals on computers, tablets, memory cards, and printers.

    Over the next week, we'll be compiling a list of the best Black Friday TV deals we've seen, so keep checking back for news on where to find the biggest bargains. In the meantime, take a look at our top 10 Black Friday shopping tips and our Countdown to Black Friday calendar.

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    Coffeemakers That Please a Crowd

    Sitting down over a cup of coffee ties a nice bow on an enjoyable social gathering. But a coffeemaker that isn’t up to the task of serving a room full of company can make an awkward end to the evening. Here are some crowd-pleasing models from Consumer Reports' tests:

    Conventional Drip Coffeemakers

    These brew up to 14 cups at a time, but keep in mind that the “cups” are actually 5 or 6 ounces each. Drip machines fill a carafe for serving; some come with a thermal carafe, which helps keep the coffee hot longer.

    Brewing close to industry guidelines of 195° to 205° F for five to six minutes helps the KitchenAid KCM1202OB, $100, make java any coffee drinker can enjoy. This 12-cup drip model had convenient operation and easy carafe handling, along with an LCD display of brew-cycle status, a removable reservoir, and an indicator to tell you when cleaning is needed. There’s also a cupcake-style filter basket with a permanent filter and a brushed-stainless finish (with onyx or white trim).

    Another we like at the same price is the 12-cup Kenmore Elite 76772, which brewed close to industry guidelines and was especially easy to use. It has some similar features, such as a permanent filter (though cone-style), a removable reservoir, and an indicator to tell you when the machine needs cleaning. We also found the carafe fairly easy to use, hold, pour from, and empty.

    Brew-and-Dispense Coffeemakers

    Had enough standing by the end of the night? These coffeemakers brew 10 to 12 cups’ worth of coffee but keep it hot in a tank. Guests serve themselves at the machine so you can relax.

    The 10-cup Viante Brew-N-View CAF-05T, $100, offers more flexibility than other brew-and-dispense coffeemakers we've tested. It brewed at industry-recommended guidelines, and we found its setup, operation, and cleanup fairly easy. Remove the drip tray, and you can brew into travel mugs; a thermal carafe is available as an option. Other pluses: the removable coffee tank and water reservoir, coffee-level window, a washable, cupcake-type filter basket, and a cleaning-needed indicator.

    Grind-and-Brew Coffeemakers

    For serving a more discriminating crowd, you can grind beans and immediately brew them for the freshest coffee. The best from our tests, the 12-cup Cuisinart Grind & Brew DGB-700BC, $170, was impressive in overall performance and has a water filter and a permanent cupcake-type filter basket. We found it fairly convenient to use, and the carafe was easy to manage.

    Single-Serve (Pod) Coffeemakers

    Guests who want Keurig or other single-serve coffees are the opposite of the grind-and-brew crowd—they want it fast. You’ll need to judge, however, whether the minute the fastest of these take to deliver a serving (not counting swapping pods in and out and refilling the reservoir) multiplied by the number of guests to serve, is too much of a hassle.

    The DeLonghi Nescafé Dolce Gusto Genio EDG455T, $130, has ranked high in our tests. It’s an improvement on earlier Nescafé models’ brewing process. Glowing bars indicate how much hot water is available and buttons let users select a serving size. Cup speed and size consistency were top-notch, and the unit was fairly easy to use. On the minus side,  it uses only Nescafé "flavor capsules," and only 18 flavors are available.

    Prefer the flavor of your local Starbucks? Then you'll appreciate the $150 Starbucks Verismo 600, which improves on the earlier Starbucks Verismo 580 for service-size options. First- and second-cup delivery were speedy, and each cup was of uniform size. Where the Starbucks falls short is in its limited options for varying the strength of what you brew. The selection of Starbucks capsules is also so far limited to 12 options, though this might suffice if you like Starbucks stores' offerings.

    Not sure which to choose? Browse our coffeemaker buying guide before checking our coffeemaker Ratings of more than 100 models.

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    2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Charges Ahead

    It was never a question of if, only a question of when Toyota would offer a hybrid version of the RAV4 small SUV. With the RAV4’s midlife freshening for 2016, a hybrid was added to the line. Toyota expects that about 15 percent of RAV4s will be sold as the hybrid. The 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid comes only as XLE and Limited; both trims are fitted with all-wheel-drive. The XLE is priced at $28,370 and the Limited at $33,610. Not surprisingly, customers have been asking for exactly that kind of affordable small SUV hybrid. So in an odd homage to Toyota’s ad tagline from the 1970s, we can say: “You asked for it, you got it. Toyota” 

    The RAV’s hybrid running gear is identical to that of the Lexus NX300h and produces a total output of 194 horsepower from its 2.5-liter four and electric drive. It’s primarily a front-drive vehicle, but an additional rear-mounted motor supplies propulsion to the rear wheels when the car senses front slippage. Acceleration is supposedly one second quicker compared to the regular RAV but with the CVT’s tendency to make the engine moan when accelerating with gusto the feel is quite different. We got 29 mpg overall with the NX hybrid and Toyota’s techies say that the RAV might do one or two better due to its lighter weight and different aerodynamics. On our 20-mile route of suburban driving we got 32 mpg.

    Other than that, the entire RAV4 line received suspension tweaks for a more comfortable ride, sound-deadening measures to make it quieter, some improvement to interior fit and finish, the expected availability of electronic active safety features, a bit of a face-lift, and the addition of a pseudo sporty SE version.

    We will be buying the 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid soon for testing.

    See our complete Toyota RAV4 road test.

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    2017 Hyundai Elantra Aims to Be Roomier and More Refined

    Often relegated to "first new car" status in many buyer's minds, the current crop of new compact sedans strives to be more mature and grown-up. Redesigned for 2016, the Hyundai Elantra joins a graduating class of newly designed competitors, including the Chevrolet Cruze and Honda Civic, that aim to feel more substantial and upscale—regardless of their size.

    At first glance, it's easy to confuse the 2017 Hyundai Elantra for Hyundai's midsized Sonata sedan. While the Elantra retains a class-standard 106-inch wheelbase, somehow Hyundai eked out two more inches of rear-seat leg room. Cabin space feels much like a midsized sedan from a decade ago, rather than a cramped compact car. The open and airy feeling inside is helped by windows that seem slightly larger than the previous Elantra, as well as a dashboard design that avoids the enveloping, cockpit-like feeling found in many rivals.

    One of our complaints about the outgoing Elantra (2011-2016) is that its fuel economy of 27 mpg overall had fallen behind competitors, especially the super-efficient Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla. New engines aim to regain that lost ground.  

    Most Elantras will have a new 2.0-liter, 147-hp (estimated) four-cylinder. Hyundai eschews using a continuously variable transmission (CVT); increasingly popular, these very efficient transmissions are found on the Civic and Corolla, among others. Instead, Hyundai prefers to stick with a six-speed automatic as the Elantra's core gearbox. While conventional automatics typically feel more natural when accelerating than CVTs, we'll see if this choice forces a trade-off with fuel economy. Efficiency-minded buyers can opt for the Eco model, which comes with a small-displacement 1.4-liter, 128-hp (estimated) turbocharged four-cylinder with a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.

    Previous Elantras were fairly noisy inside, and their generally compliant ride suffered from the occasional rubbery jiggle. Thicker window glass, added firewall sealing, and extra foam insulation aim to quell the racket. While the rear suspension remains a torsion beam design, as opposed to a more expensive (and typically better performing) independent set-up, changes in geometry aim to improve the ride.  

    As expected from a newly introduced car, advanced safety equipment is added to the options list. Blind-spot detection will be available on multiple trim levels, while the top-trim Limited will offer forward-collision warning with automatic braking and pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning with lane assist, and adaptive cruise control. We also expect both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto from the new Elantra, but there will be a wait for their introduction.

    Overall, the 2017 Hyundai Elantra appears to be a solid step ahead for the automaker's compact sedan. Since Hyundai has built much of its reputation on providing value, we're curious to see how its pricing compares to the competition, as prices in this class are growing along with compact sedan sophistication.  

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

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    7 Free Shopping Apps That Grab Holiday Discounts and Deals

    It can cost you several hundred dollars these days for a new smart phone, even if you sign up for a multiyear plan. But you can recoup that cost—and save even more—if you use mobile shopping apps to take advantage of discounts this holiday season.

    Last year about 40 percent of the 2,180 subscribers surveyed by the Consumer Reports National Research Center said they used their phone to see whether a product was being sold elsewhere for less. Or they checked promotions and coupon codes. Fifteen percent said they used reward cards from an app to make a purchase. Men and women differed, however, in the ways they used their phones while shopping.

    We think that more shoppers should take advantage of the deals just a touch-screen tap away. The free shopping apps listed below can help. Many share similar functions, but enough features differ that you’ll want to see which apps suit your needs best.

    To protect your phone against apps that may not be as private or safe as you'd wish, check our story on mobile security apps. To find out how app-savvy you are, take our quiz, "Would You Download This App?" Other app safety tips: Regularly check and install updates for your apps, to ensure you're protected against current threats. Download apps only from trusted sources like the iTunes and Google Play stores. And avoid using apps on unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

    Can't find a deal on one of the gifts on your list, even with these apps? Check out the deals at outlet malls. The discounts will be deeper around the holidays, and outlet mall websites often have coupons you can use to save even more. For more holiday shopping tips, see our holiday gift guide and our list of apps that can help you with other holiday chores, like parking and managing your gift lists.

    ––Mandy Walker (@MandyWalker)

    Clutch

    Store all your coupons, as well as loyalty and gift-card data with this app, then use it to flash the appropriate information at checkout to get your discount or have your purchase credited. The app also searches for daily deals and additional coupons that can be scanned at checkout. Clutch has its own loyalty perks, too; when you use them, you build up points that you can redeem for gift cards.

    Works on: Apple

    Favado

    Do you have company coming to your home for the holidays? Cut your bills by comparing real-time sale data from more than 65,000 supermarket and drug stores nationwide. If you don’t want to drive across five ZIP codes to get the best deal on hamburger patties, Favado lets you zero in on local stores with the best deals, so you can save money and gas. (And see our additional ways to save at the supermarket and drug store.)

    Works on: Android and Apple

    Goodzer

    Calling itself the “local shopper’s best friend,” Goodzer compares prices on products ranging from deodorant to little black dresses carried by stores in your neighborhood.

    Type in what you’re looking for and Goodzer will troll nearby stores large and small to find out who has it and how much they’re charging. You can sort the results by price, distance, and store name, and see if it can find an even better deal online.

    Works on: Apple

    Pounce

    See a product you've been looking for advertised in a circular or catalog at a great price? Snap a photo of it with your iPhone and this tool lets you buy it directly from the retailer in two clicks. (Shipping fees are disclosed before your second click.) The app saves credit-card data, contact info, and shipping addresses on your phone, so you only need to input them once. Participating retailers include Ace Hardware, Babies “R” Us, Best Buy, Crate & Barrel, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, Staples, Target, Toys “R” Us and Urban Outfitters.

    Works on: Android and Apple

    PriceGrabber

    This app lets you scan products' barcodes while shopping to see whether other retailers offer lower prices.  

    You can also set up a price alert, which tells you when an item you want has been marked down to your desired price at your preferred store.

    Works on: Android

    RedLaser

    RedLaser scans an item’s bar code to compare prices at thousands of online retailers and local walk-in stores.

    And you can track favorite products, receive notifications of special deals, manage loyalty cards, and make purchases.

    Works on: Apple, Android, and Windows

    RetailMeNot

    This app collects coupon codes and sale information from a range of retailers and lets you bookmark your favorite stores so that you can check for discounts while you’re shopping.

    Instead of printing out coupons, just show the code on your phone to a cashier to get the deal.

    Works on: Android and Apple

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

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    The Quickest Way to Find Replacement Parts for Small Appliances

    They might be small, but when it comes to all their moving parts, many countertop appliances are anything but simple. Consumer Reports has tested food processors and juicers with more than 20 separate components, many of them tiny enough to easily go missing, whether lost during a move or accidentally tossed into the trash. Other parts are prone to breakage—think glass coffee carafes and the blade assembly on a blender. In those cases, the loss of the part could render the machine unusable.

    That got us thinking: How easy is it to get replacement parts for small appliances? The question takes on added urgency during the holiday season, when you want to have all your small appliances in working order to help with the flurry of cooking, baking, pureeing, blending, and more. With that in mind, we decided to run a nonscientific experiment to learn more about the replacement-part process. 

    The setup was simple. We selected food processors that have been on the market for at least six months from five major brands: Breville, Cuisinart, Hamilton Beach, KitchenAid, and Oster. On the same day, we contacted each company to order a replacement for each model’s “pusher,” that little cylindrical widget you use to push food down into the processor. In each case, we tried to order the part two ways—by phone and online.

    As the chart below shows, there was a good deal of variation, enough for us to draw several basic conclusions. Despite the small sample size, we think the findings could save you time and money (and maybe your famous holiday soufflé or homemade eggnog) the next time a vital small appliance part is lost. 

    Model and Price   Duration of Call Total Cost Days to Delivery
    Breville Sous Chef BFP660SIL
    $300
    Phone 9 min. 
    (including 2 min. on hold)
    $4.68 7
    Online 1 min. N/A N/A
    Cuisinart FP-12BCN
    $200
    Phone 27 min. 
    (including 12 min. on hold)
    $16.45 4
    Online 3 min. $17.33 4
    Hamilton Beach 70725A
    $60
    Phone 15 min. 
    (including 10 min. on hold)
    $10.79 7
    Online 4 min. $19.78 4
    KitchenAid KFP1466CU
    $350
    Phone 11 min.
    (including 3 min. on hold)
    $0.00 10
    Online 8 min. $12.37 7
    Oster FPSTFP1355
    $50
    Phone 11 min. 
    (including 5 min. on hold)
    N/A N/A
    Online 5 min. N/A N/A

    Lessons Learned

    Ordering by phone can save money, if not time. The 73 minutes we spent calling the five customer service centers (including 32 minutes on hold) was no one’s idea of a good time. But on average, we saved about $7 compared with the online approach. Consider KitchenAid. The Tennessee-based representative who took our call was not only pleasant, but also she waived the cost of the pusher and the shipping fee. Though ordering online took 3 fewer minutes, it cost us $12.37 (with none of the pleasantries!). In the case of Breville, the pusher wasn’t even available on its website, whereas by phone, the Australian manufacturer won top prize for quickest service call and the cost was reasonable.

    Give it at least a week. All of the replacement parts arrived within 10 days of ordering. Cuisinart was the fastest overall, with both parts arriving in four days. But manufacturers tell us that there could be some seasonality at play here (the holidays are particularly tough on food processors and stand mixers, while summer sees a surge in demand for blender parts). So you might want to leave a little more time during those periods. In a pinch, you can also opt for faster delivery, though the costs get excessive in a hurry. For example, next-day delivery of our $5 Hamilton Beach pusher would have been $57.34, up from $19.78 for standard ground delivery.

    It’s worth noting that a handful of larger small appliance parts are sold at stores. For example, Bed, Bath, & Beyond sells certain thermal carafes for Cuisinart coffeemakers, while Target carries some KitchenAid stand mixer bowls. Start by doing a quick Google search of the brand and model number, which should be stamped clearly on the main body of the appliance.

    Failure could be an option. Our 11-minute call to Oster was all for naught when the representative failed to locate our replacement part in the system. She suggested we check back in 4 to 6 weeks. She also recommended we try the website www.ereplacement.com, which bills itself as a sustainable provider of aftermarket replacement parts that might otherwise end up in the landfill. The site trades more in electronics and large appliances, including items like laptop batteries and dishwasher control boards. Good to know about, but not for our Oster pusher.

    Of course, the best advice of all is to keep your small appliances organized and in good working order. Storing them in a dedicated cabinet or drawer will help prevent parts from wandering away. In terms of care and maintenance, be sure to check the owners’ manual. You might find that some parts are dishwasher safe, while others could come out of the machine warped and damaged—perhaps just when you need it most.

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

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    Has Black Friday Regained Its Mojo?

    For all the hype, Black Friday doesn’t resonate with everyone.

    Last year, 55 percent of Americans avoided the retail rush on the day and the weekend after Thanksgiving, according to the first 2015 Consumer Reports holiday poll.  

    But 44 percent did, in fact, participate in the buying Bacchanalia. By contrast, only 30 percent shopped the same period two years earlier.

    This year, even more people will likely hit the stores: 47 percent of Americans polled told us they plan to go shopping on Black Friday.

    Does that mean consumers are back to their free-spending ways in the post-recession world? Probably not.

    For some, Black Friday represents an opportunity to score unbeatable bargains; for others, it’s as much a part of the season as watching, “It’s A Wonderful Life” for the hundredth time. Among those who plan to shop on Black Friday weekend, 83 percent say it’s because of the deals. Thirty-four percent say Black Friday shopping is a tradition and that shopping during this period is “energizing and exciting.” Others rush to the stores to buy items before they’re out of stock. (Our percentages exceed 100 because respondents could select multiple reasons.)

    While the lure of doorbuster savings is a big part of the Black Friday appeal, retailers don’t always deliver. Forty-four percent of those who shopped during last year’s Black Friday weekend were disappointed with the quality of last year’s deals; 13 percent characterized their overall 2014 Black Friday shopping experience as negative.

    How do Americans really feel about Black Friday? Ten percent love it, according to our survey; 17 percent like it; and 22 percent merely tolerate it. However half avoid it, characterizing it as mostly “hype and a hassle.”

    Christmas Creep

    Black Friday has had its ups and down as a seminal sales period. There are various explanations. It started with the ever-expanding holiday shopping season, sometimes referred to as “Christmas creep.” For several years, retailers have been providing holiday discounts in stores and online much earlier in the cycle (remember Amazon’s Christmas in July sale?), so consumers need not wait until Black Friday for ballyhooed bargains.

    The steady surge in online shopping, with its nonstop barrage of deals and discounts, has further eroded the Black Friday mystique. Credit more generous price-matching policies, too. Major chains like Target now not only pledge to meet or beat the price of other brick-and-mortar competitors, but those of online merchants as well.

    Retail consultant Jack Abelson advises shoppers to not only think about price, but quality, which can be lacking during the highly competitive holiday season as merchants try to undercut one another.  

    “The outside of the television may look the same." says Abelson, "But the components are not as good."

    He says you'll also find retailers selling garments made of fabric with lesser quality. Retailers do this because they are fixated on price, as opposed to value, he says.

    In-Store vs. Online Shopping

    Americans are split on how they'll shop this year on Black Friday weekend. In our poll, 37 percent said they expect to hit the malls, while 34 percent plan to shop online. Some online retailers will also offer free shipping, making online an especially attractive alternative to dealing with crowds, traffic, and long lines at the stores.

    While millions of people will likely experience a shoppers’ high on Black Friday, there’s a growing backlash against the recent trend of stores opening on Thanksgiving Day. Dozens of chains including Costco, TJ Maxx, Publix, Bed Bath & Beyond, Costco, and Crate & Barrel will be closed.

    The 143-store outdoor-gear chain REI made a splash with its plans to not open on Black Friday. CEO Jerry Stritzke said in a statement, “Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of the essential truth that life is richer, more connected and complete when you choose to spend it outside. We’re closing our doors, paying our employees to get out there, and inviting America to OptOutside with us because we love great gear, but we are even more passionate about the experiences it unlocks.” 

    Although the chain’s sales will likely take a hit, Abelson suspects those losses will be easily offset by the windfall of free advertising the OptOutside campaign has generated.

    Timely Tips for Black Friday Warriors

    If you do plan to shop on Black Friday, here’s some guiding advice:

    • Do your homework. Websites such as www.bfads.net, www.fatwallet.com, and www.gottadeal.com reveal advance information about Black Friday circulars and other sales at many stores, and feature downloadable coupons. You can also find out which products come with rebates and which merchants offer free shipping.
    • Is it really a bargain? If you find a product in a flyer at a seemingly low price, go online first to determine whether you can get it at Amazon or elsewhere for less. Take advantage of price-match policies whenever possible.
    • Are online and in-store prices the same? Sometimes, the better deal is available online even if you factor in shipping (often waived this time of year or eligible at a lower purchase threshold). Remember, too, that many big retailers will let you place an order online and pick the item up locally without a shipping charge.
    • Consider the risks and rewards of late-night and pre-dawn sales. It’s true, many retailers offer huge discounts, often selling a few attention-grabbing toys or electronic items at or below cost to lure you into the store, where you’ll hopefully purchase other more profitable merchandise. These “loss leaders” are typically offered in extremely limited quantities and it’s first-come, first-serve. Don’t bother to show up unless you’re willing to wait, sometimes for hours before the store opens, and even then there’s no guarantee. Such sales can be hazardous, too, as overzealous shoppers battle one another for the last Star Wars BladeBuilders Jedi Master Lightsaber.
    • Check return policies. Retailers are becoming stricter when it comes to enforcing return policies. Be sure to ask for gift receipts. If you lack a receipt, be prepared to be issued a gift card or store credit for the lowest price the item actually sold for, not necessarily what you paid for it.
    • Be mindful of restocking fees. Certain products at certain stores are subject to fees, typically of as much as 15 percent, if you open the package and decide to return it afterwards.

    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 Keep Your White Laundry White

    Doing laundry is so routine that it's only when it goes wrong that you give it much thought. White T-shirts gone gray and streaks of detergent crisscrossing clothes fresh out of the dryer are two of the wash woes mentioned in user reviews for washing machines. Here are some solutions from the pros at Consumer Reports.

    Most front-loaders and high-efficiency (HE) top-loaders that Consumer Reports has tested clean better than agitator top-loaders while using a lot less water. Because these washers use less water and work differently than agitator machines you have to use them differently. Pat Slaven, Consumer Reports’ textile expert, offers this advice.

    Problem: White Laundry Turns Gray

    Soil from dirty clothes transferring to other items in the washer is usually the culprit, along with not using enough detergent.

    The fix: Even though new washers have much larger capacities, sorting laundry is still a must. Wash whites separately, and wash very dirty items with other messy things. Load the washer, but don’t pack it, adding a few items at a time to reduce tangling. It’s important to use the recommended amount of HE detergent. It’s less sudsy than regular detergent so it’s perfect for water-saving front-loaders and HE top-loaders. And most detergents today contain agents that help keep soil from redepositing on other clothes.

    “If graying is still a problem, use a detergent with bleaching components,” says Slaven. Tide HE Plus Bleach Alternative made our top picks in our tests of dozens of laundry detergents. “Or try a mild oxidizing agent in powder form, such as OxiClean. It’s milder than chlorine bleach and you can use it for most whites, including cottons and cotton blends.”

    Problem: Detergent Streaks or Clumps

    Streaks jump out on dark clothes. Using too much detergent or water that’s too cold is the probable cause. Liquid detergent doesn't dissolve well in very cold water and can leave streaks; powder can clump and leave patches of powder on clothes. 

    The fix: Measure the HE detergent, no winging it. Mark the fill line on the detergent cap or cup that comes with the powder detergent with a Sharpie to make it easier to get it right.

    The detergent’s enzymes work best when the water is at least 60°F. Most cold tap water is around 60 to 75°F, but it may be 40°F or less in colder regions in northern states and Canada. Automatic temperature control can help. This washer feature adjusts the water to the optimal temperature for the selected setting.

    "If the incoming water is too cold the washer will add some hot water to raise the temperature to an appropriate level," says Emilio Gonzalez, the engineer who oversees Consumer Reports' tests of laundry appliances. All front-loaders and most top-loaders we tested have this feature. Click the Features & Specs tab in our washing machine Ratings to see which models do.  

    Shopping for a Washer?
    You’re timing is right on. We’re seeing big discounts on washing machines and dryers as retailers hype early Black Friday specials. Before you shop see our washing machine Ratings and our buying guide. Check for utility rebates and if you have questions, email me at kjaneway@consumer.org.

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

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