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Consumer Reports

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    How to Iron Your Very Best Clothes

    Despite all the no-iron shirts, pants, and other garments in our closets, you still have to iron occasionally to get ready for that job interview or your cousin’s wedding. Start with a dependable iron like the Rowenta Steamforce DW9280, $140, that was tops in our steam iron tests. Then learn how to iron tricky clothing from the pros behind Consumer Reports’ “How to Clean Practically Anything” and put the snap back in your collar and restore the pleats in your favorite skirt.

    Garments will turn out smoother if they are ironed when they are damp, so if possible remove them from the dryer or line before they are fully dry. Smooth out seams and pleats on garments, and pull linens back into shape immediately upon removing them from the dryer or taking them down from the line; even if they still need ironing, the job will be easier.

    If you can’t get to the ironing immediately, let items dry fully. Dampen them when you’re ready to iron, sprinkling them with water and rolling them in a towel to distribute the moisture; or use the spray on your steam iron as you go. Most modern irons use regular tap water and often the manufacturer's directions recommend against using distilled water. If your water is very hard, dilute it 50:50 with distilled water. When you are done ironing, empty the iron before storing it. Follow manufacturer's directions for cleaning the steam jets occasionally.

    When using starch, spray each item as you go, but allow a few moments for it to soak in so there’s no buildup on the iron’s sole plate. If you have a large quantity of clothes to iron, deal with the garments that need ironing at the lowest temperatures first, such as synthetics and silk; as the iron heats up, work on the wools, then the cottons, and finally the linens.

    Special Tips for Special Clothing

    Lace, silk, and wool. Press inside out. If that’s not possible, use a dry pressing cloth. Lower and lift the iron; don’t slide it back and forth. Prevent imprinting inside detail by placing a piece of brown paper or tissue paper under folds, seams, or darts.

    Sequined, beaded, or metallic fabric. Place it face down on a soft surface—such as a thick towel or two—and press on low.

    Velvet. Hold the steam iron about an inch or two above the fabric and slowly move it around, or hold the garment over a steaming kettle. You can also hang it in the bathroom and run a hot shower or use a fabric steamer—an appliance sold for this purpose. Many irons can now steam vertically.

    How to Iron Shirts, Blouses, and Jackets

    1. Start at the point of the collar, working toward the middle.
    2. Next, iron the yoke by arranging one shoulder over the narrow end of the ironing board. Then repeat the same process for the opposite shoulder.
    3. Do the sleeves next, working down from the underarm. A sleeve board is a big help with ironing. Then open the cuffs and try to iron them flat.
    4. Iron the back of the shirt next, slipping it over the wide end of the ironing board and shifting it as needed.
    5. Iron the two halves of the front. Or if the shirt doesn’t open, slip it over the ironing board.

    How to Iron Pants and Trousers

    1. If the pants have cuffs, unfold them and brush out any loose soil.
    2. Turn the waistband inside out and pull out pockets to iron them flat.
    3. Iron the zipper placket.
    4. On the right side of the garment, iron the waistband and the rest of the top. Repeat on the left side.
    5. Put leg seams together in the middle and fold pants the long way. Lay them flat on the board, then fold back the top leg. Iron the inside of the lower leg, then turn and iron the outside. Repeat with other leg.
    6. Iron the two legs together (all four thicknesses at once).

    How to Iron Skirts

    • Iron from hem to waist in long strokes, but press (lift and lower) when you reach the gathers.
    • Pleated skirts. Arrange pleats on the ironing board and hold them or pin them in place. Iron from top to bottom, but not directly over the pins.

    How to Iron Dresses

    1. Start with the lining.
    2. Continue to the top of the dress as if you were ironing a blouse. A dress that doesn’t open should be pulled over the end of a board; then iron the front and back.
    3. Lift and press underneath the collar, if there is one. Then press the collar itself.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    5 Questions to Ask a Tax Preparer

    When you're looking for tax help, your first step is to identify the type of tax preparer you need. You'll want a professional who has the right experience for your particular needs and can work at a price you can afford. Ask these questions to any tax preparer you're considering:

    • What are your credentials? Make sure the tax preparer has passed recent state or federal tests. (California, Maryland, and Oregon require licenses.) Ask, too, if he is a member of a professional organization related to tax preparation and attends continuing education classes.

    • How much experience do you have? Look for a tax preparer who has had at least seven to 10 years of experience. While that may not seem important, the more time a preparer has been working on tax returns, the more likely he is to have dealt with a tax situation similar to yours.

    • What kinds of clients do you usually work with? Ideally, you want a preparer with clients similar to you. That way, he'll be able to give you the best service for your particular needs.

    • Can you give me a price quote? Often, a tax preparer will say that he can't tell you what he'll charge until he determines which forms you'll need. But you can try to pin down an answer by presenting the forms you completed last year or by asking for a list of fees for various types of tax help. Avoid preparers who base their fees on a percentage of your refund.

    • Do you provide audit help? CPAs and enrolled agents can usually represent you before the IRS. The national chains provide free audit advice to clients, but you might have to pay extra to have someone accompany you to an audit or talk to the IRS on your behalf.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Don't Be Scammed by Asset Recovery Firms

    Older consumers who have lost money to scammers in the past may find themselves targeted for further fraud.

    According to an advisory from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, so-called asset recovery companies prey on victims of bogus timeshare investments, fake work-from-home schemes, or similar scams in which the victim handed over money for services that were never delivered. These firms call those who have already suffered from a scam and promise to recover those lost funds for an upfront fee ranging from several hundred to thousands of dollars. But after taking the money, the asset recovery company does nothing or takes steps that consumers could do themselves at no cost.

    For example, if a consumer used a credit card to pay the original scammer, the asset recovery firm may dispute the charge with the credit card company—something the consumer can easily do for free. Or it may submit a complaint to an agency like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which doesn't charge anything to process a complaint. Adding insult to injury, the firms may file claims that are too old to be legally valid or lack proper documentation.

    Older consumers are frequently targeted for fraud and having been scammed once, may be susceptible to offers of getting their money back. In an article in The New York Times, Amy Nofziger, director of regional operations with the AARP Foundation and manager of its Fraud Watch Network call center, explains that criminals often return to the same victims because they know they have a greater chance of success. Scammers also maintain and sell “sucker lists” of people who have been previously tricked. 

    Avoid Being Scammed Again

    If a so-called asset recovery firm contacts you, watch for these red flags of possible fraud:

    • The firm charges upfront fees to recover money. Don’t pay for promises of service. 
    • The firm claims it has industry expertise. The process of submitting a complaint to federal agencies, state attorneys general offices, and credit card companies is free and, generally, easy to do. Private asset recovery companies do not have special access.
    • The firm demands that you keep the asset recovery process secret. If a firm wants you to hide your actions from family members, friends, or trusted advisers, it’s usually because they have something to hide.

    If you suspect you're the target of a phone scam, submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Tips for Deciding If You Need a New Car

    New-car envy. It can creep up anytime. It may snag you at a stoplight when a muscle car or luxury sedan sidles up. Or maybe when the gleaming SUV parked next to you makes the dents in your jalopy all the more obvious.

    Get over it.

    It’s all too easy to go for the quick fix and trot down to a dealership with checkbook in hand. That might cure your automotive longing—at least until the payments start. But if you calculate your actual costs, buying a new car might be a lousy financial move.

    The car you’re driving right now may be a keeper—dings and all. Here’s why: Cars built in the past decade are more reliable than ever. Although the average age of all cars on the road is 11 years, many newer cars will provide trouble-free service for 200,000 miles or more with care.

    If your car is only a few years old, hanging on to it will not only free you from a new cycle of monthly payments but also save a bundle in insurance, taxes, and other expenses­—primarily depreciation.

    It may be hard to get your head around the idea that shiny new sheet metal is a depreciating asset, but today’s new cars lose 46 percent of their value, on average, in the first three years.

    Historically, a draw for a new car is improved fuel economy. But recent low gasoline prices blunt that impact, and even at higher fuel prices, you need to save a lot of money at the pump to make up for those depreciation and sales-tax hits.

    There’s one big downside to all of that: Your current ride probably doesn’t have the latest safety and convenience features, and your warranty has probably expired. And no matter how well your car is treating you, even the most reliable models grow more troublesome as they age, as our subscriber surveys have found.

    So should you hang on to your old wheels? It depends on a lot of factors, including the condition of your car and your finances. Think about cost, safety, and connectivity. If your mechanic is spending more time with your car than you do and your repair bills are close to new-car payments, it’s probably time to trade up. Or your car may run well, but rust or collision damage can make it structurally unsound. The only older cars worth keeping are the ones that are reliable and safe.

    At a minimum, an older car should have electronic stability control and curtain air bags. Both are lifesavers.

    Going with a new car is the best way to get the latest electronic safety gear, such as forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems, as well as features like a blind-spot warning system and a rear backup camera, although older cars can have aftermarket safety tech added. Only the newest vehicles excel in the latest difficult insurance-industry crash tests.  

    If you’re looking for the latest electronic convenience and entertainment systems, you’re probably going to want a new car. Some features, such as Bluetooth capability for hands-free calls, can be added to an older car with aftermarket equipment but may lack the integration and ease of use of a factory system. Check out our look at new-car infotainment systems.

    Need a new car but don’t have the cash? Buy something almost new. You’ll get some of those desirable new features without spending as much. Just be sure to check used-car reliability and pricing on the model pages, or choose from among the best used cars under $25,000.

    Still can’t make up your mind? Check out our decision tree below.

    How to decide: Three musts to consider before buying

    1. Money

    How much a car with higher mpg will save you

    Find the intersection of the fuel economy from your current car with that of the ones you’re considering for potential costs savings per year. For example, If you go from 26 mpg to 34 mpg, you save $239. If you want to trade in for a sportier, less fuel-efficient car, the numbers in red show your added fuel cost.

    How much it costs to repair your current car

    If your annual repair bills exceed a year’s worth of car payments, then it’s time to start shopping. But even dropping an occasional $1,000 bill to keep an older car running might save you money over buying a new car.

    How much value that new car will lose

    Cars depreciate significantly over the first few years of ownership, often more rapidly than your monthly payments are paying down the loan—putting you “upside down” financially. The chart below shows typical vehicle depreciation based on the average new-car price.

    2. Safety

    Every car should have

    • Backup camera
    • Curtain airbags
    • Electronic stability control (ESC)
    • Forward-collision warning

    Consider these to be safety basics. Don’t have them now? Buy a new or relatively recent car that has all four.

    How to be even safer

    • Forward-collision warning with automatic braking
    • Blind-spot monitoring
    • Lane-departure warning
    • A “Good” score in the IIHS small-overlap test

    Decision point. Getting a car with most or all of those features will push you toward buying new, especially for nonluxury models. Shop wisely and you can find good late-model used cars that balance features and price. But only the latest designs do well in the difficult small-overlap front crash test from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

    Why they’re worth it. Many of today’s high-tech cars work to avoid crashes altogether, warning the driver about hazards and sometimes responding to threats quickly. Advanced systems can automatically slow or completely stop a car. Visibility aids, such as rear cameras and blind-spot monitoring, show what’s around you, helping situational awareness. All things being equal, consider the safest car that you can afford.

    3. Connected features

    Want to listen to custom playlists or Pandora, or use your phone in your car hands-free?

    Basics in most new cars

    • USB port for plugging in a phone
    • Bluetooth phone connectivity

    Decision point. Almost every recent car has these as standard. You can install an aftermarket Bluetooth kit in your current car, and various audio-system upgrades can add modern features to older factory systems or replace them entirely.

    Specialty items

    • Voice commands for selecting audio
    • Built-in navigation
    • Ability to use integrated apps like Pandora or Spotify

    Decision point. Getting those features usually requires an aftermarket addition or buying a new car. Voice commands simplify complicated functions; good systems can reduce distraction. Built-in navigation gives you larger screens than on your phone or a portable navigation device, plus it will automatically adjust stereo volume for instructions.

    But it’s not just audio and phone features that distinguish new cars. Even some basic cars now offer fancy stuff, like a heated steering wheel or cooled front seats, which were once exclusive to luxury cars. It sounds frivolous, but once you’ve grasped a heated steering wheel on an icy morning, there’s no going back.

    This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Online Tax Preparation for Free

    Many of us need to consult a tax preparer in order to complete our taxes. But there also many people who prefer to take on the task themselves, and save money on the preparation fee. If you fall into this category, there are some good online tax preparation programs you can access online that let you complete and file your taxes for free. Most of the options are for those with a 2015 household adjusted gross income of under $62,000. But there are also options for those with higher incomes.

    If your household’s 2015 adjusted gross income was below $62,000, you can prepare and file your federal return for free using online, guided software through IRS Free File, a program offered by the Internal Revenue Service.

    After you click on the link, follow these steps. Click on the blue "Start" button on the Web page to see a listing of 13 companies that let you file online for free. Since all have different eligibility rules, you'll have to sift through them to see which works best for you. You can also click on the "Help find me Free File software" tool option to winnow down the best programs for your needs. 

    Before going to IRS Free File, though, check the online tax preparation website of the taxing authority in your state to see how to qualify for free preparation and filing of your state income tax return. You may have to start there first to prepare and then e-file everything for free. In New York State, for instance, eligible taxpayers must start at the state’s free filing Web page to be linked to the appropriate online tax preparation software, which then handles both state and federal returns for no cost. This year, just two companies are participating in the New York program: Online Taxes and MyFreeTaxes, sponsored by the United Way.

    Alternative Tax Preparation Programs

    If your state doesn't offer free e-file, you may find alternative online tax preparation services outside of the Free File program.

    TaxAct's Online 2015 Free Edition, for example, covers IRS Forms 1040A and 1040EZ, as well as a number of common tax documents such as Form 1095-A and the Health Insurance Marketplace Statement. TaxAct says it offers free support via e-mail for tax questions.

    While it may be challenging, smartphone savvy taxpayers can prepare and e-file both state and federal returns for free on their iPhones and Androids with TaxACT Express software. The service covers Form 1040A, 1040EZ, simple versions of Form 1040, and a few IRS schedules, such as Form 1099-INT and 1099-DIV, and Schedule EIC for the Earned Income Credit. (TaxACT warns that if you switch over to a browser or tablet app to finish and e-file your form, you're subject to TaxACT's online pricing.)

    TurboTax's Federal Free Edition offers free, guided online tax preparation service and e-filing for both federal and state returns, regardless of your income. To qualify, though, you must use IRS Forms 1040EZ or 1040A. The free service will import your W-2 information from participating employers. Or, you can photograph your W-2 on your smartphone using the TurboTax app; the app will automatically populate your tax form with the proper figures. You can then continue to prepare the form, either on your phone or your computer. For other services, including transferring your data from a prior return prepared using TurboTax, you'll have to upgrade to one of the company's other software versions, for a price. (See our review of H&R Block and TurboTax Deluxe online editions.)

    The H&R Block Free Edition doesn't offer free state filing, but it appears to have the best value proposition for federal forms. In addition to free preparation and filing of basic federal forms—1040A, 1040EZ, and simple 1040s—users get free, "live, personal tax advice with a tax professional" via chat and free "in-person audit support." The free edition supports a wide number of forms and schedules. Like TurboTax, the service will automatically import data from your W-2; it also will import Form 1095-A from your health insurance marketplace. But state tax preparation and filing will cost you $10. 

    H&R Block is repeating its "bonus" offer from last year for all users. For every $100 of tax refund that Free or Basic edition users load onto a participating retailer's gift card, H&R Block will add 5 percent. (It adds 10 percent if you upgrade to another H&R Block product.) 

    Something worth noting: TaxSlayer is offering its state and federal preparation and e-file services at half price for active military personnel. If you're not active-duty military, you can still prepare and e-file the simplest, Form 1040EZ for free with TaxSlayer. You can do the same with another program, e-Smart Tax. Both require extra for state tax preparation and e-filing. Unfortunately, the price to prepare and file a state form with e-Smart Tax's has risen this year to nearly $26, up from just under $10 last tax season.

    Free Options for Wealthier Filers

    If your household adjusted gross income is above $62,000 and you need to prepare and e-file a regular Form 1040 and accompanying schedules, you should also consider the software from TaxAct. It offers the widest array of IRS forms and schedules that can be prepared and filed for free. Preparing and e-filing state tax forms on a browser (as opposed to via smart phone) costs $10.

    If you don't need help filling out your forms, the IRS also offers free, "fillable" electronic versions of Forms 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ to all taxpayers, regardless of income.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Why Your Financial Adviser May Not Be Trustworthy

    According to a recent survey, brokers are trusted somewhat less than lawyers and Uber drivers. Perhaps for good reason: Over the past decade, 7 percent of financial advisers have had at least one act of misconduct on their record, according to a new study by scholars from the University of Minnesota and University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. That misconduct could include acts of negligence, misrepresentation and fraud, among other things.

    Furthermore, although these financial advisers are often dismissed from their original firm after being accused of misconduct, many are eventually re-employed elsewhere within the industry. At their new employer, according to the study, those individuals with an existing misconduct record are likely to rack up subsequent acts of misconduct at their new firm. 

    The study also found that certain financial firms had more brokers and financial advisers with black marks than others. The disparity among firms was exceptionally large. Only 0.8 percent of advisers at Morgan Stanley have misconduct records, while nearly one in five advisers at Oppenheimer & Co. have some sort of misconduct record, according to data they collected from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the regulator of the U.S. securities industry.

    In general, according to the authors, securities firms catering more to individual clients—retail investors, in industry parlance—were more likely to have a greater percentage of disciplined brokers than firms more focused on institutional clients. 

    In cases resulting in financial injury to investors, FINRA is ramping up sanctions. Last year, $96 million in restitutions were assessed by FINRA on financial advisers and brokers, triple the amount of previous years. About a quarter of those sanctions were based on suitability cases, where brokers and advisers placed clients in investments that were inappropriate for their financial needs. The bad news: not everyone entitled to some restitution may be able to collect.

    The authors of the study relied on FINRA's BrokerCheck database to collect data for their findings. You can also use the database to check the record of your current financial adviser or an adviser you're considering.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Moto 360 Sport Fails Consumer Reports' Water-Resistance Test

    The new Motorola Moto 360 Sport is one of many smartwatches on the market that are supposed to be water-resistant. And with its rubbery watchband and case, it certainly looks ready for a plunge, though Motorola makes it clear that the watch isn’t for diving, swimming, or any other activity that would submerge it for a long time, or to any great depth.

    What Motorola does say on its website and in the Moto 360 Sport manual is that the watch meets ingress protection standard 67, or IP67, from an organization called the International Electrotechnical Commission. It’s the same standard cited by several other smartwatch makers, and it means the device should be able to survive an immersion in 1 meter (about 3 ft.) of water for 30 minutes. That’s a nice selling point for smartwatch shoppers looking for protection against accidental splashes and kitchen-sink mishaps.

    However, when we tested the Moto 360 Sport for water resistance using our protocol, which uses benchmarks similar to the IP67 standard, the smartwatch failed. Read on for the details.

    What We Did

    To test the level of water resistance being claimed by Motorola, we place a smartwatch in a water tank pressurized to the equivalent of 1 meter of depth, and leave it there for 30 minutes.

    When we retrieved the Moto 360 Sport from our tank, the watch appeared to be working properly. Following our protocol, we examined the watch again one hour later, since the damaging effects of water trapped inside a device might not arise immediately.

    At this point, the Moto 360 Sport operated erratically, continuously rebooting. No amount of button-pushing could bring it back. As we do with other watches, we checked the Moto 360 Sport again after 24 hours. It was, for all practical purposes, dead. The display dimly flickered what appeared to be an array of vertical lines. And eventually it went dark.

    When a product fails a test in our labs, we repeat the test with another sample of the same product. The second sample of the Moto 360 Sport failed in the same way. 

    We shared our findings with Motorola, which stood by its product. In a statement, the company said that it had tested the Moto 360 Sport to industry standards both at Motorola and through an independent lab. And, the company said, "Our ongoing audits of production material have not shown any issues with water immunity.”

    What Our Results Mean

    Smartwatches tend to be exposed to the elements and other hazards more than other devices, and all of the models currently in our Ratings carry a claim of water resistance. When a product claims a quality that isn’t confirmed by our testing, it is excluded from our Recommended models.

    The Poor score the Moto 360 Sport earned for water resistance pushed it to the bottom of our Ratings, next to the only other smartwatch to fail this element of our testing: the Sony SmartWatch3.

    If it had not failed this test, the Moto 360 Sport would have done well in our Ratings, as it performed as well as other Moto 360 smartwatches, which did pass our water-immersion testing and are among our higher-scoring watches. 

    What’s more, the Moto 360 Sport had several additional features that promise to come in handy during a workout, such as watch-face and app readouts that provide excellent summaries of your progress during an activity, and built-in GPS functionality that lets you track the length of a run without having to lug along a smartphone. 

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Google Self-Driving Car Crash Highlights the Need for Federal Rules

    A Google-modified, self-driving Lexus RX drove itself into the side of a public-transit bus on Feb. 14 in Mountain View, Calif.—the first recorded instance when one of the company’s autonomous vehicles actively contributed to an accident. No injuries were reported in the low-speed collision, but the crash serves as a reminder that, even though self-driving prototypes such as Google’s are operating on public roads, the technology still has a long way to go before these vehicles can navigate every situation.

    That’s precisely why Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, along with other safety advocacy groups, has been calling for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to commit to maximum transparency and public involvement as policy and safety standards are developed covering autonomous vehicles.

    Google has been operating its self-driving car program on public roads in California for 15 months to help its cars map the terrain and learn from real-world driving situations. The company has filed regular, detailed reports with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, and the program has logged 424,331 autonomous miles.

    During this time, a human driver has had to assume control of these purportedly self-driving vehicles more than 340 times, an average of 22.7 times a month. In these instances, the self-driving technology failed and automatically ceded control to the human driver 272 times. Another 69 times, the driver felt compelled to intervene and take control.

    This clearly shows that, despite the sophistication of the software that guides Google’s vehicles, driving in the real world is fraught with a complexity that these cars are not yet capable of handling on their own.

    And the accident that took place on Feb. 14 was indeed a complicated situation. Google’s 2012 Lexus RX 450h was trying to make a legal right turn on a red light, when it encountered some sand bags placed near a storm drain. The car stopped, waited for some cars to pass, sensed an opening, and attempted to go around the sand bags. Google says the car had detected an approaching bus, but assumed the bus would yield. But the bus did not stop, and the Google car made contact with the side of the bus at 2 mph. The DMV accident report shows the bus moving at about 15 mph. 

    Up to this point, Google has been proud that none of the crashes of their prototypes has been the company’s fault. But Google took partial blame for this incident, calling it a “classic example of the negotiation that’s a normal part of driving.”

    Still, Google emphasized that even its test driver, who saw the bus in the mirror, figured the bus driver would slow or stop to allow them to merge.

    “In this case, we clearly bear some responsibility,” read Google’s February monthly self-driving car report, adding, “because if our car hadn’t moved, there wouldn’t have been a collision.”

    Google says it has reviewed the incident in its simulator and already made refinements to its software. “Our cars will more deeply understand that buses (and other large vehicles) are less likely to yield to us than other types of vehicles, and we hope to handle situations like this more gracefully in the future.”

    There is no doubt that Google will learn from the incident and make its self-driving vehicles smarter because of it. But according to Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports director of auto testing, the crash should offer a reality check on some of the near-term expectations surrounding self-driving technology.

    “Self-driving cars don’t act like humans; they can’t make eye contact, or give hand signals with other drivers to help get through odd situations,” Fisher said. “We are enthused, and frankly impressed, by the progress that is being made and how this helps advance safety features in today’s cars, but we expect that a world where true autonomous cars are the norm is still decades away.”

    In January, NHTSA released a statement that pledged within six months it would work with manufacturers and outside experts to develop a policy around self-driving technology. But since then, neither NHTSA nor its parent, the Department of Transportation has held any public proceedings on the issue.

    Consumers Union and other consumer/auto safety groups are asking NHTSA to hold public meetings, provide an open, public docket for information, and collaborate with advocates about policy and standards for self-driving cars. And the Google car incident underlines the need for the government to open up that process as soon as possible.

    Consumers Union is joining other consumer advocacy and safety groups in delivering that message to the Department of Transportation today. (Read the pdf.)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Best Used Cars for Teens - Consumer Reports

    Most parents look for the best used car when shopping for their teen to save money, but although you may need to make compromises to stay within budget, don’t skimp on safety. Make sure the vehicle you buy has advanced safety features such as electronic stability control (ESC) and curtain airbags, as well as good crash-test results. (See our guide to teen driving safety and our new cars for teens list.)

    Choosing the best used car for a young driver will usually involve compromises among budget, desirable features, and the wants of an image-conscious teen. The best bet is to buy the newest, most reliable model with the most safety equipment you can afford. Do not even consider a car without antilock brakes. If you can reach a little deeper and get a car equipped with side and head-protection curtain airbags, antilock brakes, and electronic stability control, so much the better. The lifesaving assistance those systems can provide is worth every penny in an emergency situation, and they can be especially beneficial to an inexperienced driver.

    As of the 2012 model year, all cars are equipped with ESC, which can help simplify shopping. Some cars below are differentiated by years depending on when ESC became standard or reliability performance.

    To see how cars perform in a collision, check the crash results on our model pages, and even view crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in our video section.

    As far as what type of vehicle is best, large pickups and SUVs are not recommended for young, inexperienced drivers because they are more prone to roll over than other vehicles. Sports cars increase the risk of speeding and have a higher rate of accidents, and consequently, they carry tuition-sapping insurance premiums.

    Reliability is key when choosing a used car because it probably will not have the warranty protection common on new cars. Further, you may intend for your teen to drive this first car for years to come, while money is funneled to college and starting independent adult life. To provide insight on car reliability, Consumer Reports surveys its millions of subscribers and shares their experiences. Our model pages feature reliability Ratings spanning 10 years, which can provide an invaluable look at how cars hold up over time.

    But keep in mind that every used car gets treated differently. The older a car gets, the more its care and maintenance history will affect its overall performance and reliability. Once you have narrowed your shopping list to cars that are likely to be smart choices, have the specific car you are considering purchasing thoroughly inspected by a qualified mechanic before you make the purchase.

    To get you started, the cars featured below all meet our criteria for being safe and reliable, and each has performed well in Consumer Reports’ tests.

    Click on the model links below to access the complete road test, reliability, safety, owner satisfaction, pricing, and other key data.

    Make & model
    Acura TSX
    Buick Regal (2012-2013)
    Chevrolet Equinox (4-cyl., 2012 or later)
    Chevrolet Malibu (4-cyl., 2009 or later)
    Ford Focus sedan (2010-2011)
    Ford Fusion (4-cyl. and hybrid, 2010-2012 and 2014 or later)
    Honda Accord (4-cyl., 2008 or later)
    Honda Civic (2012 or later)
    Honda CR-V (2015 or later)
    Honda Fit (2011 or later)
    Hyundai Elantra (2012 or later)
    Hyundai Santa Fe (2007-2009 and 2011-2014, non-3rd row)
    Hyundai Sonata (4-cyl., non-turbo, 2006 or later)
    Hyundai Tucson (2010 or later)
    Kia Forte (2010-2011)
    Kia Optima (non-turbo, 2011 or later)
    Kia Soul  
    Kia Sportage (4-cyl., nonturbo, 2011 or later)
    Mazda3 (2011 or later)
    Mazda6 i (4-cyl.)
    Mazda CX-5
    Mitsubishi Outlander (non-3rd row, 2007-2013)
    Nissan Altima (4-cyl., 2010-2012)
    Nissan Rogue (2010-2013 and 2015)
    Nissan Sentra (2011-2012)
    Scion xB (2008 or later)
    Scion xD (2012 or later)
    Subaru Crosstrek
    Subaru Forester (non-turbo, 2009 or later)
    Subaru Impreza (non-turbo, 2011 or later)
    Subaru Legacy (4-cyl., 2009 or later)
    Subaru Outback (4-cyl.)
    Toyota Camry (4-cyl., 2010 or later)
    Toyota Corolla (2010 or later)
    Toyota Matrix (2010 or later)
    Toyota Prius (2010 or later)
    Toyota RAV4 (4-cyl., non-3rd row, 2004 or later)
    Volkswagen Jetta (2009-2010)
    Volkswagen Jetta/Golf Sportwagen
    Volkswagen Rabbit (2009-2014) / Golf (2011-2014)
    Volkswagen Tiguan (2013 or later)
    Volvo S60 (2012 or later)

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    Most Reliable Gas Grill Brands

    Most gas grills sold cost less than $300 and are used for about three years, on average, before winding up on the curb, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. Some online user reviews lament a grill’s short life, with such comments as "Great while it lasts!" So for the first time, Consumer Reports surveyed nearly 16,000 subscribers to learn what they had to say about the reliability of the gas grill brands they bought.

    None of the nine gas grill brands stood out as the most or least reliable, but Coleman, Weber, and Broil King are less repair-prone than Char-Griller, Kenmore, and Member’s Mark (sold at Sam’s Club). Our survey estimates that by the time the Kenmore grills are three years old, 19 percent will need repair or have serious problems, while 23 percent of three-year-old Member’s Mark grills do. Given these repair rates, Consumer Reports cannot recommend these two grill brands at this time.

    For all the survey details, click the brand reliability tab in our gas grill Ratings.

    New Look for Our Ratings

    Consumer Report’s grill lab is buzzing these days as our engineers test dozens of newly purchased grills, including two dual-fuel models that allow you to cook with gas or charcoal (we’re testing gas performance only). And we’ve worked to improve our gas grill Ratings, giving you an even better indication of a grill’s performance. These changes alter the overall scores of the tested grills. Here’s what changed and what you’ll see in the gas grill Ratings:

    • Evenness performance combines the evenness scores when preheating, cooking on low, and cooking on high. A grill scoring excellent in evenness indicates that the cooking temperatures are the same, no matter where you put the food on the grill—so you won’t have to move the food around for it to cook evenly.
    • Preheat performance is a measure of how hot the grill is after 10 minutes of preheating and how that temperature compares to its maximum temperature. You can start cooking on any of the grills in our tests after a 10-minute preheat, but the lower the preheat performance score, the longer food takes to cook and it may not have the searing marks you like. When a grill scores excellent on this test, you can toss burgers on the grill and they’ll start sizzling. Otherwise, preheat longer.
    • Temperature range indicates how big a difference there is between the minimum and maximum temperatures. The greater the difference, the better the grill is at cooking a variety of foods at various temperatures. We also look at how low the heat can go. An excellent score means the grill provides a wide range of temperatures as well as being able to achieve low temperatures for cooking delicate fish.

    We also test and score how well grills do in indirect cooking, a way to slow cook meats using one or two burners, and for convenience.

    Recommended Grills From Our Tests

    Grills are grouped by the size of their measured cooking area.

    Small (18 burgers or less)
    Huntington 630124, $140
    Broilmate 165154, $200

    Medium (18 to 28 burgers)
    Nexgrill 720-0830H (Home Depot), $270
    Char-Broil 463433016 (Walmart), $170
    Weber Spirit SP-320-46700401, $600

    Large (28 burgers or more)
    Napoleon Prestige Pro 665RSIB, $2,600

    See all your choices in our gas grill Ratings, and filter by size, price, and grill brands. And compare grill features by clicking the Features & Specs tab in the gas grill Ratings.

    Email questions to kjaneway@consumer.org.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Mercedes-Benz Takes the Top Off C-Class Coupe

    Shown in two variants at the recent Geneva Motor Show, Mercedes-Benz unveiled a new convertible that expands the current C-Class family: the 2017 C300 Cabriolet and the sportier AMG-inspired C43 Cabriolet. This new version continues the brand’s assault on its BMW archrival, which has been offering 3 Series coupes and convertibles for years before they became the 4 Series.

    Based on the upcoming 2017 C-Class Coupe (basically a successor of the CLK), the 2017 C300 Cabriolet will arrive at U.S. dealerships late this summer, while it’s muscle-bound AMG sibling will show up in the fall. Both drop-top variants will come packed with standard features and offer a slew of fancy customization options, such as 13 upholstery variants and four convertible top colors.

    The C300 and the C43 AMG come with a bevvy of advanced safety features as standard, including forward-collision warning with automatic braking, and a retracting roll bar that activates in the case of a rollover. The C300 will be available in rear-wheel and all-wheel-drive configurations, but the C43 will be AWD only.

    We have high expectations for the C-Class Cabriolet, since the C300 sedan we tested scored near the top of the sports-sedan segment thanks to its nimble handling, comfortable ride and plush interior. Too bad its reliability hasn’t been stellar.

    Pricing will be announced closer to the Cabrio pair’s arrival starting this summer but expect it to start in the low $50,000 range.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Will There Be a Samsung OLED TV in 2018?

    We're big fans of OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TVs, but LG is the only company that offers them. According to recent reports in the Korean press, though, Samsung is still firmly invested in OLED technology. And that's good news for consumers, as competition pushes the tech forward and drives prices lower.

    We like OLED because it offers the deep blacks, high contrast, and unlimited viewing angles of a plasma TV, combined with the bright images, super-slim design, and high energy efficiency of a LED LCD set. OLED TVs from LG now top our Ratings in the large-screen categories (55 inches and up).

    Samsung isn't new to this market; when the first Samsung OLED TV arrived in our labs in 2013, we were impressed with its performance. In fact, when we compared it head-to-head with LG's first OLED TV, the 55EA9800, we thought the Samsung OLED TV was better.

    But Samsung OLED TVs used a technology, called RGB OLED, that turned out to be harder to manufacture than the white OLED (WOLED) technology LG is using. LG's process had better yields (the percentage of TVs manufactured free of defects) and lower production costs. For that reason, among others, Samsung stopped making new OLED TVs in 2013.

    Since then, we've wondered when we'd see the next Samsung OLED TV.

    At first we thought Samsung would simply switch to the same WOLED technology that LG uses, but it appears that LG now owns the patents to that technology, originally developed by Kodak. Given the competitiveness between the two Korean companies, it seems unlikely that Samsung would be willing to license the technology from its rival.

    Printing an OLED TV?

    But reports in the Korean press say Samsung has been experimenting with a new manufacturing process that uses inkjet printing. The process involves spraying OLEDs (and other materials) onto a substrate much like an inkjet printer spreads ink on paper. Samsung is hoping this method will result in lower production costs, and thus lower prices for consumers.

    Over the next two years, media reports indicate, Samsung Display, the company's TV panel-producing arm, will invest more than $3 billion in OLED TV research and production. Based on that timeline, Samsung Electronics, the division that sells TVs, wouldn't get the OLED panels it needs before 2018.

    Samsung said it doesn't comment on rumors and speculation.

    Our company contacts in the U.S. aren't saying very much about OLED either, other than that Samsung continues to invest in the technology, and that it believes there are still some technical issues—especially image retention (also known as burn-in) from static images left on the screen—that need to be addressed before we see a new Samsung OLED TV.

    At CES 2016 in January, we had also expected to hear OLED TV announcements from other manufacturers, especially Panasonic and Sony. Panasonic did exhibit an OLED TV, but didn't offer any firm commitments for bringing it to the U.S. Sony was mum about its plans, despite the fact that it was the first company to launch an OLED TV—the 11-inch XEL-1 set—in the U.S. in 2008.

    For now, we're looking forward to checking out the 2016 OLED models from LG, and possibly other brands, when they arrive.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 03/04/16--10:00: How to Stop Water Hammer
  • How to Stop Water Hammer

    Some washing machines are noisy, and you learn to live with it. But when the plumbing pipes connected to the washer shake and rattle—known as water hammer—you can’t just tune it out. Consumer Reports found a fix for this problem. 

    Fast-closing washer valves cause water hammer. It can get so bad that it could possibly damage the pipes or fixtures attached to the pipes. "Not all washing machines create water hammer, and not all plumbing systems will experience water hammer from a washing machine with fast-closing valves," says Bernie Deitrick, a Consumer Reports engineer.

    But if your new washer does shake the pipes, first try an inline water hammer arrester with hose fittings. The $10 Sioux Chief Mini-Rester 660-HB Water Hammer Arrester (shown) solved the problem in our tests. If an arrester doesn’t eliminate the water hammer, reduce peak flow by partially closing the water-supply valves. The washer will fill more slowly but it will still fill to the right water level. Next consider a larger arrester or pressure reducing valves, but you’ll probably need a plumber to install those.

    Making Music Out of a Washing Machine

    Rattling pipes aren't music to the ears, but an album made from sounds entirely produced by a top-loading washer is. Take a Whirlpool Ultimate Care II top-loader and add the conceptual electronics duo Matmos, and the result is an album made solely of sounds from the washing machine. In the Ultimate Care II video, the settings knob grinds, water splashes, the machine chugs and clanks, and electronic beeps alert the wash is done. “The album is a disarmingly enveloping ride, with flickers of techno, noise and house music that dissolve into an unbroken, 38-minute arc,” wrote Nate Chinen in The New York Times

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Health Insurance Marketplace Scam Alert

    For most people, the last day to enroll in a health plan for 2016 was January 31, 2016. But for scammers looking for a new twist on health insurance fraud, phishing season has just begun.

    Phishing is a form of identity theft in which hackers use fraudulent websites, fake emails, and robocalls to attempt to steal your personal data, especially passwords, credit card information and, increasingly your Social Security number. Clicking on the link may open your computer to malware, like viruses and spyware. Or the link may send you to a spoof site—for example, a copycat version of the Social Security Administration’s site—to trick you into entering your personal information, including your Social Security number.

    In what’s being called the Health Insurance Marketplace scam, you get a robocall purporting to be from a local branch of the Health Insurance Marketplace, the umbrella organization that oversees HealthCare.gov. The recorded message says, “You need to buy health insurance or face a fine. To learn more, press 1.” If you press 1, an operator who claims to “work with the law” asks for your personal information, including your name, date of birth, phone number, income, and Social Security number.

    The more personal information you share, the more likely you are to be compromised. Crooks running the Health Insurance Marketplace scam start by trying to snag enough basic information—your date of birth and address, for example—to troll the web for more information. The more they amass, the more opportunities for fraud arise: They can open a credit card in your name, steal your tax refund, take out loans in your name, and even clean out your bank account or retirement accounts. 

    What to Watch For

    There are myriad clues that you’ve been targeted for the Health Insurance Marketplace scam:

    • A caller says, “I’m from the government.” No, he isn't. The government will not call you about your health insurance, and no one from the government will ask you to verify your Social Security number or divulge credit card information.
    • You receive a robocall. Robocalls are illegal. Unless you gave the caller written permission to call you, a robocall is illegal.
    • A phone recording asks you to press 1. Don’t press that button—or any button. Pressing a number to connect to an operator—even if you intend to tell them never again to call you—only verifies that you’re a live respondent and puts you at risk for receiving more calls. Scammers will put your number into a queue to target later.
    • The operator asks you for personal information. If you do speak to an operator who asks you for personal information, hang up. 

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 03/04/16--12:56: Curtain Cleaning Made Easy
  • Curtain Cleaning Made Easy

    Have you noticed the dust that's collected on your curtains in recent months? Use these tips for curtain cleaning from Consumer Reports' “How to Clean Practically Anything."  Before cleaning your curtains and draperies, read the care instructions carefully to determine whether you can wash them or whether you should have them dry-cleaned.

    When to Dry Clean
    Even if these window coverings are made of a washable fabric, the linings and seams could shrink in water. Play it safe and opt for dry-cleaning if you are in doubt. Definitely dry-clean curtains and drapes with stitched-in pleats, swags, or other elaborate ornamentation that may not withstand a washing.

    Special Fabrics
    You can freshen up velvet draperies without washing or dry-cleaning them; just brush them from time to time with a chamois cloth dipped in hot water and wrung out thoroughly. If silk curtains call for hand washing do so in lukewarm or cool water and use mild dishwasher detergent. Swish gently and never twist or wring.

    Sun Damage
    Constant exposure to sunlight can render even sturdy fabrics fragile. So when machine-washing curtains and draperies, use the gentle cycle, cool or lukewarm water, and mild detergent. If possible, hang on a clothesline to dry, or put them in a clothes dryer on a no-heat or delicate setting.

    Sheer Curtains
    Wash sheer curtains on a regular basis even if they don’t look dirty because by the time dirt appears they can be permanently discolored. Clean these fragile fabrics gently. Make sure they fill no more than half the machine, and let them soak for five minutes in cold water. Use a mild detergent and if you wish, a whitening agent. Turn the dial to rinse to drain the water, then run the machine on a gentle wash setting for just two to three minutes.

    Put the sheer curtains and a couple of terry-cloth towels in a dryer set to no heat for another two to three minutes. Rehang while still slightly damp, and pull into shape. If necessary, move an ironing board next to the window and iron the hems while the curtains or draperies are hanging, or use a hand held steamer or the vertical steam setting of a regular steam iron to smooth them.

    Routine Curtain Cleaning
    After the deep cleaning, remember to dust curtains and drapes regularly with your vacuum cleaner’s soft brush attachment or with a soft, long-handled broom with synthetic fibers (they’re much better than natural fibers at collecting dust).

    If you use a vacuum cleaner, set it for reduced suction so you don’t draw the fabric into the nozzle. You might want to place a stiff piece of plastic screen between the nozzle and the fabric to prevent that from happening, or secure an old nylon stocking over the nozzle with a rubber band.

    If you can take down curtains and drapes and rehang them with relative ease, occasionally air them outdoors on a clothesline or put them in a clothes dryer set to the no-heat or delicate cycle.

    Make Sure It’s Not Curtains for Your Curtains

    • Measure curtains before washing in case you need to stretch them back into shape. Be sure to remove hooks and any weights, and loosen the tapes so they lie flat.
    • Before doing the curtain cleaning, dust them by running them through a dryer set to the no-heat cycle. Or shake them out, lay them on a bed, and dust with the vacuum brush attachment.
    • Don’t overload the washing machine, and remember that curtains will become much heavier when wet.
    • If hand washing, don’t rub or wring the fabric; just agitate it gently.
    • Try to dry curtains over two parallel lines so wet surfaces don’t touch. Don’t let the curtains rest on wood, which could stain them.
    • Iron while damp along the vertical length on the side that doesn’t show. If parts of the fabric have already dried, dampen the entire curtain again to avoid water marks.
    • Stretch seams gently while ironing to avoid puckering, then spread the curtains out on a clean surface, such as a bed, and pull them to the correct size.
    • When curtains are dry, insert hooks and weights, and pull tape to correct width.
    • You might be able to save a step by hanging your curtains, then using either a handheld steamer or the vertical  steaming of a regular steam iron to smooth them.
    • Before rehanging the curtains, clean valances fixed to the wall. Vacuum an upholstery valance with the upholstery attachment and a wooden valance with the crevice tool; clean a plastic valance with a sponge dipped in a solution of liquid detergent and water.
    • Rehanging is easiest when one person stands on a ladder to insert the hooks and another stands below to make sure the curtains don’t drag on the floor.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    5 Great New Cars You Might Be Overlooking

    Great new car choices often lurk under the radar screen, hidden from the limelight. They might not be the best selling in a given segment and might not have sexy styling, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider them. Daring to be different can have its rewards.

    Here we list five great new cars that merit special attention even though they might not be the most obvious choice or something your trend-setting neighbor just parked in the driveway.  

    In compiling this list, we not only looked at how the models did in our testing but also factored in feedback from owners who told us in significant numbers that they would definitely buy the vehicle again.

    Lincoln MKZ

    If the MKZ had a badge from a German brand, it would be on more people’s radar. Impressive ride and handling, smooth powertrains, and a luxurious cabin are among its virtues. Look for a 2017 model with the new Sync3 infotainment system.

    Read the complete Lincoln MKZ road test.

    Nissan Rogue

    Don’t confuse this SUV with the Rogue Select, which is the previous-generation version. The current Rogue is roomy and easy to drive and has competitive fuel economy, sound ride and handling, and an optional third-row seat.

    Read the complete Nissan Rogue road test.

    Kia Sorento

    Can one of Consumer Reports' Top Picks of 2016 be overlooked? With its smooth engines, quiet interior, comfortable ride and responsive handling, the Sorento is a sold, satisfying vehicle. A wide range of available safety features is another reason the Kia belongs on your three-row-SUV short list.

    Read the complete Kia Sorento road test.

    Subaru Legacy

    Not every Subaru is an SUV. The Legacy has the same fuel-efficient powertrain, roomy interior, and safety features as the Outback wagon, but it adds a luxurious ride wrapped in a sedan body.

    Read the complete Subaru Legacy road test.

    Kia Soul

    It’s certainly not sexy. But really, who cares. This quirky small-SUV alternative delivers great visibility, easy access, a roomy cabin, and plentiful cargo space, and it has a wide array of optional features.

    Read the complete Kia Soul road test.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Surviving Potholes | Pothole Damage - Consumer Reports

    Brutal winter cold wreaks havoc on our roads, creating crater-sized potholes that can cause expensive damage to your vehicle. A survey conducted by Trusted Choice and the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America found that half of car owners from 2009 to 2014 experienced vehicle damage due to potholes.

    What kind of damage can a pothole do? Tires, wheels, and suspension are all at risk. A direct hit at speed can puncture a tire, requiring an immediate tire change and possibly a replacement. Even if the tire doesn't deflate, the sidewall could be damaged, rendering the tire useless. A pothole can bend the rim of the wheel, preventing it from seating properly against the bead of the tire. And bits of the suspension could be bent or damaged, requiring a wheel alignment at best and expensive replacement at worst.

    The shape and depth of the hole and the speed at which you are driving all factor into the severity of potential damage, but there are other considerations, as well. Many cars, for example, now come with low-profile performance tires, which have shorter and stiffer sidewalls that can't flex and conform to a pothole edge as well as a taller and softer tire. As a result, performance tires are more prone to damage from potholes.

    Should the worst happen and you experience pothole damage to your vehicle, your auto insurance may cover damage to hard parts of the car, but it won’t typically cover wear-and-tear items such as tires. According to the Trusted Choice survey, 31 percent of respondents who experienced pothole damage filed an insurance claim. The majority paid out of pocket for repairs. (See our car insurance buying guide.)

    How to survive pothole-ravaged roads

    1.     Slow down and pay attention to the road in front of you—but don't hyper-focus. Safe driving requires awareness of what is going on far ahead. Increase your following distance from the car ahead in order to give you more time to scan the road and react. Don't assume a pothole that looks small really is small; Deep potholes can fill up with water, concealing their true depth.
     

    2.     Avoiding potholes is best, but if an impact is inevitable, slow down as much as possible before you hit. (Check your rearview mirror before slamming on your brakes.) If possible, drive straight through the pothole; turning into a pothole exposes the tire sidewall to potential damage.

    3.     Pay attention to how your car drives after a pothole hit. If the car is shaking, shimmying, or pulling to one side, something may have been damaged. Stop the car and check for visible signs of tire and wheel damage. Keep in mind that if the front tire ran over the hole, the rear tire probably did as well—check both. Even if no damage is visible, it is possible the tire lost a balance weight, or that some part of the suspension has been damaged. If in doubt, have the car checked by a mechanic.

    4.     Keeping your tires inflated to the recommended inflation pressure is one of the best ways to minimizing pothole damage to your tires and wheels. Under- or overinflated tires can affect a tires’ or wheel's resistance to pothole damage. Most cars now have a tire pressure monitoring system to alert the driver if a tire is losing air pressure. If your car does not have a tire pressure monitoring system, check the tire pressure when the tire has cooled to ambient temperature to be sure it’s not losing air from the pothole encounter.

    5.     Help other motorists avoid damage by reporting potholes to your local municipality. Many major cities and states now have apps for sharing pothole locations.

    See our tire buying advice and tire ratings.

    Gene Petersen

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Consumers Union on Merkley GMO Bill: This is What Real Disclosure Looks Like

    WASHINGTON, D.C. ― Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, today praised the introduction of the Biotechnology Food Labeling Uniformity Act. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), would create a national standard for GMO labeling and require food manufacturers to label products with GMO ingredients via one of several options on the ingredients list section of the Nutrition Facts Panel.  Another option would give FDA the authority to develop a symbol, in consultation with food manufacturers, which would disclose the presence of GM ingredients on packaging.

    Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union, said, “This is what real disclosure looks like. This bill finds a way to set a national standard and avoid a patchwork of state labeling laws while still giving consumers the information they want and deserve about what’s in their food. This compromise offers food companies different labeling options and ensures that all consumers – no matter where they are in the country or whether they own a smartphone – have the information they overwhelmingly say they want. We urge Senators to support this proposal as they move forward on GMO labeling legislation.”

    Merkley's bill comes the day after the Senate Agriculture Committee voted to move forward an anti-consumer bill that would preempt state GMO labeling laws and direct USDA to develop duplicative standards for voluntary labeling and promote biotechnology. The legislation, which is supported by biotech giants and some of the country’s largest food companies, is the latest attempt to block a Vermont law requiring labeling on the package of genetically engineered food sold in the state before it goes in to effect July 1.

    Consumers Union is urging consumers to call on their lawmakers to oppose preemption of state GMO labeling laws, and to support meaningful, mandatory on-package labeling for GMO foods, including engineered animals like salmon and engineered produce and processed food. To learn more, visit ConsumersUnion.org/RightToKnow.

    Media Contacts:
    David Butler, Consumers Union, 202.462.6262 or dbutler@consumer.org
    Kara Kelber, Consumers Union, 202.462.6262 or kkelber@consumer.org

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    Americans Have Big Concerns About Self-Driving Cars, Surveys Show

    Most American drivers have serious trepidations about a future filled with computer-controlled self-driving cars, according to surveys from AAA and the University of Michigan.

    On the surface, this seems to go against the big push by auto manufacturers, and software companies like Google, which are marching self-driving research and technology forward at a rapid pace. But the public’s reservations aren’t all that surprising considering many people have little experience, or understanding, of the autonomous technology involved, as evidenced by recent surveys.

    Three out of four drivers would be afraid to ride in a self-driving car, according to AAA’s survey of 1,832 respondents. And about 40 percent of the people surveyed said they are either undecided or reluctant to purchase semi-autonomous features on their next vehicle.

    Why?

    A whopping 84 percent of those surveyed trust their own driving skills more than the technology. Also, many felt that the technology is too new and unproven. Added cost is a concern, as is the annoyance with technology interfering with the thrill of driving.

    “What Americans may not realize is that the building blocks towards self-driving cars are already in today’s vehicles, and the technology is constantly improving and well-trusted by those who have experienced it,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of automotive engineering and repair.

    Drivers whose current vehicles were equipped with semiautonomous features—including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and self-parking—were 75 percent more likely to trust the technology than those who don’t have any of these systems in their cars. And the clear majority of drivers polled, at 61 percent, said they would, in fact, want at least one of those advanced safety features on their next vehicle.

    A previous survey, published by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, found that the public’s preferred level of automation for their car, if given the choice, would be no self-driving capability (at 44 percent of respondents), followed by partially self-driving capability (41 percent), with fully self-driving cars way behind (at just 15 percent).

    Giving up partial control of your car’s behavior to a computer is one thing, but putting yourself completely at the mercy of a machine may prove to be quite another, the Michigan survey found.

    More than 96 percent of respondents would want the ability to take over a self-driving car at any time, via a steering wheel and pedals, or some other controls.

    This is in contrast to the technological direction Google is headed with its self-driving car project. The online search engine and software giant is aiming for full autonomy, and its prototype pod-like self-driving cars are notably devoid of a steering wheel or pedals of any kind.

    Despite advances, the road to a true self-driving car remains bumpy, as evidenced by a recent collision between a Google test car and a city bus. It also warrants broad oversight to ensure that the vehicles are safe, which is an aim supported by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports.

    Consumers Union has joined other safety advocacy groups in calling for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to commit to maximum transparency and public involvement as policy and safety standards are developed covering autonomous vehicles.

    As consumers are exposed to more of today’s advanced safety systems, such as forward-collision warning with autobrake and lane-departure warning, we expect the comfort level with ceding some control to the car to increase. Meanwhile, the industry is racing toward the elusive goal of cars being able to manage the real-world nuances to which human drivers routinely adapt. Those two roads will inevitably converge, but not just yet.  

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Best Washers For $800 or Less | Washing Machine Reviews - Consumer Reports

    How much should you spend on a washer? You don’t have to pay $1,500 to get a washer that cleans well. Expensive washers offer a jumbo capacity and extra features, but if you don’t need to wash 26 pounds of laundry in one load and using your phone to check your laundry’s progress from Starbucks isn’t a priority, then take a look at these washers from Consumer Reports’ tests. They get the job done and cost $800 or less.

    High-efficiency top-loaders

    The HE top-loaders scoring very good in capacity can hold about 20 to 24 pounds of laundry; those scoring excellent hold around 25 pounds or more. Compared to agitator washers HE top-loaders typically clean better, use less water, and spin at higher speeds so more water is extracted and dryer time is shortened. But the high-speed spin can tangle and wrinkle clothing and normal wash time using the heavy-soil setting is usually 65 to 80 minutes. Shave about 15 to 20 minutes off by using the normal wash on normal-soil setting. It’s also known as the medium-soil or mid-soil setting.

    Consider: Kenmore 28132, $750, Kenmore 26132, $750, Kenmore 27132, $700, Kenmore 29132, $800, Maytag Bravos MVWB835DW, $680, and the Samsung WA48J7700AW, $650. They have large capacities—a few have jumbo—were impressive at cleaning, and are relatively quiet as you’ll see in our washing machine Ratings. But like most top-loaders most weren't so gentle on fabrics.

    Tip: Your laundry will tangle less if you wash similar items together and rather than dump everything into the machine at once, add a few items at a time and unbunch sleeves, pant legs, and socks. Before you put them in the dryer shake them out.

    Front-loaders

    The best we tested typically clean better than the best HE top-loaders and use less water. The models called out below scored very good in capacity and can hold about 20 to 24 pounds of laundry. Wash times range from 65 to 100 minutes using heavy-soil setting, so use the normal-soil setting and save about 15 minutes. Front-loaders spin even faster than HE top-loaders, usually extracting more water and reducing dryer time. 

    Consider: LG WM3170CW, $720, Maytag Maxima MHW5100DW, $750, Samsung WF45H6300AG, $800, LG WM3570HVA, $800, and Samsung WF42H5600AW, $720, and Samsung WF42H5000AW, $720. 

    Tip: A front-loader's high spin speeds might vibrate too much for the machine to be placed near a bedroom or family room, but keep in mind that concrete floors can absorb vibrations well, unlike wood-framed floors. You'll see vibration scores in our Ratings. 

    More choices

    Our washing machine Ratings give you all the details. We rate wash performance, energy- and water efficiency, capacity, gentleness, noise, vibration, and cycle time (normal wash on heavy-soil setting) and let you know if there's a matching dryer. Use our buying guide to compare washer types and features and if you have questions, email me at kjaneway@consumer.org.

    Kimberly Janeway 

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2016 Consumers Union of U.S.

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