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  • 12/04/15--11:29: Best new car deals
  • Best new car deals

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

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

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

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

    2016 Chevrolet Impala

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

    Model MSRP Invoice price Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2016 Chevrolet Impala 2LTZ $36,365 $35,121 1/4/2016 5%+

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

    Small cars

    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model name MSRP Invoice Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2016 Chevrolet Sonic Sedan LT $18,420 $18,069 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 Hyundai Elantra SE $19,085 $18,655 1/5/2016 10%+
    2016 Kia Forte LX $18,525 $17,986 1/4/2016 10%+
    2016 Kia Soul + $20,015 $19,202 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 Toyota Corolla LE Plus $19,900 $19,153 1/4/2016 5%+

    Sedans

    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model name MSRP Invoice Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP (+)
    2016 BMW 3 Series 328d xDrive Sedan $42,845 $40,595 1/4/2016 10%+
    2016 Buick LaCrosse Leather $36,825 $36,107 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 Buick Verano Leather Group $27,430 $26,900 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 Cadillac CTS Sedan 3.6L V6 AWD Luxury $56,280 $54,069 1/4/2016 10%+
    2016 Chevrolet Impala 2LTZ $36,415 $35,171 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 Chevrolet Malibu Limited 1LT $24,710 $24,114 1/4/2016 15%+
    2016 Ford C-Max Hybrid SE $25,045 $23,947 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE $26,865 $25,419 1/4/2016 10%+
    2016 Honda Accord LX CVT $23,740 $22,011 1/4/2016 10%+
    2016 Hyundai Azera Limited $40,195 $37,882 1/5/2016 5%+
    2016 Hyundai Equus Signature $62,450 $59,029 1/5/2016 10%+
    2016 Hyundai Sonata 2.4L SE $22,585 $21,920 1/5/2016 10%+
    2016 Toyota Camry LE $23,905 $22,714 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE $30,975 $29,533 1/4/2016 5%+

    SUVs

    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model name MSRP Invoice Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2016 BMW X3 xDrive28i $41,945 $39,770 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 Buick Enclave Leather AWD $46,585 $45,215 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 Chevrolet Traverse AWD 1LT $36,900 $35,820 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 GMC Acadia AWD SLT1 $43,945 $42,654 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T $33,895 $32,501 1/5/2016 5%+
    2016 Kia Sorento EX V6 AWD $34,595 $33,193 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 Nissan Rogue AWD SV $26,925 $25,780 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 Toyota RAV4 AWD XLE $28,570 $27,684 1/4/2016 5%+

     

    Minivans

    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model MSRP Invoice price Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2016 Honda Odyssey EX-L $36,805 $34,071 1/4/2016 10%+

    Sports Cars

    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model MSRP Invoice price Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2016 BMW M235i $45,145 $42,715 1/4/2016 10%+
    2016 Hyundai Veloster $19,935 $19,440 1/5/2016 15%+
    2016 MINI Cooper S $24,950 $23,162 1/4/2016 5%+

    Wagons

    Get dealer pricing information on the vehicles listed below.

    Model MSRP Invoice price Incentive expiration date Potential savings below MSRP
    2016 Ford C-Max Hybrid SEL $28,045 $26,805 1/4/2016 5%+
    2016 Toyota Prius v Three $28,895 $27,876 1/4/2016 5%+
    Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service

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

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

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    Don't Let Pet Allergies Ruin Your Holidays

    For people with pet allergies, holiday gatherings at homes with furry, four-legged animals can turn an otherwise good time into a nightmare of itchy, red, watery eyes, and endless bouts of sneezing.

    Whether you’re the host with a pet or the person with allergies, there are things you can do to alleviate unpleasant symptoms and keep your focus on enjoying the company of friends and family, says the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) and Consumer Reports experts.

    If You’re Hosting People With Pet Allergies

    Send your pet on a vacation. If possible, remove your pet from your home before you begin to clean and set up for your gathering, and for the duration of the event. If you cannot remove your pet, confine him or her to one room before preparations begin.

    Clean, clean, clean. Pet hair can trigger allergic reactions, but the main culprit is actually proteins in pet dander, tiny flecks of shed skin that settle onto wood floors, rugs and carpeting, furniture, and clothing. To reduce allergen levels in the home vacuum thoroughly. Use a vacuum equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, says the AAAAI. Vacuum rugs and carpets extra carefully, and don’t forget to vacuum drapes, couches, and chairs thoroughly, too. Check out the vacuum cleaners that were top dogs in Consumer Reports' pet hair tests.

    Consider a room air purifier. Some research suggests that room air purifiers provide some benefit to pet allergy sufferers, though they seem to help most when they are used longe-term. Still, if you have an air filter it cannot hurt to place it in the main room where you'll host your guests.

    Stock up on antihistamines. Your guests will appreciate it if they forget to bring their own. Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs says a good antihistamine to stock would be over-the-counter one such as cetir­i­zine (Zyrtec and generic), fexofenadine (Allegra and generic), or loratadine (Claritin and generic). Generic versions of all those drugs work just as well—and cost less—than their brand name counterparts, research shows.

    If You Have a Pet Allergy

    Be prepared. Don’t know whether a home you are visiting has a pet or not? Call and check with the hosts.

    Use the right drug. In addition to an OTC drug such as cetir­i­zine, fexofenadine, or loratadine, also consider a steroid nasal spray like fluticasone (Flonase Allergy Relief) and triamcinolone (Nasacort Allergy 24 HR). Research shows they are veryh effective at relieving congestion, sneezing, postnasal drip, and other allergy symptoms, and are now available without a prescription.

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

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    Top 5 Holiday Gifts for Grandparents

    You put a lot of time and energy into finding that perfect gift for your loved ones, but shopping for grandparents isn't always easy. That's why we put together this list of recommended products that will bring a smile to their face. From a popular e-reader to a light-weight vacuum cleaner, grandparents will love the thoughtfulness and practicality of these gifts. 

    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.

    Kindle Paperwhite, $120

    With its velvety case. sharp contrast, and super-crisp text, the Paperwhite is a welcome treat for anyone who takes pleasure in reading. The new typeface was designed for bookworms (hence the name Bookerly), and the character spacing and kerning engine has been upgraded, Amazon says. Spouses will love this gift, too, because the adjustable front light won't disturb their slumber. 


     


     

    iClebo Arte YCR-M05, $450

    Giving someone a vacuum for the holidays says “please clean the floors.” Giving someone a robot vacuum for the holidays says “please relax while the floors clean themselves.” In our tests, the iClebo Arte produced impressive results, especially on bare floors. It tends to move its charging base around while cleaning and it can wobble a bit when it goes from bare floors to carpets, but it was also quiet, simple to program, and easy to clean.

    Check our vacuum cleaners buying guide and Ratings for more information.


     

    Clear20 CWS100A Water Filter, $30

    This budget-friendly carafe-style water filter does the job of built-in models at a tenth of the price. It was excellent in our tests at capturing lead and chloroform—a surrogate for organic compounds such as atrazine and benzene, as well as for particulates in water that give it a bad taste. One caveat: Some user reviews cite trouble connecting the Clear20 to their faucet, so an additional hose extension may be needed. 

    Check our water filters buying guide and Ratings for more information.


     

    Hoover WindTunnel T-Series Rewind Bagless UH70120, $130

    If happy holidays means never having to change messy vacuum bags again, this is a gift for you. This bagless upright offers impressive cleaning, lots of suction for tool attachments, easy maneuverability, and a retractable cord—all in a low-­priced, relatively light machine that weighs just 18 pounds. It also has a manual carpet pile­height adjustment, which better matches the brush to the carpet.

    Check our vacuum cleaners buying guide and Ratings for more information.


     

    Dyson AM09 Space Heater, $450

    The AM09 space heater aced our tests for room and spot heating, and it’s better looking than most of its competition—admittedly a pretty low bar! Dyson stays cool to the touch, which helped it do well in our fire­-safety tests, and includes a remote so that you don’t have to stoop to turn it on. One quibble is the noise at higher settings.

    Check our space heaters buying guide and Ratings for more information.

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

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    Tips for Choosing the Right Bike Rack for Your Car

    The objective is simple: You want to carry your bicycle on your vehicle. But there's a seemingly dizzying selection of bike-rack styles and a wide range of prices from which to choose. To get the right bike rack for your needs, you should do some research and compare the different makes and models. The right rack should fit the vehicle properly, securely transport the bikes, and fall within your budget. The wrong rack could be a safety hazard, scratch your vehicle, and possibly lead to a lost, stolen, or damaged bicycle.

    Bear in mind that a bike rack, even without bikes mounted, will negatively impact your vehicle's fuel economy, as the video explains.

    Consider Your Needs

    The key to choosing the right bike rack is accurately defining your needs and assessing your current vehicle. Consider the following when choosing a bike rack:

    • How often will you use it?
    • How many bikes need to be transported?
    • Will you need to change vehicles (e.g., switch the rack between husband's and wife's vehicles)?
    • Is the vehicle leased or rented?
    • How much are you willing to spend?
    • How important is security?
    • How high can you lift a bicycle by yourself? Can you hold it in position with one hand?
    • Do you have a special bike such as a tandem or one with an odd-shaped frame?
    • Does your vehicle already have a tow hitch or roof-mounted utility rack? If so, what is the load capacity?
    • Does your vehicle have a rear-mounted spare tire that will interfere with certain types of mounts?
    • Do you engage in other sports or activities, which may make one rack type more useful or cost-effective than another?

    Types of Racks

    Bike racks generally fall into three distinct categories: Strap-on trunk racks, hitch-mount racks, and roof racks. All three types have good and bad points, but not all are available for every vehicle. The strap-on is the least expensive, but the least secure; the roof rack is the most versatile, but the most difficult to use; and the hitch-mount is the most expensive, but the easiest to operate. There are also specialty racks that are designed specifically for use with pickup trucks, SUVs or vans. Some truck racks can be used above the bed, allowing for storage underneath. Others have specialty mounts that can be attached to rear-mounted spare tires and the rear ladders sometimes found on conversion vans.

    Here's a closer look at the strengths and weaknesses of the three main types of bike rack:

    Strap-on trunk-mounted carrier

    Strap-on trunk mounts are the least expensive bike-carrier option. They typically cost between $40 and $200, though some models can cost upwards of $300. Straps attached to the carrier's frame attach to the car's trunk, hatchback, or rear bumper. The bike's frame rests on plastic-coated support arms; better carriers have padded or indented cradles to hold the frame. These carriers must be tightly strapped to the vehicle, with the frame supports and carrier arms properly oriented before mounting bikes. Trunk-mounted carriers typically carry one or two, and in some cases three. While trunk-mounted carriers are inexpensive and can fit many vehicles, they do have a greater chance of damaging the vehicle and the bikes than do other carrier designs.


    Advantages

    • Typically not vehicle-specific; one carrier will fit many vehicles
    • Easier to lift and secure bikes in place
    • Rack can be easily stored—even in the vehicle's trunk
    • With price starting well under $100, this is the least expensive type of bike carrier

    Disadvantages

    • Combined weight of the rack and the bikes it is carrying rests on the vehicle's body panels, which can cause damage to paint or sheet metal
    • May block driver's view out of rear window
    • Straps can come loose, wear out, or snap
    • Trunk-mounted spoilers can interfere with installation
    • Straps can be cut easily, compromising security of rack
    • May be difficult to lock bikes to rack or car
    • Bikes may be damaged from backing into an object or being hit by another vehicle
    • Padding may need to be added between the bikes to keep them from banging into each other and causing scratches
    • Trunk cannot be opened with rack installed
    • Rack may obstruct license plate or taillights, which is a ticketable offense in some areas
    • Extra attachments may be needed to support odd-framed bikes
    • Not recommended for Tandem bikes

    Roof-mounted carrier

    Some roof-mounted carriers attach to a vehicle's existing roof rack and crossbars (as found on many SUVs and wagons), while others use mounting feet and clips that attach to a vehicle's upper door frame or rain gutters. The total cost is reduced if your vehicle is already equipped with a roof rack or crossbars that will support the bike mount. Basic carriers start at less than $50 per bike, but the more models start around $100. If you need to buy the basic roof rack and crossbars, add about $125 to $200 to the total cost. If you select a roof rack, you have to decide on the method of mounting the bikes. Some racks use a fork-mount carrier that clamps onto the bike's front-wheel fork. The downside is that the front wheel must be removed and stored elsewhere, but the upsides are that the bike is easier to manage up on the roof and unique frame shapes can be accommodated. Upright mounts hold the bike by the frame or pedal crank. You don't need to remove the front wheel, but you need to reach up higher to put the bike on, and some unusual frame shapes won't fit.


    Advantages

    • Modular setup allows additional cargo storage with an add-on storage case
    • Accessories allow the rack can be used for different activities, such as skiing, canoeing, and transporting other bulky objects
    • Racks can be adapted to existing factory hardware or mounted with the rack manufacturer's nonpermanent footing
    • Lockable mounting available
    • Roof racks allow sedans to hold as many as four bikes, while a large van may be able to carry seven
    • Can support tandem, recumbent, and other odd-framed bikes, depending on rack design

    Disadvantages

    • May be complicated to install
    • Vehicle can't go into parking garages or under any overhead structure with low clearance, including drive-through fast food restaurants.
    • Increased wind resistance reducing gas mileage more than other types; also produces more wind noise
    • Lifting a bike onto a tall vehicle can be difficult, and mishandling can cause scratches to the car's roof or sides
    • May not fit properly on curved-roof vehicles or convertibles--check manufacturer's fit guides for your vehicle
    • Touches the vehicle's body; if installed when vehicle is dirty, may scratch paint
    • Must take care not to exceed the vehicle or rack manufacturer's rooftop weight allowance.
    • Consumer Reports does not recommend carrying heavy rooftop loads on an SUV, as the higher center of gravity can compromise emergency handling and lead to a rollover accident.

    Hitch-mounted carrier

    Hitch-mount racks come in different sizes to match the class of hitch on the vehicle. Class I hitches with 1.25-inch openings are designed for most cars and small car-based SUVs. Class III hitches with 2-inch openings are usually found on pickups and truck-based SUVs. Your choice will depend on the number of bikes to be transported (racks for Class I hitches rarely carry more than three bikes) and your vehicle (Class III hitches cannot be adapted to most cars). Generic brand, single-bike hitch mounts can be found for under $100, but popular brands start at $125 and swing-away models can go for as much as $400. Some hitch-mount racks secure the bikes in mounting "trays," much like the ones used with roof-mounted models. Others require you to strap the bikes securely to the carrier; as with a trunk-mounted rack, you need to take care to keep the bikes from scratching each other.


    Advantages

    • Easy to install—just slide it into the hitch
    • Typically, no need to remove front wheels to mount bikes
    • Easier to lift and secure bikes in place
    • Reduced chance of scratching vehicle's paint when mounting bikes

    Disadvantages

    • Added expense of trailer hitch, if the vehicle doesn't have one
    • Some hitches require drilling holes in vehicle's chassis or cutting rear fascia
    • Some small cars are not rated for towing, and mounting a tow hitch can affect the warranty or cause problems when the vehicle is being serviced
    • Installed rack may block access to the vehicle's rear liftgate; swing-away models that provide better access are more expensive
    • Padding may need to be added between the bikes to keep them from banging into each other and causing scratches
    • Bikes may be damaged either from backing into something or getting hit from behind
    • Rack may obstruct license plate or taillights, which is a ticketable offense in some areas
    • May need extra attachments to support odd-framed bikes
    • Not recommended for tandem bikes
    • May block driver's view out of rear window
    • May be difficult to lock bikes to rack

    More Resources

    Talking to experts and experienced bikers will help you narrow your choices. Also, check Internet chat rooms for personal opinions. Research and careful shopping will help you arrive at the best rack for your needs, budget, and lifestyle. Among the best review Web sites are:

    Bicycling.com
    Bikeradar.com
    Mtbr.com
    Mountainbikingonline.com

    A wide range of products and information is also available at the following retail sites:

    Rei.com
    Rackwarehouse.com
    Sportsrack.com
    Rackattack.com
    Racknroad.com

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

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    5 Must-Have Range Features for Holiday Cooking

    Now’s a good time to shop for a range, cooktop, or wall oven. As the holiday cooking and baking season heats up you'll see more sales. And while you’re saving money, look for features that save time and make cooking easier—they’re especially handy when hosting holiday gatherings and for marathon baking sessions. The cooking appliance experts at Consumer Reports put these five features on their wish list. (Be sure to check our kitchen planning guide if your new range will be part of a remodel.)

    Expandable elements

    Why you’ll like them: They add flexibility, allowing you to switch from a large high-power element to the small, low-power one within it, changing from fast heat to a gentle simmer, and from a skillet to a saucepan.
    Electric ranges to consider: Many of our top picks have this feature, including the top-scoring smoothtop range, the $1,100 Kenmore 95052 and the LG LRE3083SW, $800.

    Warming drawer

    Why you’ll like it: Use the drawer to keep appetizers hot while the turkey finishes roasting in the oven, or put the sweet potato casserole in the drawer while the chicken cooks on high heat to give it that crispy, nicely browned finish. 
    Electric smoothtop ranges to consider: The Kenmore 94242 and the Frigidaire Professional FPEF3081MF, each $900. Note that the top-rated Kenmore 95052 also has a warming drawer.
    Gas ranges to consider: The top-rated Samsung NX58F5700WS, $1,600, and the Kenmore 74332, $925.

    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.

    Double ovens

    Why you’ll like them: Roast a lemon-garlic turkey in one oven while apple pies bake in the other—different foods, different temperatures, and no crossover of aromas. Or use one oven for daily dinner but both when hosting family and friends. Many double-oven ranges pair a smaller top oven with a larger oven below, while some pair two same size ovens.
    Electric ranges to consider: The $1,800 LG LDE4415ST was superb overall. 
    Gas ranges to consider: The $2,000 LG LDG4315ST was tops. 

    Convection

    Why you’ll like it: It can speed up cooking by using one or more fans to circulate the oven’s hot air. Some ovens, usually electric, have an additional convection heating element. There’s a learning curve, so read your manual.
    Electric smoothtop ranges to consider:
    Many of the ranges called out elsewhere in this story have convection, such as the LG LRE3083SW, $800, and so does the Whirlpool WFE905C0ES, $1,000.  
    Gas ranges to consider:
    The Samsung NX58F5600SS, $1,000. 

    Induction

    Why you’ll like it: Offering precise simmering and control, induction uses an electro-magnetic field to heat pots directly. In our tests nothing was faster than the fastest induction burners, but we're talking 2 to 4 minutes faster to bring 6 quarts of water to a near boil. To learn more, read, "The pros and cons of induction."
    Ranges to consider: The Kenmore 95073 $1,700, and the Frigidaire Gallery FGlF3061NF, $,1800.  

    More choices

    See our full ratings of rangescooktops, and wall ovens for all the test results and features. Use the filter to narrow your choices and compare models by clicking the Features & Specs tab. Note the brand reliability information, and be sure to search online for great deals. Email questions to kjaneway@consumer.org. 

    Kimberly Janeway (@CRJaneway on Twitter)

    Holiday Guide

    For more ideas and inspiration, see our Holiday Planning & Shopping Guide. You'll also find dozens of top-rated gifts from Consumer Reports' tests of appliances, electronics and other seasonal gear.

    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 Avoid Used-Car Disasters

    It’s every used-car buyer’s nightmare: Getting a rebuilt wreck despite doing extensive research.

    That’s because they’re difficult to spot. Even buying a model known for reliability is no guarantee that it won’t have problems. That’s what Deborah Boulet of Canterbury, Conn., found when she bought a used 2011 Mazda3 and discovered water leaking into its trunk on the day she took delivery. Upon further investigation, her attorney found that the car had been hit by a snowplow and shoddily repaired. Boulet used towels to soak up the water as she fought a legal battle to get the dealership to buy back her car. “I don’t trust this car at all anymore, and I drive it as little as possible,” she said. “It’s been a nightmare.”

    According to CarFax, a service that provides vehicle history reports, about 20 percent of cars on the road have some sort of accident damage.

    Consumer Reports has found that reports from CarFax and its main competitor, AutoCheck, can’t catch everything. Differing state laws governing salvage titles allow for loopholes big enough to drive a rebuilt wreck through. Often, even when a car’s title is conspicuously labeled as salvaged, consumers such as Boulet never see it. Ask to see the title before you buy a used car, and be especially wary of any car with a “lost” title.

    See our list of the best and worst used cars.

    Though there is no substitute for hiring your own mechanic to inspect any car you’re serious about buying, look for these telltale signs first to thin the herd:

    • The close-up: Inspect each body panel for scratches, dents, or rust. Masking-tape marks ­under windowsills or fender edges indicate paintwork.
    • Straight and narrow: Uneven panel gaps around the fenders, doors, hood, and trunk can indicate shoddy repair.
    • Blend well: Be sure the paint color and finish are uniform, and check inside doorjambs for dull-looking overspray.
    • Attractive personality: Run a magnet along doors and fenders. If it doesn’t pull toward the car, there may be body filler under the paint, indicating body repairs.
    • Crystal clear: Check for moisture fogging in the lights.
    • Tread lightly Make sure the tires have even tread wear. New tires may hide problems.
    • Rust bucket: A coating of rust on bolts or hinges inside the doorjamb is a clue that the car may have been submerged.
    • Sniff test: A musty, moldy smell in the interior or trunk could indicate water damage.
    • Check the tailpipe: Black, greasy residue inside means the engine is burning oil.

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

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    5 Laptops We Love for Under $600

    If someone on your holiday gift list put in a request for a laptop, and visions of four-digit price tags are dancing in your head, worry no more. We found a variety of laptops you can pick up for under $600, including detachables, thin-and-lights, touchscreens, and more.

    Of course, the budget prices on these laptops generally keep them from being among the heavy-hitters when it comes to speed. But all are decent performers, with batteries that will last at least a day.

    Here are five of the best laptops under $600 that we've tested.

    Acer Aspire R14 R3-471T-53LA, $550. You might not use this 14-inch convertible laptop as a tablet very often. It's on the big side, and probably too heavy at 4.3 pounds to carry for extended periods. But that doesn't affect the value: Even if it's never used as a tablet, this convertible laptop is worth the price. It's among the best in its category for battery life, with 13 hours on a charge. It has a generous 1TB hard drive, providing more room than many laptops for storage. And we liked the response and feel of the touchscreen. So if you're looking for a bit of flexibility in a laptop that has more than a miniscule screen, this one could be just what you need.


    Microsoft Surface 3, $500. This machine starts out as a tablet, but when you add the great Microsoft Type Cover keyboard for a total of $500, you've built a very effective laptop. With this model, you get a 10.8-inch display, more than 10 hours of battery life, and a 64GB solid-state drive. It weighs a light 2 pounds with the keyboard. But if the plan is to use it as a tablet, it is on the heavy side at 1.4 pounds—and that's without the keyboard. You get a one-year subscription to Microsoft Office 365, a $99 value. But if you have only one computer, we'd recommend switching to Office Home & Student 2016 ($150) after the first year so you don't have to pay an annual fee.


    Dell Inspiron 13543-3251BLK, $500. This 15.6-inch laptop has a touchscreen and a large 500GB hard drive. Its 11.25-hour battery life is among the longest in its size category. There's also a DVD player, which is becoming increasingly rare on laptops. If you want to stream movies, however, you'll need to add external speakers since the built-in ones are inadequate for all but the simplest use.  


    Toshiba Satellite Fusion 15-L50W-CBT2N01, $550. Toshiba's Fusion is one of the larger convertible laptops we've tested. As with the Acer, even if you never use it in tablet mode, it's worth the purchase price. Battery life is a decent 9.5 hours, and this is another model with a large hard drive—in this case, 750GB. We like the touchscreen; movements feel smooth and easy. And if, every so often, you do fold the display back and use the Fusion as a tablet, well, that just sweetens the deal.


    Dell Inspiron 15 5000 Non-Touch, $400. If you're in the market for a capable computer with just the basics, this 15.6-inch Dell is a great candidate. There's no touchscreen, but that's a good thing—it helps keep the price down. Most other features are what you'd expect to find in a no-frills model, but you're not making huge sacrifices. You still get a 500GB hard drive, 9-plus hours of battery life, and speakers that are good enough for casual listening.

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

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    Why Tires Go Flat in Cold Weather

    As winter approaches, many motorists will experience a low-pressure warning light on the dash or simply observe that the tires look a bit less full than they should. The main reason for this is the dropping temperatures, which cause the air to become denser and consequently lower the tire pressure. Of course, tires naturally lose pressure over time, and there can be a puncture.

    Tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) are a real boon to safety and convenience, and they have been required on all new cars since September 2007. By triggering a dashboard light to let you know when one or more tires is low on air, TPMS can take the guesswork out of wondering whether a tire is low.

    Colder temperatures will cause tire pressure to drop about 1 psi for every 10°F drop in air temperature. Getting a tire pressure warning light on a chilly morning doesn’t necessarily indicate a puncture, just that your tires are running low pressure and you need to top them off as soon as possible. Drive a few miles and the tires will warm up, perhaps causing the warning light to turn off. Whether it goes off or not, your tire pressure needs to be checked with a gauge and topped off. This is a simple DIY chore, or you can ask a mechanic to have a look. (See our tire pressure gauge buying guide.)

    As a general rule, check the pressure monthly. Don’t wait for the tire pressure warning light from to come on.  It’s meant to alert you of a tire losing air while your driving, not serve as a maintenance reminder.

    Even if your vehicle is equipped with TPMS, our recommendation is to use a gauge to check the pressure in all of your tires at least once per month, no matter what the weather is like.  

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

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    Kitchen Gear and Small Appliances for $100 or Less

    With the prices of blenders, food processors, and coffeemakers bubbling up, it can be difficult to find an affordable gift that you know will perform reliably. Fortunately, Consumer Reports has scoured the marketplace and found some top-notch kitchen gear that won’t bust your budget. Here are 12 top picks from our tests for $100 or less. Still too much?  Then check our earlier story on "Small appliance gifts for $50 or less."

    Cuisinart PerfecTemp DCC-2800 drip coffeemaker, $100

    This Cuisinart drip coffeemaker is the plain cousin to one that costs twice as much and is decorated with Swarovski elements. But this one was also a gem in our tests. First, it's one of the only models that can brew a full 14 cups. Brew performance was top-notch matched by a carafe we found easy to handle. It's programmable, with both a small-batch setting and brew-strength control.

    Cuisinart CPT-440 4-slice toaster, $100

    This 4-slot Cuisinart toaster turned turn out evenly browned toast, batch after batch. It was very good at toasting at a range of lights and darks—ideal if your family or guests have different preferences. It also aced toasting a single slice, leaving it nicely browned and not overdone. Special features include settings for bagels, warming and reheating, and defrosting. Its sleek stainless-steel housing and straightforward design should appeal to most tastes and it looks good on the countertop.

    Oster TSSTTVMNDG toaster oven, $80

    Oster is known for making inexpensive small appliances that often perform well, and this toaster oven is another example of that. It proved particularly adept in our tests at baking and broiling, and it's roomy enough to accommodate a 4-pound chicken. It's not quite as easy to use or keep clean as models that cost more, due to its fairly basic design. But if value is your top concern, this Oster is definitely worth a look.

    Breville Control Grip BSB510XL immersion blender, $100

    Breville's immersion blender beat out other models in our tests by a sizable margin. It was superb at blending frozen fruit and yogurt for a smoothie, and it also did a great job in our soup puree test. It comes with chopper and whisk attachments as well as a separate beaker.

    Ninja Master Prep Professional QB1004 food chopper, $60

    This 2.5-cup chopper is part of the Ninja Master Prep Professional QB1004, which also includes a blender container, as well as a mid-sized processing bowl. So you’re getting a lot for your money. The chopper aced our grating test and was very good at chopping and pureeing. The Ninja features a top-mounted motor that you push down to operate.

    KitchenAid Architect KHM7210 7-speed hand mixer, $80

    KitchenAid’s 7-speed hand mixer delivers superb power for folding chocolate chips into stiff cookie dough. It's also very good at whipping, for example when you're beating egg whites for meringue. In terms of features, we like this model’s easy-to-clean wire beaters and its separate whisk attachment. On the downside, it lacks the slow-start option that prevents splatters and it doesn’t come with a dough hook.

    Ginsu Chikara kitchen knives, $75

    For some, the name Ginsu is synonymous with hammy 1970s-era infomercials, but this a serious cutlery company. Its 8-piece set offers incredible value, providing the cutting performance and handle comfort of knives costing three and four times as much. The set includes a chef’s and santoku knife, but not a slicer.  

    Swiss Diamond Classic 10-inch frying pan, $90

    This 10-inch Swiss Diamond nonstick frying pan was very good overall. Food cooked evenly and when the pan was new, food released easily. This pan was very good at withstanding our nonstick durability test in which steel wool is rubbed over a pan for up to 2,000 strokes. The handle is sturdy and stays cool to the touch. Cleanup was a snap. The pan is made of aluminum and comes with a lifetime warranty.

    CDN ProAccurate TCT572 meat thermometer, $80

    This instant-read thermometer is simple and easy to read with large digits and a folding probe. A backlight can assist in low light. The thermometer notes minimum and maximum temperatures and after using was a cinch to clean.

    Singer Expert Finish EF steam iron, $60

    This iron was superb at ironing and delivers plenty of steam. It's the lightest of the recommended irons in our tests. The steam surge button releases a burst of steam when you need help removing stubborn wrinkles. The vertical steam feature lets you remove wrinkles from hanging garments and drapes. The soleplate is stainless steel and the ready light tells you when it's hot enough to use. There's a self-cleaning feature and the auto-shutoff turns off the iron when it's left stationary for a short time.

    SPT SU-4010 large room humidifier, $75

    This Sunpentown tabletop humidifier was good in overall performance, and is intended to humidify areas up to 500 square feet. Moisture output was excellent and it also gets top marks for convenience, noise level, energy efficiency, and its output with hard water. Daily output was 2.31 gallons.

    Vornado AVH2 space heater, $100

    In our tests, this space heater quickly heated a standard size room and also quickly warmed up an individual sitting in the room (spot heating). The heater is cool enough to touch during high heating and it’s safe around combustible materials such a drapes. We found the controls easy to use and the heater easy to move. The Vornado has a multiple speed fan that's pretty quiet.

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

    Holiday Planning & Shopping 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.

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

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    Tips for Shooting Great Holiday Photos

    When shooting photos at a holiday party with your extended family and friends, there are lots of ways you can capture a dud. You might over- or underexpose the photo. Or, your subject may be out of focus. Sometimes, you might just miss the shot altogether for practical reasons, like running out of battery power. The list can go on and on.

    Here are a few tips to help you shoot great holiday photos, whether you're looking for a formal family portrait or a casual candid. And while I wrote most of these tips for a digital camera, most of them also apply to shooting photos on a smartphone. 

    Be sure to charge your battery. You don’t want to take the time to set up a great-looking photo only to find that when you’re ready to start shooting you’re out of power. One important rule is to always fully charge your batteries, and, if you can, have a spare battery on hand. This is particularly important if you are shooting outside in a chilly part of the country. The same weather than can create a photogenic snowy scene will tend to drain your batteries quickly—if you do have a spare, try to keep it warm in an inside jacket pocket. 

    Shoot on cloudy days. Whether you’re shooting indoors or outdoors, look for good lighting. For outside shots, shooting on a cloudy, overcast day may be ideal since it will prevent harsh shadows from appearing on your subject’s face. If you want to shoot on a cloudless day, plan ahead and see if your can shoot during the early morning or early evening, which are the best times to capture photos—the sunlight is softer and more visually pleasing.

    If you’re indoors, you’ll probably need to use your camera’s flash. First, try using the auto setting. If you’re not satisfied with the results, turn on the slow-sync-flash mode, which leaves the shutter open after the flash fires. The downside: If there's any movement in the scene, you'll get some motion blur, although you can also get some very cool effects with slow-sync flash. It's worth experimenting with. If you have an external flash on an advanced camera, such as an SLR or mirrorless camera, try angling the flash so that the beam of light bounces off the wall or ceiling. This creates very natural lighting and helps avoid the red-eye effect. (If you do capture photos that have subjects with red-eye, don’t worry: You can generally correct that by using image-editing software or an app.)

    For outdoor shoots, dress warmly. Although this seems like a rather obvious tip, it’s important, particularly when your photographing kids during the holiday season. Don't ignore this tip even if you're just running outside for a quick photo shoot in the snow: You don't want pictures of people looking uncomfortable and eager to get back inside. Don’t forget about yourself either. It's hard to concentrate and enjoy the process of photography if you're preoccupied by being uncomfortable.

    Don’t pose group shots. You can learn a lot about shooting family gatherings from wedding photographers. And some of the best of those pros avoid rigidly posing their subjects, even when they are asking people to stand together for a group shot. Often, it’s best to let people congregate, more or less, instead of positioning them in a certain order. You can still get the cousins you want in the photo while avoiding the stiffness that often emerges when you ask people to stand in a certain order. Another important tip: While you are shooting, try casually chatting with individuals in the group to put people at ease. 

    Check your ISO setting. If you’re shooting with an advanced camera, such as an SLR, it’s easy to set a high ISO setting, and then forget to change it back to a low ISO setting or to Auto. For example, I once accidentally shot an event at 1600 ISO, and the photos were very noisy or grainy. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much I could do after the fact to remedy those flaws. So, be sure to check your ISO settings before you start shooting.

    Make sure your main subject is in focus. Check your photo to see if the main subject is in focus, especially when shooting indoors. Today's cameras have such fast autofocus capabilities that it's easy to accidentally focus on another object in your composition as you're about to snap the shot. When that happens, especially in low light, your main subject may look soft or incorrectly exposed.  

    Look for expressive gestures. Candid photos are often the most captivating ones. Be on the lookout for expressive gestures. I know that when my relatives get together, their faces can become very animated when they’re engaged in conversation. Also, look for moments when your subjects are joking or clowning around; these can make for a great holiday photo.

    Know your equipment. Before a family party begins, take a few minutes to review your camera equipment and settings, especially if you don't shoot very often. Depending on your camera or device, you may be limited in the number of settings you can change, but it’s best to be able to switch among them during an event without having to resort to a manual or lots of experimentation.

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

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    Samsung Galaxy View Review: The Tablet That Wants to Be a TV

    Consumer Reports has typically found most products that promise to do several things tend to do none of them very well. We expected to find the same issue with the new Samsung Galaxy View ($600), a TV and tablet hybrid.

    The first thing you'll notice about the View is its 18.4-inch screen, which makes it either a gigantic tablet or a relatively small TV. The second thing you'll notice is its integrated stand with a built-in handle, which lets you position the device in an upright position with a horizontal orientation, like a widescreen TV. The stand also swivels so that it can fold close to, but not completely, flat, as shown in the photo above.

    Our TV expert, Jim Willcox, and our tablet/computer expert, Donna Tapellini, checked it out.

    Jim's Take: It's Not a TV

    For my evaluation I took the View home and used it throughout my house. I also gave it to my wife and son to see how they'd react. Based on almost two weeks of daily use, we all felt it was a fun device to have around, but also a somewhat puzzling one. One thing seemed clear, though: It is really more of a tablet than a TV, albeit one that's optimized for streaming TV content. 

    When you first power up the View and complete the initial registration process, you'll see a TV-centric home screen that displays all the TV-related video apps—including Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube, among others—arranged in a rectangular grid. Some popular apps, including HBO Go, aren't visible on that first screen. Unfortunately, the main screen isn't customizable, as it is with many streaming media players, so you can't reorder the screen with your favorite or most-used apps first.

    Local TV service providers—just Comcast, DirecTV, and Time Warner Cable for now—are located in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. This allows you to access the programming you get from these services, with certain limitations. Samsung says that more TV service providers will be added as options in the future.

    While it has a TV feel to it, there's little you can do with the View that you couldn't also do with a conventionally sized iPad or Android tablet. Also, it doesn't come with a remote control, so it operates more like a tablet than a TV.

    Most of the TV apps were ones that were also available on those other devices, and in fact, a few notable apps, such as Amazon Instant Video and Prime Video, weren't listed as available. (I was able to download the apps from the Amazon store.) Plus, whenever we played TV shows and movies, the services were optimized for display on a tablet—i.e. a mobile device—not a TV. Since the View is an Android tablet, you can access other apps via the Google Play app store.

    Connections Are Lacking
    Another issue is that the View lacks any TV-type connections, or really, any connections at all. The device communicates using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. There's no HDMI input for connecting with other devices and source components, so it can't be used as a monitor. Also, the View doesn't have a built-in TV tuner, so you can't get over-the-air broadcasts. Samsung says that it's evaluating official support for an outboard TV tuner in future software updates. The View does have a microUSB port, plus a microSD card slot for adding up to 128GB of memory. There's also a headphone jack, and a slot for connecting the power cord.

    When I tuned into my DirecTV account, I wasn't able to access any of the local broadcast channels that are available in my home. Apparently this is due to DirecTV's contracts with broadcasters. There are some workarounds, such as downloading each of the networks' apps, but again this is more like using a tablet than a TV.

    While it may not be a TV, it's clear that in some ways the Galaxy View is optimized for use as a one.

    For one, it's way more comfortable having the View upright on its stand rather than held in my hands; the large 18.4-inch screen was unwieldy otherwise. When I tried to use it on my lap to watch TV shows or videos like I would normally do with my 10-inch iPad, the device was just too large to be comfortable. And it seemed gargantuan to my 11-year-old son, who's used to an iPad Mini.

    Also, the stand's pivoting design limits you to only two positions: upright, or tilted at an angle. The View never folds completely flat. And when you switch positions, the stand tends to snap back and forth between the two pretty aggressively—my son seemed worried that his fingers might get crushed during one of the transitions.

    One other thing my son noticed: The Galaxy View, at nearly 6 pounds, is pretty heavy for a tablet. It was no big deal to move the View from one room to another, but we'd hesitate to throw it in a backpack for use at a coffee shop.

    Since there's no Ethernet jack on the View, you need to have both decent broadband and a good router to get the best picture quality. I had no major issues with video streaming via Wi-Fi in my house, other than some occasional buffering during videos in rooms that were farthest away from my router.

    As for picture quality, the View's 1080p LCD screen ably displayed HD content once the signal locked in, which generally took a few seconds. But there are several tablets now with higher-resolution screens that can provide more detailed images. We did note that the viewing angle on the Galaxy View was fairly wide, leading us to believe it might be an IPS panel, so two people could watch shows without the image degrading.

    Donna's Take: It's Not a Tablet

    What’s wrong with a giant tablet? In theory, it sounds kind of fun. A big screen for racing around the sand with "Beach Buggy Blitz"; viewing great-looking photos on magazine pages and reading without squinting because you’re trying to squeeze a whole page onto a 7- or 8-inch screen; watching movies wherever you want, on a luxuriously large display.

    With that in mind, I thought the View could indeed make a great tablet. But the idea behind a tablet is still portability, and with this device too many issues get in the way of that critical quality.

    The built-in stand creates some of those issues. You can either stand the View up at a slight angle or lay it down on a table, also at a slight angle. I’ve been spoiled by the multi-position stand found on the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, which not only offers several options for propping the device up, but also folds flat against the tablet.

    And there are other problems with the View’s stand. I tried using the device holding it with both hands on my lap—and I immediately caught my fingers between the stand and the display. That hurt! In addition, the stand isn’t removable, and because it doesn’t fold flat, it’s hard to pack the View up to take out of the house. Two features of the stand that I did appreciate: the built-in handle for carrying the View, and the textured back of the stand, which makes it easier to grip. 

    There’s no doubt that it’s fun playing some games using the View’s large screen, but it lacks an accelerometer so you won’t be able to play games that require you to tilt the display, such as to steer a car in a racing game. The games generally looked good, but when I ran a benchmark on the View, its score was well below that of the top tablets in our tests. I didn’t notice that much with the games I tried out—"Smash Hit," "Angry Birds," "Beach Buggy Blitz," and "Dots." But that lesser performance could show up in other games.

    It’s possible that you could look at the View as a computer, though it has somewhat limited functionality. Yes, you can run Microsoft Office apps on the Android operating system, but if you’re a Windows or Mac user it’s likely there are other applications that you need that aren’t Android-compatible. It does have Bluetooth, though, so you can use use a Bluetooth keyboard as an input device.

    In addition, the View simply isn’t powered like a full-fledged laptop—it uses the same processor that powers Samsung’s Chromebook, which means it’s good for Web-based apps but not more demanding applications. 

    That leaves movie viewing. It’s great to be able to watch as many episodes of "Girls" or hours of Twitch feeds as I want on a big screen in my home office. But I can do that just as easily with my laptop—there's no need for yet another device in the house.

    My take: If you want a tablet with a really big screen, you might like the View. But this device stretches the definition of the category, and not necessarily for the best. Keep in mind that you can pick up a more portable Android tablet—like Samsung's own Galaxy Tab S2 8, which tops our tablet Ratings—for just $400.

    But It Is a Lot of Fun

    Hey, it's Jim again. We've been somewhat critical of View so far, but we have to acknowledge that having it around our homes was a blast. My son thought it was cool that he could be watching a Minecraft YouTube video in his room, get called down to dinner, and just bring the View down to the kitchen table without missing a minute of the action. Of course he could do the same thing with his iPad Mini, but he liked the action better on the View's bigger 16:9 screen and the stand let him situate the View upright more easily. The sound from the View's built-in speakers, while not great, was markedly better than the sound on his Mini. And once he got the hang of the handle—and past the fear of it snapping shut on his fingers—he found it easy to carry from room to room.

    For me the View was a bit more of a novelty, since we already have large-screen TVs in several rooms of our house. However, I liked using the View while I cooked. It was easy to move it from one kitchen counter to another and to pause what I was watching, swipe to the tablet screen and click on to the Internet to check a recipe. I did wish the View came with a remote control so I didn't actually have to touch the screen, and for changing the TV's volume when I wasn't right next to the device.

    My favorite use for the View was to take it downstairs to my small woodworking shop, which isn't wired for TV. For the first time ever I was able to catch a football game while working on one of my electric guitars, and easily click to instructional YouTube videos when I got stuck on wiring schematics.

    The Bottom Line
    So the big question of course, is whether you should buy a Galaxy View. Unfortunately, both Donna and I thought its $600 price was too high, especially in a world where $500 can get you a 50-inch 1080p TV. Samsung must have agreed, as we noticed just before posting that you can now get the View for $500 as part of a promotion that runs through the end of this month. But that still seems like a lot.

    That said, if you have the discretionary income, the Samsung Galaxy View might be an interesting option for bringing entertainment, especially movies and TV shows, into rooms where you might not want a permanent TV. If Samsung can get the price down to about $350 and add an HDMI input, we think the Galaxy View will have considerable appeal.

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

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  • 12/07/15--15:16: The Best Smartphone Cameras
  • The Best Smartphone Cameras

    The smartphones listed below were culled from our cell phone Ratings because their camera performances were simply the best. They might not match the image quality of an SLR—or even the top point-and-shoots—but you can't beat them for portability and sharing options. And they're getting better all the time at taking photos.

    These days, you can count on cell phones to have higher-resolution sensors (12 megapixels or more) to produce sharper cropped or enlarged prints, optical image stabilizers to help minimize the blurriness from a shaky hand, and video cameras that can capture spur-of-the-moment action with high-definition clarity, too.

    7 Best Smartphone Cameras

    When we took an up-close look at our Ratings, these phones rose to the top for camera performance:

    1. Samsung Galaxy Note Edge
    2. Nexus 6
    3. Motorola Moto X Pure Edition
    4. Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    5. LG G4
    6. Apple iPhone 6s Plus
    7. Apple iPhone 6s

    Stunning Still Images

    The Nexus 6 aced our still-image-quality tests, which evaluate resolution, dynamic range, color accuracy, and visual noise, even without the higher resolution sensors of some rivals. But don’t just write the other phones off. In fact, the LG G4 and iPhone 6s Plus excelled at taking low-light shots.

    Video Stars

    All of these smartphones took videos good enough to upload to Youtube or Facebook. They can also record at a resolution (2160x3840) high enough to feed an Ultra HD TV. But the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 took slightly better HD video (1080p), the most common form, under daylight and indoor conditions. The Motorola Pure and iPhone 6s models had trouble focusing on subjects in low light.

    Selfie 'Shticks'

    Selfie-taking may be chided as an obnoxious habit, but it’s a habit many of us can’t seem to break. And these phones all have a feature or two that can help you make the most of . . . yourself.

    The LG G4's 8-megapixel front-facing camera has the highest resolution in our batch, enough to capture almost every nook and cranny of your hopefully smiling face. The Samsungs, Motorola, and Apples have wide-angle selfie cameras, which can come in handy when trying to squeeze more people and scenery into your shots. And if vanity seizes you in the dark, the Motorola Pure’s front camera has its own LED flash. The Apples and LG have the next best thing: Their displays light up briefly to simulate a flash.

    These models also make the act of taking a selfie more convenient. For instance, the LGs and Samsungs let you use hand gestures or voice commands like "say cheese" or "smile" to snap a photo. The Samsungs also have a mode that enables you to snap a selfie using the rear camera.

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

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    Hybrids 101 - Guide to Hybrid Cars

    Most people know by now that hybrids use electricity to achieve good gas mileage, but how their advanced powertrains work and whether they help your pocketbook is a bit more complicated. Here we'll take a look at the basic technology and its variations.

    The Theory Behind Hybrid Cars

    What sets hybrids apart from regular cars is that they essentially use two powertrains, an electric motor and a gasoline engine. The electric motor draws its power from a large battery pack that is recharged by the gas engine and by energy recouped from the brakes.

    The electrically powered car has been a vision for the future for decades. But after its development stalled in the mid-1990s, hybrids emerged, promising a compromise between the benefits and limitations of both electric and gasoline powertrains.

    Electric motors are very efficient at accelerating, and unlike their internal-combustion counterparts, produce their maximum power from a dead stop. But batteries with enough energy to drive long distances are bulky, heavy, and expensive. Recent progress in battery development has brought some new electric cars to market. But they are still niche products, mostly with limited range. For the time being, hybrids offer the best of both gasoline and electric cars.

    By using electric motors for acceleration and hill-climbing, automakers can use smaller, more-efficient gasoline engines for everyday driving and long-distance cruising. By combining the two systems, the battery packs can be relatively small. The downside of a hybrid is that the dual drivetrains can be significantly more expensive than a traditional gas engine alone, and the battery packs take up space and add weight.

    Hybrid Technologies

    Hybrids blend the power of a gas engine with an electric motor and batteries. But the two powertrains can be combined in a variety of ways--some more efficient than others. The hybrids with the best gas mileage tend to be full hybrids. Newer, plug-in hybrids allow you to burn even less gas by running exclusively as electric cars for a short distance. There are several significant variations that we'll explain in detail.  

    Parallel vs. series hybrids
    Most full hybrids use a parallel design in which either the gas engine or the electric motor alone can drive the wheels, or they can work in unison. Hybrids can also have a series configuration, in which only the electric motor drives the wheels, and the gas engine works mainly as a generator to provide electricity once the battery is depleted as with the BMW i3 and Chevrolet Volt.

    Full hybrids vs. mild hybrids
    Full hybrids can run for a limited time on electricity alone, and they use the gas engine to travel longer distances and/or at higher speeds. Examples include Toyota and Ford systems. Mild hybrids are the opposite of series hybrids: Only the gas engine turns the wheels, and the electric motor only provides a boost to the gas engine, augmenting the power to improve fuel economy. (An example of a mild hybrid is the Buick LaCrosse with eAssist.) Only full hybrids can be designed to plug in and act as full electric cars.

    Plug-in hybrid
    Plug-in hybrids can (and should) be charged from the wall to work as electric cars some of the time. They normally use their electric range of between 10 and 35 miles first, and then switch to normal hybrid operation. They can be either be full or series hybrids, and some such parallel hybrids act as series hybrids under certain conditions when it's advantageous.

    Plug-in hybrids allow you to recharge the batteries to maximize electricity use, running solely on electricity until the batteries need assistance. (Chevrolet would like us to call the Volt an "extended-range electric vehicle." That's accurate enough, but what it means is that the Volt fits in the category of a plug-in series hybrid, along with the Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid.) Should your trips, or commute, be within the electric-only range, plug-ins can provide the benefits of a pure electric car, while having the engine available for longer trips without worry about getting stranded.

    Full electric
    A new wave of pure electric cars have taken to the streets for the first time since the 1910s, including the Fiat 500e, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Nissan Leaf, Smart ED (electric drive), Tesla Model S, and electric models of the Chevrolet Spark and Ford Focus. Finite battery storage and long recharge times limit the appeal for EVs for many. But studies show that most drivers travel less than 40 miles a day, making even a short-range electric car capable enough for most suburbanites or families in need of a second car. On the high end of the range, the $90,000 Tesla Model S will have a claimed 300-mile range. Even battery charge times, electric cars' other Achilles' heel, are coming down, though the quickest full electrics still need about 3-1/2 hours to recharge fully.

    Hybrid Powertrains

    Engines and fuel economy
    Most hybrids use small, four-cylinder gas engines that are more efficient than larger V6s and V8s. Hybrid SUVs, however, come with either four-cylinder, V6, or V8 engines, depending on the size. Some SUV or luxury-car hybrids also offer V6 or V8 engines. The V6-powered hybrids are smooth, quiet, and quick. And big, V8-powered hybrid SUVs and pickups are responsive and offer large towing capacities. Four-cylinder models run the gamut in terms of refinement, but most four-cylinder hybrids are quieter and feel less strained than equivalent four-cylinder gas-only models.

    Most hybrids come with some sort of continuously variable transmission (CVT). Some hybrids use conventional belt-type CVTs. More use planetary gear sets with infinitely variable ratios in a virtually wear-free design.

    Drive wheels
    Hybrid SUVs can be front, rear, or all-wheel drive. Most small-car hybrids are front-wheel drive, while luxury-car hybrids are rear-wheel drive. All-wheel-drive versions of the Toyota Highlander and Lexus RX 450h power the rear wheels via an extra electric motor on the rear axle of a front-wheel-drive design. It's light, simple, and efficient, and we've found it works well enough. Unlike traditional AWD vehicles that compromise fuel economy, hybrid AWD vehicles can often avoid such a penalty by using electricity to drive those extra wheels.

    Batteries
    Conventional hybrid batteries of nickel-metal hydride are quickly being replaced by lithium-ion batteries, which are smaller and lighter, for better efficiency. Lithium-ion batteries also come in several varieties: Some variations are more stable and have less power. Others have more power, but require more robust external systems to guard against fire and prolong their life. So far, the question of which systems work best in cars has not played out.

    Nickel-metal hydride hybrid batteries typically have very good reliability in our Annual Auto Survey of our subscribers. Lithium-ion batteries are too new to have a proven track record. Automakers are required to warranty the batteries on any hybrid as an emissions control part for eight years and 80,000 miles in most states. In about 10 states, they're required to warranty them for 10 years or 150,000 miles, so the automakers have a vested interest in making them durable. Outside the warranty period, new nickel-metal hydride battery replacements can run as much as $3,000, but replacements have been relatively rare. And used batteries are available for much less. Batteries in some older Ford and Honda Hybrids have been more problematic than those in more popular Toyotas. On the other hand, expensive transmission replacements that are not uncommon in other cars are almost unheard of in hybrids.

    Hybrid Car Maintenance

    We checked with Honda and Toyota, the two best-selling hybrid manufacturers, about maintenance and reviewed the service schedules of two of the most popular hybrids and found that neither requires any special maintenance beyond what a regular car needs. Coolant changes on the Prius and other Toyota hybrids might be somewhat more complicated and expensive than in regular cars, but they don't have to be done any more often. (In the Lexus RX450h and Toyota Highlander Hybrid, there are battery-cooling vents in the rear footwells that must not be blocked.)

    Both cars, including their battery packs, have been very reliable in our annual surveys of Consumer Reports subscribers. Toyota reports that some Priuses have more than 200,000 miles on their original batteries. Under California state law, which has guided similar regulations in Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont, hybrid manufacturers are required to provide a warranty on the batteries up to 150,000 miles. To find out whether the hybrids holds up, see our test of a 200,000 mile Toyota Prius.

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    Washers That Handle Loads and Loads of Laundry

    If your washer is on the fritz and repairing it doesn’t make sense, start looking online for good deals. We’ve seen some nice surprises lately. Hosting holiday gatherings doesn’t allow much time for trips to the laundromat as baskets of tablecloths, towels, and clothes pile up. Here’s a list of some of the washers that were impressive or excellent at cleaning in Consumer Reports’ washing machine tests and have large capacities. 

    Top-load agitator washer

    High-efficiency top-loaders

    Front-loaders

    Our washing machine Ratings offer the details on how each washer did in our tests for cleaning, energy and water efficiency, capacity, gentleness of fabrics, noise, vibration, and cycle time. Features and specs are noted—some washers with jumbo capacities are wider than typical washers—and the brand reliability gives you a look at what over 115,000 people have to say about their washers.

    Kimberly Janeway 

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    The Best Way to Clean Your Best Linens

    After a year in storage, your holiday table linens may be looking a bit dingy. If so, it’s time for a little laundry therapy with a top-performing detergent. And while you’re at it, make sure your towels and the bed linens in your guest rooms are washed and ready. To help, Consumer Reports talked to textile experts—including our own stain maven, Pat Slaven—for their advice on keeping washables in top shape all year round.

    Napkins and tablecloths

    Wash it right. If your napkins or tablecloth are stained, be patient and let stain removers sit 3 to 5 minutes, says fabric-care expert Steve Boorstein. After treating linens with a cleaning solvent, such as Shout or Zout, and machine washing, make sure that the stain is completely gone before you put the items into the dryer or iron them. (Otherwise, the heat of the dryer or the iron might permanently bake in the stains.) If traces of the stain linger after washing, soak in color-safe bleach before tossing it back into the washer.
    No stain removers on hand? Make your own by daubing 3 percent hydrogen peroxide (that’s right, the stuff in your medicine cabinet—just make sure it’s a fresh container) directly onto the stain or try dousing the stain with a solution of 1 teaspoon of clear dishwashing liquid and 1 cup of water. After dinner, if your table linens have greasy stains, such as gravy, scrape off the excess and treat with FelsNaptha soap before washing. If the stain remains, hit it with the detergent cocktail above, followed by a solution of 1 tablespoon of household ammonia and ½ cup of water. And don’t put it in the dryer until the stain is gone.

    Towels and terry robes

    Wash it right. To get your towels really clean, use a sanitizing hot-water wash, Boorstein says. And promptly put them in the dryer after washing. Before you throw in the towel on stained towels or terry robes, wash—and rewash, if necessary—with chlorine bleach (if white) or with color-safe bleach (if colored). Place plush or terry cloth items in the dryer on the high temperature setting until they are completely dry. Add a few tennis balls to help keep them nice and fluffy.
    Don’t do it! Never leave towels hanging around in a wet, warm washer, or bacteria—and bad smells—may start to take hold. And those can be tough to get rid of.
    Storage tip. To save on closet space, Jan Caon Barlow, owner of Jan’s Professional Dry Cleaners in Clio, Mich., recommends rolling towels instead of folding them. Or keep rolled towels on display in the bathroom in a basket. Keep folded towels in a neat stack on a closet shelf, with the folded side facing out, and arranged by color.

    Bed sheets

    Wash it right. Sheets get pretty dirty, so wash yours every week. Use a powerful hot water wash on cotton sheets to get them really clean. Dry on a high temperature setting. And don’t let them linger in there too long post-cycle; that allows creases to set in.
    Don’t do it! To make sure bed linens get cleaned properly, don’t pack them in. A full load might be simply one queen set: fitted sheet, flat sheet, and pillowcases.
    Storage tip. Fold them properly before you put them away to control wrinkles. If you don’t have an extra set of hands to help you fold, use a table to keep edges off the floor. To fold a fitted sheet, Barlow suggests folding in the elasticized pocket, then folding end-to-end like a flat sheet.

    Comforters, quilts, blankets, and pillows

    Wash it right. Some front-loading washers are large enough to accommodate king-sized comforters—and save you a trip to the laundromat. Because they have relatively little direct contact with your body and its soiling oils, comforters “don’t need a whole lot of agitation or a whole lot of time in the washer,” Boorstein says. If you’re using a top-loader, they do require a high water level because they’re bulky and need room to swish around. And use a powdered detergent—it helps keep the fill from clumping.
    For pillows,
    check the care label. You might be able to machine-wash them. (Hand-wash or professionally clean down and feather pillows.) Nancy Bock, vice president of consumer education for the American Cleaning Institute, recommends doing two at a time, if you can fit them in your machine. That helps balance the load and allows the water and detergent to move more effectively. For top-loaders, agitate only 1 or 2 minutes on a gentle cycle. To machine-dry down-filled items, use moderate heat and toss in a few tennis balls to keep the filling from clumping. The balls also keep the items from sticking to the walls of the dryer, Boorstein says. Periodically remove pillows during the drying cycle and fluff them. That helps prevent clumping and promotes even drying. Then put them back in until they’re dry.
    Don’t do it! If you’re piling a blanket or comforter into a top-loading washer, spread the bulk around evenly—don’t bunch it up. “That tends to put a lot of wear and tear on the mechanics,” Boorstein says.
    Storage tip. Loosely fold and stuff out-of-season down comforters in breathable polypropylene bags and keep them in a dry place.

    Best detergents from our tests

    —Adapted from ShopSmart

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    Why Space Heaters Need Their Space

    About 25,000 house fires and 300 deaths are attributed to space heaters each year, mostly caused when a heater is placed too close to curtains, bedding, or upholstered furniture. In addition, 6,000 people end up in the emergency room with burns from touching a heater’s hot surface. Here are the safety features to look for when buying a space heater and how to safely use one when you get it home.

    Safety Features
    Safety is an important aspect of our space heater tests. A heater that rates poorly on our fire safety test can cause cotton to ignite when operated on its hottest setting. Models that rate poorly on our hot surface test can get hot enough on the highest setting to cause burns. Heaters with a score of very good or excellent stay cool enough to safely touch. Here are safety features to look for:

    Certification. Make sure the heater you buy carries a safety certification label from an independent testing organization, such as the UL mark from Underwriters Laboratories, the ETL label from Intertek, or certification from CSA International.
    Shut-off features. A smart sensor that shuts off a heater when it overheats is a must. You’ll also want a tip-over switch that does the same if the heater is knocked over.
    Ground fault circuit interrupter plug. Most space heaters do not come equipped with a GFCI plug, which prevents electric shock, so manufacturers warn that they not be used around water.
    Sturdy cord. Most space heaters come with a cord that’s 6-feet long. Never use an extension cord with an electric heater.

    Safe Operation
    Half of all home heating fires happen during the months of December, January, and February. Our experts, as well as the pros at the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers and the National Fire Protection Association, offer the following safety tips:

    • Place the heater on a hard, level, and nonflammable surface. They are intended to sit on the floor and not a table.
    • Establish a three-foot kid- and pet-free zone around the heater and never put a space heater in a child's room.
    • Keep the space heater at least three feet away from such combustible materials as furniture, bedding, and curtains.
    • Don't use a heater in a workshop or garage near paint, gas cans, or matches.
    • Turn it off when you leave the room or go to bed.
    • Unplug the heater when not in use by pulling the plug straight from the outlet. Check the cord for damage periodically and don’t use it if it’s frayed or worn.
    • Don’t plug another electrical device or an extension cord into the same outlet as the heater, which can cause overheating.
    • Install working smoke alarms on every level of your home and test them monthly.

    Looking for a Space Heater?

    When choosing a space heater, think about what type of heat you’re seeking. If you just want to bathe yourself with heat, get a space heater that did well in our tests for spot heating such as the Dyson AMO5, $400, and the larger Honeywell HZ-980, $190. For heating an average-sized room consider one of the four that did best in the room heating tests, including the Vornado TVH600, $200, the Vornado ATH1, $130, the Heat Storm Sahara, $200, and the larger Heat Storm Logan, $200. Our top-rated space heater, the Dyson AM09, $450, aced both tests as did the Heat Storm Mojave, $160, and the DeLonghi DCH1030, $42, a CR Best Buy.

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    Holiday Gifts Made In The USA

    Green and red may be the colors of the season, but many shoppers think red, white, and blue when it comes to picking the perfect holiday present.

    While U.S. companies have outsourced plenty of jobs and production overseas and south of the border, we tracked down gift-worthy goods of various stripes that continue to be made in the USA—a big plus for some shoppers.

    Given a choice between a product made domestically and an identical one made abroad, nearly eight out of 10 of us would prefer to buy the American product, according to a recent nationally representative survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. Moreover, 60 percent of respondents say they’re willing to pay a 10 percent premium for the privilege of buying American.

    Why the enthusiasm for U.S.-made goods?  Some consumers believe that such products are better and safer. Others want to support the U.S. economy and American workers. The result is that more big-name companies now offer at least a smattering of products made under the stars and stripes. Levi’s, for example, has a line of domestic denim jeans and jackets, while PF Flyers has its "Made in USA" sneaker collection. 

    But don't expect a company’s entire line to be American made—many companies are now multinational. Take Massachusetts-based Acushnet, maker of Titleist golf balls. It has plants here and in Thailand and materials may come from foreign sources.

    So how do you know if those balls are made here or in Thailand? If a company manufactures products abroad, or uses materials from other countries, it is required to disclose those details on its label or packaging. Failure to do so could land a company in hot water. True Religion, for example, recently agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit involving its pricey jeans. The company claimed that some of its products were “Made in USA” even though they may have included foreign-made materials.

    So What's American?

    Besides checking the label on the packaging, you can also see if a product is American made by calling the manufacturer's customer service department, which should have the details. Other helpful sources are websites such as madeinusa.org, americansworking.com, and madeinamericaforever.com.

    Here are some brands that offer products that are made in the USA:

    Kitchen and housewares: All-Clad (bonded cookware only), Lodge, Nordicware, and West Bend cookware; Lasko, known mostly for its fans, and Vornado, for its space heaters; Kirby and Oreck vacuum cleaners; Bunn coffee makers; Pyrex glassware; Tervis Tumblers (insulated acrylic cups and ice buckets); Cutco, Lamson & Goodnow, and Rada cutlery; KitchenAid stand mixers; Vitamix blenders.

    Apparel, footwear, and accessories: American Apparel, BCBG, Brooks Brothers, Carhartt, Club Monaco, Dickies, Filson, J. Crew, Land’s End, L.L. Bean (notably the company's Maine Duck Boots), Orvis, Texas Jeans, Woolrich (mostly blankets, throws, and socks); Fox River, SmartWool, Thorlos, and Wigwam socks; Allen Edmonds, Kepner Scott, Red Wing, New Balance, G.H. Bass, and Wolverine footwear; Kangol caps and Stetson hats; Copper River bags and backpacks.

    Tools and home care: Ariens, Stihl, and Troy-Bilt, power equipment including string trimmers, blowers, and chain saws; Channellock, Moody, and SK, and Stanley hand tools; Maglite, SureFire, and Tektite flashlights; Shop Vac wet-and-dry vacuum cleaners.

    Toys and sporting goods: Aerobie flying rings and discs; Wiffle balls; Vermont Teddy Bears; Gravity skateboards; Little Tykes; Lionel trains (made in USA boxcars); Crayola crayons; Wilson (NFL footballs); Hillerich & Bradsby (Louisville Slugger pro wooden baseball bats); K’NEX, Lincoln Logs, and Tinkertoy building sets.

    Some other items: Grado Labs (headphones); Klipsch, Danley, and Genesis Advanced Technologies loudspeakers; Gibson, Martin, Taylor, and Rickenbacker guitars.

    Don't Forget the Slinky

    If you're looking for a true American product, this may be a good year to spring for a Slinky. All Slinkies continue to be made in the USA, at a plant in Hollidaysburg, Pa., using the same machinery that’s churned them out since the 1960s, according to Sally Lawrence, marketing manager for parent company Alex Brands.

    And this iconic American toy is now celebrating its 70th birthday since it made its debut at Gimbel’s department store in Philadelphia. While there are some 20 metal and plastic variations available—from dog-shaped to gold-plated slinkies—to purists, nothing quite beats the unadorned steel original.

    And for many consumers, nothing really beats buying American.

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

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  • 12/08/15--11:25: Top 5 Gifts for Dad
  • Top 5 Gifts for Dad

    He's been your go-to guy for as long as you can remember. We know the importance of giving a great gift to the guy who has given you so much over the years. That's why we want to help you find the perfect gift for dad this holiday season. We've put together a list of some of the best products we tested this year, including a robotic mower, top-quality grill, fitness, tracker and more. 

    Worx Landroid WG794, $1,000

    Mow the lawn from a lawn chair? The Worx offered the best cutting performance of all the robotic mowers we’ve tested, especially on non­-hilly lawns. It’s also the easiest to use and set up. That’s important because if the grass grows too high, it’s time to pull out a regular mower. Like any robot mower, the cuts aren’t as neat as with a regular machine.

    Check our lawn mowers & tractors buying guide and Ratings for more information.

    Fitbit Surge, $250

    What makes this fitness tracker so appealing? In addition to monitoring your heart rate and steps, it has a built­-in GPS to track your pace, distance, and speed. Much like a smartwatch, it also notifies you about text messages and phone calls, which lets you keep your phone in a purse or backpack when you race off to do errands.

    Check our smartwatches buying guide and Ratings for more information.

    Garmin nuvi 3597LMTHD [GPS], $330

    You won’t find a better co­pilot. This Garmin tops our ratings for excellence in routing options, guidance, and ease of use. Up­to­the­minute traffic updates and historical data will help the family chauffeur avoid bottlenecks. The high-resolution 5­-inch glass display lets him “pinch and zoom” for a closer look at the map. And the Bluetooth hands-­free calling option pairs the device with a smartphone so that he can proudly announce the family’s imminent arrival on grandma’s doorstep.

    Check our GPS buying guide and Ratings for more information.

    LG G4, $480

    The 2015 model earns kudos for its excellent 5.5-inch, quad-HD display and a very good 15.9-megapixel camera that allows a user to take still photos while shooting video. Other useful features on the Android 5.1 device include a removable battery, a memory card slot, a built-in infrared blaster to control TVs and cable boxes, and the ability to split its screen between two running apps.

    Check our cell phone & services buying guide and Ratings for more information.

    Weber Spirit SP-320 46700401 grill, $600

    It’s never too early to splurge on your resident griller and give the gift of grilling joy. This mid-sized model has good looks, sturdy construction, and a 10-­year burner warranty. With enough cooking space for up to 28 burgers, this three-­burner grill is excellent at delivering low-­ and high­-heat evenness in our tests. An electronic igniter fires it up reliably and simply, and four casters make it easy to move around the patio. It’s also available in a natural­-gas version.

    Check our gas grill buying guide and Ratings for more information.

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    New NHTSA Car Safety Ratings to Factor Crash Avoidance Tech

    Big changes are coming to the federal government’s 5-star crash-safety ratings; they’re the most significant updates since the creation of the consumer-friendly system more than 20 years ago. For the first time, life-saving crash-avoidance technologies will be fully incorporated into the ratings—giving buyers better safety information on vehicles. Vehicle occupants and pedestrians will also see important developments to their everyday safety.

    The new rating system will be implemented in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing in 2018 and affect vehicles in the 2019 model year. All the enhancements to the system are integrated with a common theme of technology improving safety.

    The second addition to the NHTSA 5-star rating is an oblique frontal crash test, addresses the most dangerous forms of frontal crashes. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has similar overlap frontal tests that are conducted because direct head-on impacts are less common in frontal collisions. The oblique test represents a crash scenario with an oncoming car that has drifted over the center-line.

    NHTSA’s new testing that will be incorporated into the rating system also includes three elements: crash avoidance technologies, crashworthiness, and pedestrian protection.

    As more auto manufacturers add new safety features, NHTSA has determined crash-avoidance technology will become so widely available that it should be included in new-car ratings by 2019.

    Crashworthiness is a measure that rates survival and injuries suffered by occupants of a vehicle in the case of an accident. This protocol requires new crash test dummies for NHTSA. Going forward in 2018 testing, the new dummies will enable NHTSA to pinpoint areas of bodily harm suffered in car crashes through biofidelity sensors.

    Pedestrian protection is the third element that will be added to the NHTSA rating system. This change represents in an effort to mitigate injuries for those outside of the car. In 2013, on average, a pedestrian was killed every two hours and injured every eight minutes in a traffic crash.

    Consumer Reports applauds NHTSA for incorporating more data into the ratings, a step we have urged the agency to take for several years. These changes will make the 5-star safety ratings more challenging for automakers and more useful to consumers in determining which vehicles are truly the safest. 

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    Amazon Prime Members Can Now Get Discounted Showtime and Starz

    It's not the full-blown Internet TV service Amazon was rumored to be working on, but today the online retailer announced a new program that will give Amazon Prime subscribers discounted access to several premium streaming services, including Showtime, Starz, and more.

    As part of the new Streaming Partners Program, Showtime and Starz will be priced at $9 a month, for example. While Showtime's streaming service offers a similar deal to Hulu subscribers, it usually costs $11 per month. And, to date, Starz streaming has been available only to existing pay-TV subscribers.

    In exchange for subscribing through Amazon, Prime members get a few extra perks, including free trials for all subscription offers and real-time access to shows as they air. Any new subscriptions get rolled into an existing Prime account, so there's just a single Watchlist, plus access to Amazon's search and browse features. You'll also be able to use the voice-search capabilities of Fire TV across all services you subscribe to.

    The news of this new streaming partner program comes on the heels of reports first published by Bloomberg that Amazon has been looking to compete with cable by launching a new live streaming service, much like Dish's Sling TV or Sony's PlayStation Vue. According to Bloomberg, Amazon was talking with several major TV networks, including CBS, which owns Showtime.

    While Showtime and Starz are clearly the program's big draws, Amazon says other launch partners include A+E's Lifetime Movie Club, AMC's Shudder and SundanceNow Doc Club, Acorn TV, Smithsonian Earth, and live-concert channel Qello.

    Will Amazon be content with adding subscription channels to its Prime service, or does it want to offer a full-blown alternative to pay TV? It's still too early to say. We're also waiting to see what type of online TV program Apple will roll out when its much-discussed Apple TV service finally launches.

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