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Consumer Reports

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    7 Automotive Turkeys: The Least Satisfying New Cars

    You can learn a lot from other's regrets.

    To measure owner satisfaction, the Consumer Reports National Survey Research Center each year asks Consumer Reports magazine and Web subscribers a key, revealing question, “Considering all factors (price, performance, reliability, comfort, enjoyment, etc.), would you get this car if you had it to do all over again?”

    A model’s satisfaction score is based on the percentage of respondents who answered “definitely yes” to that question. A high percentage, of course, indicates high satisfaction. But the opposite is also true, and that is the valuable insight that can help prospective buyers avoid their own regrets.

    Here are the least satisfying models in seven popular categories.

    A few quick things to remember before buying your next new car.

    Check the owner satisfaction ratings available on our model pages. And as the feedback from owners shows, there is real value in taking a thorough test drive, considering your needs now and down the road.

    Generally, a car that excels in Consumer Reports' road tests, earns top safety marks, and promises exceptional reliability has the odds in its favor for being a satisfying ride. Our Annual Auto Survey shows that models that take it a step further with personality, and in many cases good fuel economy, prove to be the true standouts.

    The owner satisfaction score is based on based on the two or three model years of data. For models with an asterisk below (*), the score is owner satisfaction is based on one model year only.

    Car: Kia Rio*

    Definitely would buy again: 40 percent

    Ranked as the least satisfying car overall in the latest survey, the Kia Rio fell well below other models in its class. In fact, the next-least satisfying non-sporty subcompact is the Nissan Versa Note, with 53 percent of respondents saying they would buy it again. Some owners thought the Rio was adequate for commuting, but there were criticisms for backseat, cargo space, and lack of features.

    See our complete Kia Rio road test and ratings.


    SUV: Jeep Compass*/Jeep Patriot

    Definitely would buy again: 46 percent

    The Jeep Compass and Patriot mechanical siblings represent the low point for SUV satisfaction. While some owners were pleased with it, there were others like a fellow from Texas who wrote that his Compass is “the worst vehicle I’ve ever driven.” Based on both owner feedback and our testing, there are far better small SUVs available for the same, or not much more, money. Jeep will discontinue both the Compass and Patriot in 2016.

    See our complete Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot road tests and ratings.


    Sporty Car: Hyundai Veloster

    Definitely would buy again: 50 percent

    Sporty cars, by their very nature, tend to get a lift in owner satisfaction from their styling, performance, and personality. Even still, the efficient three-door subcompact Hyundai Veloster saw only half its surveyed owners stating they would definitely buy one again. The comments from owners point to sore spots such as ease of access, response from a standstill, and a snug cabin.

    See our complete Hyundai Veloster road test and ratings.


    Minivan: Nissan Quest

    Definitely would buy again: 54 percent

    Separated from the most favored minivan by 24 percentage points, the Nissan Quest stands out as the least satisfying model in its class. Owner complaints included cheap materials, Bluetooth friendliness, fuel economy, transmission response, and visibility. Further, there was concern expressed for its crash test results; it received a Poor score in the IIHS small-overlap test. But owners did praise its comfort and spaciousness, proving every vehicle has its virtues.

    See our complete Nissan Quest road test and ratings.


    Luxury Car: Mercedes-Benz CLA

    Definitely would buy again: 55 percent

    With its sharp lines and Mephistopheles-grade marketing, the CLA had much promise for its buyers. This sleek sedan provided a new, attainable entry point into the luxury automaker’s product line, but as owners report, there were many compromises to get that tri-star grille ornament. Owners cite the stiff suspension, compact size, and general discomfort as recurring demerits that have them thinking twice about their purchase decision. A couple of owners summed it up well, essentially saying that the CLA doesn’t feel like a “real” Mercedes-Benz.

    See our complete Mercedes-Benz CLA road test and ratings.


    Family Sedan: Nissan Altima

    Definitely would buy again: 58 percent

    Compared against the second lowest satisfaction midsized sedan, the Altima is a significant 14 percentage points lower. The complaints were varied, as exemplified by comments about the seats. Some owners praised the seat comfort, while others considered them to be a true problem. Reading between the lines here, it seems satisfaction varied among the base seats and the upgraded ones with more adjustments. (The lesson from Altima owners is to pay attention to seat comfort and available seat options when shopping for a car.) There were some articulated complaints with the transmission, with some owners explaining that they even had to have their transmission replaced. On the bright side, there were abundant accolades for fuel economy and ride comfort.

    See our complete Nissan Altima road test and ratings.


    Pickup Truck: Nissan Frontier

    Definitely would buy again: 60 percent

    The longest-running model, without a redesign, in our pickup truck category, the Nissan Frontier stands out as the least satisfying. Being a small truck, buyers naturally have certain expectations, as evidenced by the chief complaints surfaced in the survey. Owners frequently cited disappointments in fuel economy and wide turning radius, especially with the crew cab and long bed. Interestingly, owners praised its suitability for road trips.

    See our complete Nissan Frontier ratings.

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

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    What You Need to Know About Supplements and Drug Interactions

    Pick up a prescription at the pharmacy, and you’re likely to encounter shelves of dietary supplements. Is it safe to use one along with your medication?

    “Many supplements, including herbal remedies, vitamins, and minerals, can cause dangerous side effects when combined with drugs,” says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports’ chief medical adviser.

    For example, St. John’s wort, often used as a mood lifter, can cause fever, heart problems, tremors, confusion, and anxiety when taken with antidepressants. Ginkgo biloba, hyped as a memory aid, can increase bleeding risk when taken with blood thinners.

    Yet a 2013 Consumer Reports Survey found that only 28 percent of people taking dietary supplements and prescription drugs together checked with a pharmacist about potential interactions (when a substance such as a vitamin, mineral, herb, or another medication affects the activity of a drug).
     

    Supplements are readily available and often touted as natural, so consumers may not realize that combining them with medications might be harmful. It isn’t always easy to find out whether a supplement may cause problems when taken with a drug; the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require interaction warnings on supplement labels.

    Here we have listed popular supplements and some drugs they may interact with. If you take any over-the-counter or prescription drugs, it’s crucial to consult with a doctor or pharmacist before using a supplement. And if you use any supplements, be sure to tell your doctor when he or she prescribes a medication.


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

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    11 small specialty appliances for special occasions

    The race for space on your counter is on. Big brands like KitchenAid and Electrolux are launching lines of small appliances to complement their large ones. And both new and established brands are coming up with clever ways to help you prepare and cook tasty meals. Consumer Reports has tested a variety of small specialty appliances to see which deserve a place on your counter and which don’t. Here’s the details.

    KitchenAid Multi-Cooker

    We paid $400 for the 4-quart KitchenAid Multi-Cooker and an optional Stir Tower accessory. KitchenAid claims it, “delivers consistent culinary results with more than 10 cooking methods for amazing versatility.” Pre-programmed settings are sauté, sear, soup, yogurt, risotto, rice, boil/steam, simmer, keep warm (up to 24 hours), and slow cook low and high.

    Worth the space? We caramelized onions (yum!) and cooked chili, ham, grits, and much more. The KitchenAid Multi-Cooker might be just the right gift for the person who likes to cook.

    Read the full story.

    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.

    Cuisinart Breakfast Central Belgian Waffle Maker WAF-300, $100

    The Cuisinart waffle maker served up plate after plate of Belgian waffles that were nicely and evenly cooked on both sides, whether on low or high heat. The waffle iron turns out four waffles at a time, leaving you time and beeps when the waffles are ready to serve. The nonstick waffle plates are easy to clean as are the pancake plates that come with the machine.

    Worth the space?
    Depends how much you like waffles. Consider making room over the holidays when you're having overnight guests and serving them breakfast.

    Read the full story.

    Stirio Hands-Free Stirrer

    The Stirio Hands-Free Stirrer, $54, “clamps onto your pot and will stir any food; for example, porridge, risotto, or stew, while you can put your feet up and enjoy a glass of wine or set the table.” The Norway manufacturer, Unikia, also claims that Stirio is safe to use with nonstick coated pots, the rechargeable motor provides at least one hour of stirring before you recharge it, the motor is “silent.”

    Worth the space? Stirio works best on sauces and soups, which usually don’t require constant stirring. Making risotto was a challenge and Stirio wasn’t that quiet.

    Read the full story.

    Ronco Ready Grill

    Ronco claims the $120 indoor grill makes delicious, grilled meals in just 20 minutes. Ronco says the smokeless grill offers true grilled flavor and that it even cooks frozen foods straight from the freezer. The removable grill basket and drip tray make cleanup a snap.

    Worth the space? We tested the Ronco by cooking fried chicken, French fries, steak, sausage, bacon, toasted cheese sandwiches, and burgers and found the Ronco grill preheated fast, cooks much faster than a regular oven, and was even faster than a convection oven.

    Read the full story.

    Philips Digital Airfryer

    Philips claims this odd-looking appliance “fries, bakes, roasts, and grills with a tablespoon of oil or less.” It says the $349 appliance cooks fast with perfect results, and that it’s easy to use.

    Worth the space? Testers were sad to see the Philips Airfryer leave our labs. It quickly preheats, cooks much faster than a regular oven and turned out delicious meat and potatoes. The instructions suggest cutting cooking times in half and reducing conventional oven temperatures by 70° F for pre-made packaged foods, but you’ll have to experiment.

    Read the full story.

    Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven

    Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck wants families to gather at the dinner table and enjoy a great meal together. He admits that’s hard to do, and his solution is the Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven, $250. Puck promises that you can cook extraordinary meals just like he does and that food cooks in one-third the time. He adds that the $249 Pressure Oven can replace your oven, toaster, and microwave.

    Worth the space? It works, but not as dramatically as claimed. And don’t give away your toaster or microwave yet. The manual for the Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven says it takes 7 minutes for lightly toasted bread—most toasters pop up medium toast in about 2 minutes—and a cup of water won’t come to a boil like it does in a microwave.

    Read the full story.

    Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker

    Fuss-free functionality is still the biggest appeal of slow cookers. You simply add in the ingredients, turn on the cooker, and some hours later, dinner is served. Now Crock-Pot, the brand synonymous with slow cooking, is rethinking the product with the WeMo-enabled Smart Slow Cooker, the first slow cooker that you can control and monitor from your smartphone.

    Worth the space? The smart Crock-Pot, $150, did a fine job of heating water and it also turned out a pretty nice beef stew. But so did lower-cost models without the connectivity.

    Read the full story.

    BakerStone Pizza Oven Box

    What if you could turn your gas grill into a gourmet pizza oven for about $150? The BakerStone Pizza Oven Box is supposed to do just that, and fast, turning out pizzas in two to four minutes. The grill pros and pizza master at Consumer Reports ate a lot of pizza to put these claims to the test.

    Worth the space? The pizzas took about four minutes to bake in the box and less time to devour.

    Read the full story.

    Remington iCoffee

    The Remington iCoffee, $150, looks like a conventional drip coffeemaker with a giant basket. But the differences are more dramatic. While a traditional drip coffeemaker showers the coffee grounds with water from above, the iCoffee uses SteamBrew, a process that uses hot water jets to soak and stir the grounds in a swirling soup, akin to a French press.

    Worth the space? At the beginning and end of the brewing process, the machine plays notes from Mozart’s "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" perhaps a suggestion that you and your coffeemaker will make beautiful music together.

    Read the full story.

    Cuisinart Steam Advantage CSO-300

    The Cuisinart Steam Advantage CSO-300, $300, looks like a regular toaster oven, which means its size limits you to cooking one dish at a time, but it has a removable reservoir that you fill with tap water. The results were impressive in our tests. When set to 450° F steam-bake mode, the Cuisinart cooked a fairly evenly browned 4-pound chicken in about 40 minutes—half the time needed for a conventional electric oven set to 350° F.

    Worth the space? We liked the chicken but didn’t save any time cooking rice or broccoli, compared to when we prepared them on a cooktop and in a microwave. Our steam-baked loaf of bread was slightly crispier than the bread turned out by a conventional oven.

    Read the full story.

    Breville Juice Fountain Elite

    Breville makes a lot of exceptional small appliances, including our top-rated food processor, the Breville Sous Chef BFP800XL/A, and our number one toaster oven, the Breville Smart Oven BOV800XL. It can now add juicer to the list of things it does well, after the Breville Juice Fountain Elite 800JEXL/B, $300, landed on our list of top juicer picks.

    Worth the space? Breville's extractor-style juicer cranked out very good juice, plus it has many of the convenience features we look for, including an extra-wide feed tube, which means less cutting up of fruits and vegetables, plus a separate juice jug and pulp container.

    Read the full story.

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

    Small appliance Ratings and recommendations

    Blenders
    Coffeemakers
    Food processors
    Microwaves

    Mixers
    Toasters

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

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    What Americans Dread Most About the Holidays

    The holidays conjure up festive images of roaring fires, egg nog, goofy sweaters, and indulgent meals. But for many Americans, it can be a time filled with heightened anxiety over social situations, money woes, eating too much, and traffic jams.

    The latest Consumer Reports Holiday Poll reveals that while nine in 10 of us delight in the season, we're dreading some of the traditions, folderol, and stressors that come with it. (Check out the first two installments of our Holiday Poll for 2015 to find out whether Americans plan to increase holiday spending and whether Black Friday has regained its mojo.)

    In a nationally representative survey*, we asked adults to rank their holiday dreads from a list of 13 potential pain points. Topping the list were crowds and long lines (cited by 64 percent of respondents), aggressive or throughtless driving in shopping centers (55 percent), and bad traffic (54 percent). Next came weight gain (35 percent), fake holiday cheer (34 percent), and debt (32 percent). Rounding out the list:

    • Gift shopping, a dread for 26 percent of those surveyed.
    • Seasonal movies played over and over on TV, 26 percent.
    • Seasonal music, 22 percent.
    • Seeing certain relatives, 20 percent.
    • Getting gifts from unexpected givers,  20 percent.
    • Traveling, 19 percent.
    • Having to attend gatherings, parties, or events, 19 percent.
    • Disappointing presents, 15 percent.

    And about that fruitcake. In a separate survey we conducted this summer on the least-favorite holiday food gifts, fruitcake was voted far and away the worst way to make a good impression.

    Pain Points Bother Us More Than They Used To

    The dread-o-meter is trending upward. The percentage of respondents who grimaced over a particular pain point has increased significantly compared to the results of a similar question we asked in 2012. Take aggressive or thoughtless driving in parking lots. Three years ago, 40 percent of respondents cited it as a behavior they dreaded during the holiday season. The response this time around: 55 percent.

    Other pain points that bother us now more than they did in 2012: Crowds/long lines, gift shopping, seasonal music, visiting with certain relatives, traveling, having to attend parties and other social obligations. The only irritant that seems to bother us less now is weight gain. So go ahead, live a little and have that second glass of egg nog.

    Tell us whether your holiday celebrations are more Norman Rockwell or more National Lampoon by adding a comment below.

    *Editor's Note: Findings for this poll are based on a nationally representative survey of 1,007 adults ages 18 and older conducted by Consumer Reports National Research Center in November 2015; 77 percent will be shopping this holiday season. Fifty-two percent of the sample was female; the median age was 45 years old.

     

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

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    Best Places to Buy Exercise Equipment

    January is the busiest time of year for exercise equipment sales, as well-fed consumers look to make good on their health-based New Year's resolutions. But if you're considering a home treadmill, elliptical, spin bike, or rowing machine, it might make sense to pull the trigger sooner. Retailers are rolling out special deals now, looking to get in on the holiday traffic, plus you'll find a wider selection of models, including the top picks from Consumer Reports' latest tests.

    While you can purchase exercise equipment online, we don't recommend it. The fit and feel of the machines is very important to your workout experience, especially with ellipticals, where the wrong ergonomics can wreak havoc on your pedaling stride. That leaves two brick-and-mortar options: big-box shops, including those that specialize in sports equipment, like Dicks Sporting Goods and Sports Authority, as well as home centers like Sears and Walmart. The other way to go is with a specialty dealer, assuming there's one located nearby. 

    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.

    If you do have access to a specialty dealer, it's at least worth a visit, especially if you're considering one of the higher-end models that dominate the top of our Ratings, such as the Precor TRM 243 non-folding treadmill or the Landice E7 Pro Sport elliptical. The staff members at these stores tend to be very knowledgeable, plus you'll be able to try all the different machines. One more thing: dealers typically offer delivery and installation. The service might set you back another $150 or so, but given the weight of these machines and their often complex assembly, it could be money well spent.

    If saving money is your top concern, and you don't mind lugging a few-hundred pound box into your home and handling the assembly, then check out the big-box stores. Sears, for example, carries many models that did well in our tests, including the Schwinn 470 elliptical and the NordicTrack Elite 9700 Pro treadmill. Keep in mind that assembly is usually a two-person job, especially when it comes to connecting the console to the machine. As with any installation, make sure to read the instructions all the way through before getting started.

    —Daniel DiClerico (@dandiclerico on Twitter)      

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

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    Best Black Friday Appliance Deals at Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe's, and Sears

    At Consumer Reports we buy everything we test, often at full price. Large appliances typically come with a hefty price tag. So it was heartening to see that some of our highly recommended laundry and kitchen appliances are on deep discount at Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe's, and Sears for Black Friday and through the end of November. (That means you can skip the Black Friday crowds and still snag a bargain.)

    Prices included here are from the retailers’ websites. For more information, check our appliances guide and click on the links below to go to the page for each model.

    Best Buy

    While shoppers often think of Best Buy as the place to buy electronics, the chain also has some terrific sales on large appliances, which are marked down 25 to 40 percent.

    French-door refrigerators

    Dishwashers

    Electric smoothtop double-oven ranges

    Electric smoothtop single-oven ranges

    Induction single-oven ranges

    Gas double-oven ranges

    Gas single-oven ranges

    Front-loading washing machines

    High-efficiency top-loading washing machines

    Electric dryers


    Home Depot

    Walk past the aisles of lumber and lights into the large appliance department, where you’ll find discounts of up to 40 percent on major brands. But don’t be tempted on a deal on a kitchen suite until you’ve checked how each model performed in our tests.

    French-door refrigerators

    Dishwashers

    Electric smoothtop double-oven ranges

    Electric smoothtop single-oven ranges

    Gas double-oven range

    Gas single-oven ranges

    Front-loading washing machines

    High-efficiency top-loading washing machines

    Electric dryers


    Lowe's

    At Lowe’s you’ll also find discounts of up to 40 percent. Take a look at the matching washers and dryers. Lowe’s is one of the first to feature the GE Café refrigerator with a built-in Keurig coffeemaker. It’s marked down $300.

    French-door refrigerators

    Dishwashers

    Electric smoothtop double-oven ranges

    Electric smoothtop single-oven ranges

    Induction single-oven range

    Gas double-oven range

    Gas single-oven ranges

    Front-loading washing machines

    High-efficiency top-loading washing machines

    Electric dryers


    Sears

    Fans of Kenmore won’t be disappointed by the sales at Sears. Like its competitors, Sears is featuring discounts of up to 40 percent. We focused on the appliance department, but also look for sales on tools and outdoor power equipment.

    French-door refrigerators

    Dishwashers

    Electric smoothtop double-oven ranges

    Electric smoothtop single-oven ranges

    Gas double-oven range

    Gas single-oven ranges

    Front-loading washing machines

    High-efficiency top-loading washing machines

    Electric dryers

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

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    What to Do in a Roadside Emergency

    If a flat tire, mechanical breakdown, or empty fuel tank forces you to stop driving, the most important thing is to take actions that ensure your safety. Here are some tips from the auto experts at Consumer Reports.

    Get off the road

    Pull your vehicle as far off of the road as safely possible. If your vehicle is in or near traffic and you can safely walk to another location, do it. If the vehicle is parked on the shoulder of a busy highway, exit on the passenger side. Lock the door and leave a note on the windshield with your mobile phone number in case roadside assistance or the police stop by the vehicle.

    Make your vehicle as visible as possible

    At the minimum, turn on the hazard lights as soon as you realize that your vehicle has problems. Once stopped, use any warning signals that you have—flares, hazard triangle, or a warning light—to alert other motorists of your vehicle's presence. Place the warning device as far behind your car as practical to give other motorists as much notice as possible.

    Display a distress signal

    If you need police help, raise the hood or tie a white cloth to the radio antenna or door handle, or hang the cloth out of the top of the door and close it on the cloth.

    Keep the doors locked

    If the vehicle is in a safe location, you should wait inside. Keep the doors locked and the safety belts fastened.

    Exercise caution

    Use good judgment in accepting help from strangers. If someone of whom you're suspicious stops, lower the window only enough to talk. If you're waiting for help, thank them for stopping but tell them you're OK. If you need help, ask them to make a call for you.

    See our list of recommended items to carry in a roadside emergency kit.

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

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  • 11/25/15--08:59: How to Winterize a Car
  • How to Winterize a Car

    The winter months are hard on your vehicle. Cold temperatures, dirt, and road-salt residue can all cause problems. However, there are some simple checks and maintenance items you can do that will help your vehicle stay in top condition.

    Good Visibility is Vital

    If your wipers are leaving streaks of water on the windshield, or if the wiper-blade rubber shows any signs of cracking or stiffness, replace them with a new set. Use a brush and a scraper to remove ice and snow from the windshield rather than your wipers; a heavy load of snow (or ice sticking the blades to the glass) can overload the motor. If the vehicle is parked outside, lift the wipers off the glass before an overnight snow to keep them from freezing to the windshield.

    With dirt, mud, and salt residue being kicked up off the road, it's likely that you'll be using your windshield washers a lot. Be sure to keep your windshield washer reservoir filled with a washer solution that contains an antifreeze agent. (The standard blue stuff will suffice; just don't use water, as it can freeze in the washer lines.) Make sure that your car's heater is functioning properly and that plenty of warm air is being directed to the windshield when it's in the defrost mode. If your car has a separate A/C button, turn it on when defrosting; even with the temperature set to hot, the air conditioner dehumidifies the air which speeds defogging. (Most cars will automatically turn on the air conditioner with the defroster.) Don't use the recirculate mode.

    Finally, check that all the vehicle's lights are working properly and clear of snow and ice, so that you'll have optimum visibility at night and other motorists will be able to see you.

    Consider a Switch to Winter Tires

    If you drive a lot in slippery conditions, it's a good idea to replace summer or all-season tires with a set of dedicated winter tires, which have tread patterns and rubber compounds specially designed for optimum traction on slick roads. Winter tires typically have shorter tread life and generate more road noise than the all-season tires that your vehicle came with, but the extra safety they provide is generally worth the compromise. (See our tire ratings.)

    If you'll be using winter tires, you might consider having them mounted on inexpensive steel wheels. This will make it easier to switch between the two sets of tires, plus it will save your more expensive alloy wheels from the damage inflicted by harsh winter conditions.

    For extreme conditions, studded snow tires or even tire chains may be warranted. Because they can be tough on road surfaces, check if they're legal in your area before making the investment. Some states require snow chains on certain roads.

    Keep the Battery in Good Shape

    Cold temperatures reduce your battery's cranking power—in fact, at about zero degrees F, your battery only has about half the cranking power it has at 80 degrees. At the same time, the thickened oil in a cold engine makes it harder to turn over. Following are a few easy checks to make sure it's in as good condition as possible.

    On conventional batteries, remove the plastic caps on top of the battery and check the fluid level (see your owner's manual). If the fluid is low, add distilled water. On maintenance-free batteries, check that the window at the top of the battery indicates a fully charged state (check in your owner's manual). If it isn't, have the battery professionally tested at a service station, auto parts store, or repair shop. It may just need to be charged. But if it's defective, it's best to replace it before it goes completely dead. (See our battery Ratings and buying advice.)

    If you'll be using winter tires, you might consider having them mounted on inexpensive steel wheels. This will make it easier to switch between the two sets of tires, plus it will save your more expensive alloy wheels from the damage inflicted by harsh winter conditions.

    For extreme conditions, studded snow tires or even tire chains may be warranted. Because they can be tough on road surfaces, check if they're legal in your area before making the investment. Some states require snow chains on certain roads.

    Make Sure You Use the Right Engine Oil

    Engine oil thickens when cold, making it harder for the engine to turn over. Modern cars use multi-weight oil that is suitable for a wide range of temperatures, but some manufacturers recommend specific grades of oil for specific temperature ranges. Check your owner's manual and plan your oil changes so your engine has the right grade of oil for the right time of year.

    If you expect to experience extremely low temperatures, you can have an engine block heater installed in the engine. When plugged into a household electrical outlet, it keeps the engine oil from getting cold and thick.

    Check Your Cooling System

    Extreme cold can cause rubber parts to become brittle and fail. When the engine is cold, check the radiator and heater hoses for cracking, leaking, or contamination from oil or grease. The hoses should be firm yet pliable when you squeeze them. Replace them if they feel brittle or overly soft.

    For most vehicles, the cooling system should be flushed at least every two years (check your owner's manual). This helps keep corrosion from building up in the system. If a flush is almost due, have it done before the cold weather hits. The system should be refilled with a mixture of antifreeze and water, typically in a 50/50 ratio. (Coolant can be purchased either full-strength or pre-mixed; be sure you know what you are buying.) This will keep your coolant from freezing to well below zero. Colder conditions, however, can call for ratios of 60/40 or 70/30. Check your owner's manual or the back of the antifreeze container. Under no circumstances should you use a higher antifreeze-to-water ratio than specified by the manufacturer.

    Prevent Freeze-ups

    Water can get into door and trunk locks and then freeze, locking you out of the vehicle. To prevent this, lubricate the locks with a silicone spray or door-lock lubricant. If they're already frozen, use a lock antifreeze product to thaw them.

    Protection for Inside and Out

    The dirt and salt of winter can attack your car's paint finish. To help protect it, give the car a fresh coat of wax before the snow flies and wash it regularly during the winter months. With modern vehicles, rust isn't as big a problem as it used to be, but it's still a good idea to have the wheel wells and underbody washed regularly to prevent road salt from building up. If your vehicle has alloy wheels, apply a coat of wax to them to help prevent pitting and corrosion.

    If you don't already have floormats in your car, you should pick up a pair. Even inexpensive ones will protect your car's carpet from the water and mud that tends to get tracked into the vehicle. For maximum protection, a set of rubber all-weather floor mats will keep salty snow from seeping through the carpet and into the car's floorboards. If you do buy aftermarket floor mats, be sure they won't interfere with operation of the pedals.

    Let the Engine Warm Up

    In years past, cars would cough, stumble, and stall if not given sufficient time to warm up. Modern cars can be put in gear and driven away as soon as they are started, but that doesn't mean you should skip the warm-up entirely. A brief bit of idling time before you drive gives the oil a chance to heat up, thin out and flow more smoothly, and you'll want that to happen before you ask your engine to do any serious work. Letting your car idle while you brush the snow off of it should be sufficient. (By the way, there's no need to rev the engine; it'll warm up just fine at idle.) If your car idles higher than normal when first started, waiting until the idle speed drops before putting the car in gear will save wear and tear on your automatic transmission.

    Drive gently until the temperature gauge starts to move off the bottom peg or until the cold engine light (usually blue) goes out. Remember, cars can still overheat in winter, especially if the radiator grille is clogged with snow.

    Visit our guide to winter driving.

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    Best Tablets for Kids for the Holidays

    Put a kid in a room with a tablet and things get very quiet. You might or might not think that’s a good thing, but the bottom line is, kids love these devices. If you’re planning to buy one for the children in your life, think about getting a model built especially for kids. They offer better parental controls, games and educational content geared toward a younger audience, and a protective cover.

    We tested 15 tablets for kids. These models stood out from the competition.

    KD Interactive Kurio Smart ($200, 8.9-inch display, 32GB). This very highly rated tablet distinguishes itself in a couple of ways. First, it’s actually a two-in-one Windows tablet, making it a good entry-level PC for your kids. That explains why it’s among the more costly tablets. (It’s also got more storage than the other kids’ tablets we tested, with 32GB.) What really makes this tablet stand out are its built-in motion controls and the games to go with it, including baseball and bike racing. The downsides: The Windows app store isn’t as extensive as the Android and Apple stores. And at just 7.5 hours, the battery life was shorter than any other tablet listed here.

    Amazon Fire Kids Edition ($100, 7-inch display, 8GB). The hardware is this tablet is exactly the same as in the $50 Amazon Fire. So what gives? With this version, you get Amazon's Kid-Proof Case (normally priced at $22), a year of FreeTime Unlimited (usually starts at $3 a month if you have Amazon Prime and $5 a month if you don't), and a two-year warranty ($18 when purchased separately). That’s as much as $50 in savings if you want all these features. Otherwise, the plain old Fire did as well in our Ratings, and if you buy the $250 Fire six-pack for distributing tablets to a whole herd of neices, nephews, or grandchildren, you pay even less. If you’re looking for a lightweight tablet, this one weighs in at just 0.7 pounds (without the protective cover). App purchases come from Amazon’s curated Android store.

    Fuhu Nabi Dream Tab HD 8 ($200, 8-inch display, 16GB). The great display makes this tablet perfect for viewing movies, which is a good thing since one of its big selling points is the availability of Disney content (which includes games, as well). There’s also a suite of creativity apps kids can use to draw, animate, and publish their own creations. At 1.2 pounds, without the protective cover, this tablet is a bit heavier than the other models listed here.

    Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Lite Kids Edition ($150, 7-inch display, 8GB). Samsung adds a rich interface for children to its budget version of the Galaxy Tab 3. You get a three-month trial to Samsung Kids, a subscription service that includes books, apps, and other content. (It’s $5 a month after that.) If you don't continue paying for that service once the trial period is up, kids still have a recording app, a camera, and drawing app, and other items. You can download other Android apps from the Google Play store.

    LeapFrog Epic ($140, 7-inch display, 16GB display). LeapFrog is known for its electronics-based educational products. The latest tablet from the company incorporates a home screen featuring a village that kids can customize and animate with things like balloons, bike riders, and more. The Android-based tablet also includes access to LeapFrog games and apps. The battery on this model lasted 11 hours in our tests, the longest battery life among the top tablets in our Ratings.

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    How to Prevent a Kitchen Fire This Thanksgiving

    Your kitchen may be the center of your holiday activities, but be careful—it’s also where most house fires start. And the peak day for a kitchen fire is Thanksgiving, when we’re often distracted by friends and family as we’re trying to get the big feast on the table.

    “Unattended cooking is the top cause of fires in the home,” says Elliot F. Kaye, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And fires can be deadly; the greatest risk isn’t from burns but from inhaling smoke and toxic gases. These tips from the CPSC will help make sure you don’t become a victim of a kitchen fire on turkey day:

    How to Prevent a Kitchen Fire

    • Stay in the kitchen and keep an eye on your cooking.
    • Wear short or close-fitting sleeves. Loose clothing can catch fire.
    • Turn pan handles toward the back of the stove to prevent children and others from spilling a pan’s scalding contents onto themselves.
    • Keep curtains, towels, and pot holders away from hot surfaces, and store solvents and flammable cleaners away from heat sources.
    • Watch children closely so they don’t come into contact with cooking food or hot stovetops.

    How to Put Out a Kitchen Fire

    • Call the fire department (911) immediately.
    • Slide a pan lid over flames to smother a grease or oil fire, then turn off the heat and leave the lid in place until the pan cools. Never carry the pan outside.
    • Extinguish other food fires with baking soda. Never use water or flour on cooking fires.
    • Keep the oven door shut and turn off the heat to smother an oven or broiler fire.
    • Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Make sure you have the right type.

    In addition, keep a working smoke detector in your home. If you do get burned while cooking, follow these tips from the National Safety Council.

    Thinking about frying your bird this year? Don’t use an outdoor propane-powered fryer because they are just too dangerous. Instead, consider an electric fryer designed for indoor use. If you want to cook your turkey outdoors, buy a smaller bird (up to 16 pounds) and grill in a covered charcoal or gas grill using a drip pan.

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    Is Your Humidifier Putting You at Risk?

    Humidifiers that make antibacterial claims might seem like the perfect solution for consumers who use these small appliances but dislike cleaning them. And according to an informal survey, that’s most people: 59 percent of respondents who use a humidifier told us they do not clean it every day and one in four people clean theirs twice a month or less.

    That could be a mistake. Both the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency warn that emissions from dirty humidifiers can cause health problems, especially for folks who suffer from asthma or allergies. And in a recent safety study, Consumer Reports found that, when it comes to preventing bacteria from being released into the air, antimicrobial features are no substitute for regular cleaning.

    Antimicrobial claims are found on nearly half of the humidifiers in our tests. Humidifiers that claim to be "germ-free" or produce "clean mist" use technologies such as UV light and "patented" ionic silver that are supposed to keep the water clean.

    We took the 34 humidifiers that had already been tested in our labs for performance and ran two additional tests: One to see whether bacteria would grow in the water reservoirs, and another to see whether bacteria added to reservoirs could then be emitted into the air.

    We based our study on three days of continuous use. After that time we measured microbial growth in the reservoir and found that most of the humidifiers contained increased microbial growth compared to levels found in tap water. The next step was to determine whether the bacteria was emitted into the air, so we added bacteria to the reservoirs of new samples and noted whether it was released into the air.

    Of the three types of humidifiers we tested—evaporative, ultrasonic, and vaporizer—we found that none of the evaporative models emitted airborne bacteria. All but one model of the other two types, a vaporizer, emitted bacteria

    The two humidifiers we tested that are worth mentioning for having both a minimal amount of bacteria growth and for not emitting bacteria into the air are the Honeywell HCM-350 evaporative humidifier and the Vicks V150SGN vaporizer.

    How Humidifiers Work

    In the heating season, the humidity in your home can drop to 10 percent while a level between 30 and 50 percent is recommended. Less than that can lead to sore throats and dry skin while too much moisture can encourage the growth of mold and dust mites. Here are the types of humidifiers to consider:

    • Ultrasonic humidifiers use a vibrating nebulizer and emit a cool mist.
    • Evaporative tabletops blow unheated air over a wet wick.
    • Vaporizer models use a heating unit to boil the water and emit steam and are not recommended for use around children.

    Keep It Clean

    Don’t depend on a certain model or antimicrobial claims to protect you from bacteria buildup. The bottom line is that when you use a humidifier, you need to clean it every day. Not all manufacturers make that recommendation, but we do. Here’s a good routine to follow:

    • Every day. Empty, rinse, and dry the base tray or reservoir before refilling.
    • Every week. Remove water scaling with vinegar and disinfect the unit with a bleach solution following the manufacturer's instructions.
    • Before storing. Clean to remove scaling, disinfect with a bleach solution, and dry thoroughly.
    • After storing. Before using again, clean to remove scaling, disinfect with a bleach solution, and dry thoroughly. Don’t fill it before you need to.

    Humidifiers to Choose

    Bottom line. If you’re concerned about bacteria emissions, consider an evaporative humidifier or the Vicks V150SGN vaporizer. But whatever type you choose, make cleaning part of your routine. Here are the 10 evaporative humidifiers that did not emit bacteria in our tests, listed in order of performance. In addition, there was no bacterial growth in the tank of the Honeywell HCM-350 evaporative model or the Vicks V150SGN vaporizer.

    For more choices see our full humidifier Ratings and recommendations.

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    Best Black Friday Deals on Tablets

    Tablets make great holiday gifts, and if you're in the market for one (or several), you'll find a number of Black Friday deals. Some of the most popular brands and models, and those that do well in our Ratings, are being pushed by multiple retailers. And the best Black Friday deals on tablets will save you around $50 to $70.

    Apple iPads. You can get an iPad Mini 2 (that's the older, less-expensive version without fingerprint recognition; it did quite well in our Ratings) with 16GB of storage for $200 at Walmart. That's a savings of $60. Staples is offering the newer iPad Mini 4 for $300, $80 less than what Apple lists it for.

    If you want the larger iPad Air 2, both Walmart's and Best Buy's Black Friday ads list it for $400, also $80 less than Apple.

    Target shoppers who buy iPads will have receive gift cards worth between $80 and $150, depending on the model you buy.

    Samsung Galaxy tablets. Best Buy has a variety of Galaxy Tabs on sale for Black Friday. You'll save between $50 and $70, depending on the model you choose. The least expensive is the budget-oriented Galaxy Tab 3 Lite, an 8GB model for $80. (The same model is on sale for the same price at Staples.) Also on sale are the Galaxy Tab 4, which did better than the 3 Lite in our Ratings, for $120; the Galaxy Tab A 9.7-inch for $230 (that's $70 less than the regular price); and the smaller version of the Tab A for $180. All of these prices represent solid savings.

    Microsoft Surface 3. Although it's not the latest in the line of Microsoft tablets, the Surface 3 did well in our Ratings. And Best Buy's giving you $100 off the regular price of this 64GB, 10.8-inch device, selling it for $400 in its Black Friday sales.

    Amazon Fire tablets. Even without Black Friday, Amazon has the best deal on its new 7-inch Fire tablets. If you pick up a $250 six-pack (yes, you need a big family to make that worthwhile), you'll get one of the $50 devices free. But you might also want to keep an eye on Amazon's rolling deals throughout the weekend, when individual models could go as low as $35. The Amazon Fire Kids Edition, which is the same tablet with a two-year warranty, a year's subscription to speical kids' content, and a protective case, is already on sale for $85 (down $15 from $100). You'll also find that deal at Best Buy.

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  • 11/26/15--03:00: 2016 Volvo XC90 Review
  • 2016 Volvo XC90 Review

    Once the icon of restrained luxury and bank-vault safety, the Swedish automaker Volvo fell on tough times, seeing sales slump because of an aging, uninspiring model line. Now flush with an $11 billion cash infusion from its Chinese owner, Geely, Volvo’s XC90 flagship SUV represents a make-or-break moment, its executives admit. The XC90 could be the vehicle that wins back those who walked away and attracts those who never thought they would find a Volvo in their garage.

    When automakers say that a car is “all new,” they’re usually fibbing. It can mean just a nip and tuck of sheet metal or some refined interior-trim pieces.

    In the case of the 2016 Volvo XC90, though, Volvo is boasting about a new vehicle platform that will spawn a slew of other models, a new engine and transmission family, and a new infotainment system that could pass for an iPad by Ikea. If you want to brag to your neighbors about your totally brand-new car, this is it.

    Volvo has bet the farm—and all of the moose that graze on it—on a three-row SUV that could find a place on many luxury shoppers’ consideration list. Think Range Rover luxury for tens of thousands of dollars less.

    How did the 2016 Volvo XC90 stand up to our scrutiny? For all of its imposing heft, this Viking-shouldered SUV is powered by a mere four-cylinder engine. The 2 liters under the hood don’t seem very muscular compared with the predominantly six-cylinder engines that populate this segment. But the XC90 is equipped with a turbocharger and a supercharger that help generate an astonishing 316 hp. Despite its seemingly meager displacement, it certainly doesn’t lack power; an eight-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive system put it to the pavement.

    Still, even with this smallish engine, we measured only 20 mpg overall. And for a $57,000 vehicle, the engine should sound and feel polished. Instead, the 2016 Volvo XC90 feels and sounds gritty.

    The big Volvo’s responsive, planted, and secure handling belies its size; the adage “quick for a big man” comes to mind. But the stiff suspension seems best suited to computer-generated roads in ads. In the real world, every road imperfection and ripple is fed to the cabin.

    What really wowed us about the 2016 Volvo XC90 was the quiet and impeccably finished interior. Take the easy step up into the cabin and you’re welcomed with soft leather and beautifully finished wood panels, plus nice touches such as a knurled ignition-switch knob and a drive-mode selector. The front seats maintain Volvo’s tradition of extremely comfortable chairs; the roomy second-row perch offers lots of leg room. And Volvo is among the only manufacturers to offer a built-in child booster seat.

    Volvos have tended to make occupants feel nestled in safe cocoons, but the XC90 is spacious and airy. The big windows and relatively thin roof pillars make it among the best SUVs for driver visibility.

    Our love of the interior cooled when we engaged the large touch-screen console, which looks dazzling until you have to operate it. Almost all audio, climate, navigation, phone, and vehicle settings are integrated via swipe-and-tap commands that are frustratingly unintuitive. If you buy a 2016 Volvo XC90, insist on a tutorial.

    Read our complete Volvo XC90 road test.

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

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  • 11/26/15--03:00: 2016 Mazda CX-3 Review
  • 2016 Mazda CX-3 Review

    In a market growing with several tiny SUV options, the Mazda CX-3 is a dapper, well-designed choice. Unlike competitors that appear tall, narrow, and not quite grown-up (Chevrolet Trax, we’re looking at you), the CX-3 is a fully formed vehicle. Driving it puts a smile on your face. It’s one of the more appealing entries in a new class of wee SUVs, with agile handling and good fuel economy. But it’s snug inside. So snug, in fact, that you might physically outgrow the CX-3 before you’re ready for your next car.

    In our tests of this new field of subcompact SUVs, we haven’t seen much that impresses us. Most entries are either half-baked, or they subject drivers to a harsh ride, loud cabin, and crude interior.

    But the 2016 Mazda CX-3 is different. It’s the first vehicle in this segment to make you think you can have fun with a budget-priced SUV, rather than making you wish you were riding your bicycle instead.

    With some vehicles, you can tell right away that they have a little extra pizzazz. In less than a block, the 2016 Mazda CX-3 demonstrated a quality that trounces the other competitors: It feels light on its feet and is an enthusiastic dance partner, with quick steering that transmits decent feedback. It also easily snaked through our avoidance-maneuver test and was a delight on the track.

    Granted, the ride is hardly plush, but there’s nothing unduly harsh here. Our CX-3 didn’t ride like a buckboard wagon. Like other Mazdas, it’s noisy inside. You might want to step up to the next class of SUV if quietness is a priority.

    The four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic produce smooth and willing acceleration that make the most of the car’s modest 146 hp. You won’t win any drag races with the 2016 Mazda CX-3, but you’ll get a blue ribbon for fuel economy. We measured a frugal 28 mpg overall, trailing only the Honda HR-V’s 29 mpg. But the Honda isn’t nearly as much fun because it feels underpowered and strained most of the time.

    From the outside, the 2016 Mazda CX-3 seems smartly sized. But once inside, it’s clear that it’s short on room. The car infringes on shoulder and elbow space, making the cockpit feel hemmed in. Thick windshield pillars and small windows obstruct visibility. At least all CX-3s come with a rear camera.

    Other available safety features include blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and autonomous emergency braking—quite uncommon among competitors in this price range.

    The driver’s seat is narrow (and lacks lumbar support), the rear seat is snug, and the cargo capacity is puny. In this respect, the Mazda falls far short of the Honda’s innovative interior spaciousness. You can forget about packing for a family vacation.

    And give yourself some time for mastering the controls on the 2016 Mazda CX-3. Audio and phone functions are controlled by a rotary knob between the seats; your actions appear on a prominent screen. But even the most basic functions require lots of taps, twists, and icon deciphering.

    With a starting price around $21,000, the 2016 Mazda CX-3 has a lot of appeal. But it can get expensive quickly; opting for the top-shelf, all-wheel-drive Grand Touring version runs you about $26,000, though it’s equipped with the aforementioned safety features.

    Even with the fun factor, is it worth spending so much for such a little car? For about $3,000 more you can get the next size up CX-5, which has more space and a more muscular 2.5-liter engine. For the same money you could get a well-equipped Mazda3 hatchback. It’s sportier to drive, gets 32 mpg overall, has a nicer interior, and still delivers decent cargo space. If you’re worried about lacking all-wheel drive in the snow, buy some winter tires.

    The 2016 Mazda CX-3 is among the better tiny SUVs, but there may be better price-value options.

    Read the complete Mazda CX-3 road test.

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

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  • 11/26/15--03:00: 2016 Hyundai Tucson Review
  • 2016 Hyundai Tucson Review

    Unexciting but practical. Solid transportation that gets you from point A to point B. Those are the damn-with-faint-praise platitudes that some auto enthusiasts use to dismiss vehicles like the Hyundai Tucson. But many consumers don’t want—let alone need—the ‘wow’ factor. They seek a competent, workmanlike ride and a headache-free ownership experience. That everyday reassurance is what made Toyota the powerhouse that it is. Now Hyundai is trying on those same sensible shoes.

    Although the exterior design of the Tucson hints at flash, the rest of this compact SUV is as generic as store-brand soda. But basic doesn’t mean bad. The Tucson’s 2016 redesign lifts it from a perennial also-ran right up to the forefront. It’s a centerfold for sensibility.

    Two powertrains are available: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a six-speed automatic transmission that comes only on the base SE trim and a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic on the three uplevel trims. It might seem odd that more expensive versions get a smaller engine, but this is the new world order, with small turbo offerings usually the more satisfying alternative.

    In terms of engine performance, the base Tucson SE is saddled with a poky 11-second 0-to-60 time as well as an underwhelming 24 mpg overall that’s matched by other, quicker competitors. Its shifting is often stiff, especially at wide-open throttle, which you’ll often use to get any exertion from the engine.

    The Sport is quicker than the SE yet gets better mileage, tying the segment-leading Subaru Forester at 26 mpg overall. Its dual-clutch transmission quickly delivers thrust to the wheels, but it has a jarring wait-and-snap routine if you perform a rolling “California stop.” First you’re dead in the water while the clutches sort themselves out, then the turbo eventually spools up and bashes you with an angry shift from first to second gear.

    Handling is responsive, nimble, and secure, with only subtle differences between the base SE and uplevel Sport models. In fact, in some ways the SE was sportier than the Sport despite its narrower 17-inch tires, particularly in at-the-limit handling on our test track. The Tucson’s ride is settled, and it absorbs most bumps and ruts—a big deal in a class where most entrants are jittery and uncomfortable. Braking is excellent.


    The Tucson feels especially roomy and spacious for a compact SUV, with an open and airy cabin that offers easy access and a family-friendly rear seat. Head and knee room are generous; even short drivers can sit up high with a good view out the front. The interior is one of the quietest in this typically not-so-hushed category.

    The seats are sufficient for urban romps, although there were some complaints about bottom cushioning needing more support on longer trips. The cargo area can swallow three large suitcases; a cargo cover costs extra.

    In an era when infotainment systems are becoming inscrutable, the Tucson’s controls are a model of simplicity. The cabin trim is rudimentary but neat. All of the door-panel plastics are hard; the dashboard has some soft-touch material, but much of it is far away beneath the windshield, where no one will ever touch it. Components fit together well, with minimal gaps. Again, not flashy, just competent.

    The Hyundai Tucson is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick Plus, thanks to good crash-test results and an available slate of crash-avoidance features.

    Most trims come equipped just one way, with only a choice of color and front- or all-wheel drive. Our SE, at almost $26,000, was quite spartan and lacked a power driver seat and lumbar adjustment. Heated seats and a power tailgate were appreciated on the Sport, but at almost $29,000, it lacked a sunroof and automatic climate control.

    The most appealing combination would be the Sport’s turbo with the SE’s 17-inch wheels and regular automatic transmission. It’s too bad the best version is the one Hyundai doesn’t build.

    Read the complete Hyundai Tucson road test.

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

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  • 11/26/15--03:00: 2016 Fiat 500X Review
  • 2016 Fiat 500X Review

    The all-wheel-drive Fiat 500x is the Jeep Renegade’s Italian assembly-line cousin. Like any relative, it shares some of the same family virtues—and deficiencies. But the Fiat has its own personality and spirit. Where the Jeep is boxy and upright, with a rugged individualistic appeal that says, ‘Let’s get up early and go exploring,’ the 500X is curvy and eye-pleasing—ready for a late date at a nightclub. But the after-party hangover lasts well past the next morning.

    You'll want to wrap Fiat’s twee 500X crossover in a loving embrace, thanks to adorable styling that makes it look like a real-life version of Luigi from the movie “Cars.” But after a too-short while, that initial thrill evolves into the disenchantment of an ill-advised fling.

    With its cute design and cool interior, the 2016 Fiat 500X has loads of appeal in the showroom or on a quick test drive, but a long-term relationship is likely to be fraught with frustration.

    We’ve grown accustomed to the slow acceleration of this new crop of subcompact crossovers. But anyone expecting la dolce vita will wind up yelling made-up Italian curses at the reluctant engine and obstinate transmission. Even if the engine had enough power to deliver acceleration with any gusto, the 2016 Fiat 500X feels bogged down by its nine-speed automatic, which is neither smooth nor responsive. Shifts are stiff, and there’s a reluctance to downshift.

    Pokiness often translates into a fuel economy bump, but that’s not the case here. The car’s overall 23 mpg fuel consumption is more akin to certain larger, more powerful six-cylinder-equipped crossovers.

    Like its Jeep Renegade cousin, the 2016 Fiat 500X is annoying even when standing still, with an idle vibration that chatters through the steering wheel and seat. It’s enough to make you want to shift into neutral at traffic lights.

    Traverse a bumpy surface and the Fiat reveals a dreadful ride that beats you up with stiff shots to your kidneys. Even the highway ride is a tiring, unsettled affair, with a nervous jitter going through your hands and spine. All the while, your ears are assaulted with a cacophony of engine, road, and wind noise.

    Despite its raised ride height, the 2016 Fiat 500X is fairly responsive in corners and you don’t feel much body lean. At least the Fiat engineers got that part of the suspension tuning correct. Still, the steering gives no touchy-feely feedback to your input, removing any enjoyment from the drive. The grabby brakes, particularly at low speeds, are another source of frustration.

    Unlike its rugged Jeep cousin, the 500X’s interior feels as if its designers spent some time among the couture shops of Milan. The layout is stylish and possesses some flair, with body-color panels and whimsical—though cheap-feeling— buttons, knobs, and switches.

    Our midtrim 500X Easy came with a generous options package, including heated seats and steering wheel. But the seats lack sufficient support, even with the power lumbar adjustments for the driver. Visibility out the back is restricted, so if you’re smitten with the 500X, make sure to get the optional rear camera and blind-spot monitoring.

    Fiat incorporated Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system into the 2016 Fiat 500X with a 5-inch touch screen. It’s a big step up from the basic system that evokes DOS-era computers, plus it includes Bluetooth. Despite that, the displays have some quirks. You have to configure the gauge cluster to show the outside temperature, and if you shut off the radio, the time display inexplicably goes away.

    Yes, this is a small vehicle—no getting past that. The rear seat isn’t accommodating, and cargo space is modest, even compared with its subcompact SUV peers. But it has lots of electronic safety aids and did well in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests.One last caveat: Its 500 and 500L cousins have been saddled with well-below-average reliability. This model probably will follow suit.

    Read the complete Fiat 500X road test.

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

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    What to Do If You Lock Your Keys in the Car

    The odds are you’ll lock your keys in the car sometime, and those odds are on the increase. The American Automobile Association reports that it gets calls from more than 4,000,000 locked-out motorists every year. That’s up from 500,000 or less just a few years ago. The culprits, according to AAA, are keyless ignition and increasingly sophisticated electronic anti-theft systems.  

    With the harried holiday shopping season upon us, you might be even more likely to lock yourself out. Here’s what you can do to stay calm and get help on the way.

    Dial 911

    Safety comes first; so don’t hesitate to call 911 if you think you’re in danger. In many cases, the police can unlock the car’s door. If they can’t, they will probably call a tow truck, which will be on your tab, of course. But at least you’ll be safe.

    Call for roadside assistance

    Here’s when those annual auto-club fees really pay off. AAA, Allstate, and other organizations that provide roadside service can quickly get you inside, though it could take a while for them to reach you. If you don’t subscribe to such a service, you might still be in luck. Most new cars come with roadside assistance during the basic warranty period. Your owner’s manual should have the details, but of course that’s locked in the car with the keys. The number to call might be posted on a window decal. If it isn’t, you can get the details by calling a dealership. To be prepared, you should store the number in your phone or write it down on paper and keep it in your wallet or purse. What if you don’t have a new car or you don’t belong to a service such as AAA? Ask about adding roadside assistance to your auto-insurance policy. Also, some major highways are patrolled by trucks offering emergency aid. Keep an eye out for one.

    Call a tow truck

    If you have no free options, most towing services provide lock-out service. Call 411 for services in your area. Or text the words “tow service” and your location to GOOGL (46645). Normal text rates apply. 

    Get a temporary key

    A dealer might be able to make you an inexpensive key that will open the doors (but not start your car) so that you can retrieve your permanent keys. You’ll probably need your vehicle identification number (visible through the lower edge of the driver’s-side windshield) and to prove that you own the car. Of course, you’ll also need a ride to the dealership.

    Keep an extra key handy

    Stash a spare key in your purse, your wallet, or a well-hidden spot on the car. You can buy a small magnetic box that can hold a key and be placed on a car’s underside. Or leave a spare with someone who could rescue you.

    Buy a car with benefits

    Some cars won’t lock with the power-lock button if the key is in the ignition and a door is open. Also, many vehicles from Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury have a door-mounted keypad that lets you tap in a code to unlock the door. If you drive a vehicle with a telematics system such as GM’s OnStar, Hyundai’s Blue Link, or Mercedes-Benz’s Mbrace, you can call a toll-free number to have your car remotely unlocked. Those systems also offer free apps that let smart-phone owners unlock the doors. Check automaker websites for compatible phones and specifics.

    Keyless

    If you have lost the key, things get more complicated. You’re going to need a locksmith. Expect to pay $200 and up for a replacement key. Keys for some higher-end models can cost several hundred dollars and you can buy them only through a dealer, who will need to program the remote for you. And that means an expensive trip to the dealer on a flatbed. (Check out this cool tip for your keyless remote. It'll come in handy on a hot day.)

    Visit our guide to car maintenance and repair.

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

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    2015 Holiday Shipping Deadlines

    If want all of your holiday gifts to arrive by Christmas this year, you'd better finish your gift shopping soon. Check out the deadline information below for FedEx, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service as well as details on Free Shipping Day and more.

    And be sure to follow our tips for safely shipping holiday gifts and find out whether expedited shipping is worth the splurge.

    FedEx

    For shipping within the U.S.:
     

    • Dec. 14: Last day to ship via FedEx SmartPost
    • Dec. 16: Last day to ship via FedEx Home Delivery and FedEx Ground
    • Dec. 21: Last day to ship via FedEx Express Saver
    • Dec. 22: Last day to ship via FedEx 2Day and FedEx 2Day A.M.
    • Dec. 23: Last day to ship via FedEx Standard Overnight, FedEx Priority Overnight, and FedEx First Overnight
    • Dec. 25: Last day to ship via FedEx SameDay

    Shipping deadlines for packages headed to Puerto Rico and Canada, Mexico, and other international destinations vary. See FedEx's Last Days to Ship site for more information.

    For other holiday-related shipping information, check FedEx's Holiday Shipping 2015 website.

    UPS

    For shipping within the U.S.:

     

    • Dec. 17: Last day to ship UPS Ground
    • Dec. 18: Last day to ship UPS 3 Day Select
    • Dec. 22: Last day to ship via UPS 2nd Day Air
    • Dec. 23: Last day to ship via UPS Next Day Air
    • Dec. 24: Last day to ship via UPS Express Critical

    For international shipping deadlines and other holiday-related information, go to: UPS Holiday Shipping site.

    For more holiday shipping information, see: UPS's 2015 year-end holiday service center.

    U.S. Postal Service

    For mail and package shipping within the U.S.:

     

    • Dec. 15: Last day to send packages via standard parcel post
    • Dec. 19: Last day to send packages via First Class Mail
    • Dec. 21: Last day to send packages via Priority Mail
    • Dec. 23: Last day to send packages via Priority Express Mail

    The deadline for shipping packages internationally varies based on the destination. But in most cases, the deadlines are fast approaching—in some cases, as soon as Dec. 1!

    Visit the U.S. Postal Service holiday site for more information about shipping to military troops serving overseas

    Other Shipping Tips to Keep in Mind

    If you're planning to do some of your holiday shopping online, check retailers' specific deadlines.

    Amazon.com says that the cut-off date for ordering items with free shipping is Dec. 16. Orders for gifts to be shipped with standard shipping must be completed online by Dec. 18. The cut-off dates for ordering items to be shipped with two-day and one-day shipping are Dec. 22 and Dec. 23, respectively. Dec. 23 is the last day to order with same-day delivery for delivery by Dec. 25.

    For more information, check out Key 2015 FBA Holiday Selling Dates.

    You'll find similar holiday shipping deadline information for these online retail sites.

    Apple.com
    BestBuy.com
    JCPenny.com
    Target.com
    ToysRUs.com

    Free Shipping Day and Free Two-Day Shipping

    Dozens of merchants, from Bass Pro Shops to Wine.com, are participating in Free Shipping Day on Dec. 18, with offers of items that will purportedly arrive by Christmas Eve.

    For other holiday shopping tips, visit Consumer Reports' Holiday Gift Guide.

    —Paul Eng

    More Holiday Gift Ideas and Tips

    Check Consumer Reports' 2015 Holiday Gift 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.

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

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    Target Offers a 15 Percent Sitewide Discount on Cyber Monday

    Tired of sifting through the river of Cyber Monday specials looking for the one item you want? Target has made life a bit easier by discounting almost everything on its website by 15 percent.

    The retailer has even offered to sweeten some of the deals by letting them "stack" on top of other discounts, including those in its current “10 Days of Deals.” If you're shopping for electronics products, though, you may be disappointed. While a TV, headphones, and a game console are among the touted specials so far, the electronics pickings look slim beyond them.

    To get the 15 percent sitewide discount on Cyber Monday, just use the promo code "CYBER15." Target says there will also be nearly 75 "e-doorbuster" specials, nearly three quarters of which will offer—for that one day only—more than 50 percent off the regular price.

    To get a look at the retailer's Cyber Week deals, which launch on Sunday, November 29, visit Target's ad site.

    Here's a quick snapshot of the deals that have been announced:

    Cyber Monday

    • Xbox One 500GB "Gears of War: Ultimate Edition" Bundle, $300, plus a free EA sports game and a three-month subscription to Xbox Live. We've seen this price elsewhere.
    • Licensed kids’ cameras, including "Frozen" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," at 50-percent off.
    • Select Sennheiser in-ear headphones, also 50 percent off.
    • A Swagway x1 Hands-Free Smart Hoverboard, $399, a claimed savings of $100.  

    Cyber Week Deals

    • A 48-inch Samsung UN48JU6400FXZA 4K Ultra HD TV, plus a free $100 Target gift card, for $600. The TV, which is in our TV Ratings (available to subscribers), is usually $900, according to Target, although it's selling for $750 on Target now.
    • A Dyson Ball Compact Allergy Vacuum will be 30 percent off, with 25 percent discounts on all other Dyson vacuums.
    • Select KitchenAid professional 5-quart stand mixers at 50 percent off, plus 20 percent off all other KitchenAid appliances.

    Under the "10 Days of Deals" program, those spending $75 or more at a Target store on Black Friday will get a 20 percent discount off an entire purchase made between December 4 and December 13. And that discount can be stacked onto any of the Cyber Week deals on December 4 or December 5, though not on the 15 percent Cyber Monday deal.

    Despite the lackluster electronics deals for Cyber Week, Target has some good TV deals for Black Friday. We'll be keeping our eyes out for more holiday specials, so keep checking back for updates.

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

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    Huge Large Appliance Deals at Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe's, and Sears

    At Consumer Reports we buy everything we test, often at full price. Large appliances typically come with a hefty price tag. So it was heartening to see that some of our highly recommended laundry and kitchen appliances are on deep discount at Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe's, and Sears for Black Friday and through the end of November. (That means you can skip the Black Friday crowds and still snag a bargain.)

    Prices included here are from the retailers’ websites. For more information, check our appliances guide and click on the links below to go to the page for each model.

    Best Buy

    While shoppers often think of Best Buy as the place to buy electronics, the chain also has some terrific sales on large appliances, which are marked down 25 to 40 percent.

    French-door refrigerators

    Dishwashers

    Electric smoothtop double-oven ranges

    Electric smoothtop single-oven ranges

    Induction single-oven ranges

    Gas double-oven ranges

    Gas single-oven ranges

    Front-loading washing machines

    High-efficiency top-loading washing machines

    Electric dryers


    Home Depot

    Walk past the aisles of lumber and lights into the large appliance department, where you’ll find discounts of up to 40 percent on major brands. But don’t be tempted on a deal on a kitchen suite until you’ve checked how each model performed in our tests.

    French-door refrigerators

    Dishwashers

    Electric smoothtop double-oven ranges

    Electric smoothtop single-oven ranges

    Gas double-oven range

    Gas single-oven ranges

    Front-loading washing machines

    High-efficiency top-loading washing machines

    Electric dryers


    Lowe's

    At Lowe’s you’ll also find discounts of up to 40 percent. Take a look at the matching washers and dryers. Lowe’s is one of the first to feature the GE Café refrigerator with a built-in Keurig coffeemaker. It’s marked down $300.

    French-door refrigerators

    Dishwashers

    Electric smoothtop double-oven ranges

    Electric smoothtop single-oven ranges

    Induction single-oven range

    Gas double-oven range

    Gas single-oven ranges

    Front-loading washing machines

    High-efficiency top-loading washing machines

    Electric dryers


    Sears

    Fans of Kenmore won’t be disappointed by the sales at Sears. Like its competitors, Sears is featuring discounts of up to 40 percent. We focused on the appliance department, but also look for sales on tools and outdoor power equipment.

    French-door refrigerators

    Dishwashers

    Electric smoothtop double-oven ranges

    Electric smoothtop single-oven ranges

    Gas double-oven range

    Gas single-oven ranges

    Front-loading washing machines

    High-efficiency top-loading washing machines

    Electric dryers

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

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