Get up to speed with useful and practical car care advice from Steve Parker, veteran radio and Emmy Award-winning television automotive journalist and host of  "The Car Nut" Radio Show on Speedvision Radio on Sirius Satellite Radio.

  On-Star and Other Hi-Tech Life Savers.  Manufacturers are finding some very cool ways...

Gadgets for Safer Rain Driving. If you live in snow country, you know you should keep certain supplies...

Getting Ready for that Road Trip!  If it's time for that family road trip...

Need a New Car?  Why Not Just a New Engine?  You can expect to get about 200,000 miles...

A Recall Notice.  What Do You Do Now?   What should you do if your car or truck gets recalled?

On-Star and Other Hi-Tech Life Savers
Manufacturers are finding some very cool ways to put all the computer power in your car to practical use. General Motors OnStar product hooks you up to a central office using a cellular phone connection, and, using a hands-free speaker and microphone, you talk to a real human being who answers all your questions. On the new Cadillac Escalade sport/utility, and available on almost every mid-sized and larger GM car and truck, OnStar has been simplified to a 3-button unit...just push once and in seconds you're talking to someone who can call for help, give you directions, help you order movie name it. OnStar costs about $1300 and there's a monthly fee after the first year of use. But on Escalade, and as a special feature on many other GM vehicles, OnStar is a standard feature. Both BMW and Mercedes-Benz are offering collision avoidance systems which tell you when there's something in front of, behind, or to the sides of your car. Already in use on some large trucks and many school busses, these systems use radar, and are sort of electronic versions of the old metal curb feelers which would let you know when your parking skills left something to be desired. The systems are adjustable for sensitivity and will become standard on many cars and trucks in the next decade. Mercedes, in fact, has a system on their all-new topline S-class car which allows you to leave the cruise control in operation and not worry if someone cuts in front of you...if that happens, the system automatically applies the brakes!

Gadgets for Safer Rain Driving
If you live in snow country, you know you should keep certain supplies in your car or an ice scraper, tire chains, even an emergency kit with a space blanket to help you stay warm. But just because most of us in live in rain country and not where it snows, that doesn't mean you should not be prepared for wet weather with some special rainy day car gadgets. If you're planning to replace your windshield wipers, and you should if it's been more than a year since the last replacement, get a pair of the two- and even three-bladed wipers made by several different companies. Folks who use them swear by their ability to clean rain and mud off the windshield faster than the standard single-bladed variety. I'm not totally convinced they're that great, but they're worth considering. Another way to keep rain slowing off your windows fast, and one that really does work, is called Rain-X. There are several types of these products on the market. Apply the liquid correctly to your car's windows, and rain and mud and muck will flow off the glass in even sheets and do a lot less streaking. Hey...race car drivers use this stuff on the clear face shields on their helmets, so you know it works! Finally, there's a new product from Japan which will go on-sale in this country later this ask your auto supply store about it. It's called Hydrotect, and these are clear plastic sheets which can be applied to your outside side rear view mirrors...and they say the product keeps the glass clear of water and fog-free, too.

Getting Ready for that Road Trip!
If it's time for that family road trip, maybe that quick trip to Las Vegas or a weekend in Palm Springs, prepare properly. Now's a good time to get your car or truck thoroughly checked-out before you head through the badlands! And a lot of this pre-trip inspection you can do yourself, so let's start with the obvious: your tires. There's no excuse for hitting the road with worn tires, and the old saw about being able to see the top of Lincoln's head when putting a penny in the tread still holds true. If you can't see that much, it's time for new tires before visiting grandma in Idaho. Your vehicle's cooling system is, believe me, your best friend on the open road. And remember never use just plain water to fill up the radiator if the level is low! Always use the proper mixture of coolant or anti-freeze and water otherwise you can do serious damage to the radiator itself! Now's also the time to check other important fluids, including: Brake fluid, power steering fluid, and automatic transmission fluid. You can do all this easily yourself by reading your owner's manual. Finally, another do-it-yourself job: check all the belts and hoses. Make sure they are all supple to the touch, they are connected tightly to the right fittings, and there is no visible wear or cracking, and especially no rotting areas around the connectors. If all these systems check-out before you hit the road, you'll have a much better chance of making it to your destination and back home without spending time stuck on the side of a boiling hot freeway.

Need a New Car?  Why Not Just a New Engine?
You can expect to get about 200,000 miles out of the average car or truck engine these days...if you take excellent care of it! The truth is, most of us don't take proper care of the engine...we don't change the oil when we should, we don't check the filters as often as we're supposed to, we put in a lower-grade gasoline than recommended, we let the belts and hoses in the engine fall get the picture. So let's say, like many people, your car has about 80,000 miles or so and the engine needs a lot of work...I mean a lot of work, many hundreds of dollars worth. But otherwise your car is in really great shape...and most important, it's paid for! You don't want the expense of new car payments, but you also know that engine is going to nickel and dime you to death as long as you keep the car. Here's an alternative...simply get a new engine! For about $2000, you can purchase and have installed a remanufactured engine with a good warranty in your car or truck. If you want to spend a few more dollars, you can even buy a brand-new engine right off the engine assembly line for your older car or truck. But the remanufactured engines are practically as good as new...just make sure the one you get has a warranty which makes least one year and 12,000 miles. And for a few dollars more, you can even buy an extended warranty, just like at a new car dealership. And with the average cost of a new car in 1999 over $23,000, for less than 10 percent of that, you can buy a like-new engine and have it installed. It is definitely an alternative worth considering.

A Recall Notice.  What Do You Do Now?
What should you do if your car or truck gets recalled? Well, as you might imagine, the process is not as simple as you may think. If you get a recall notice in the mail, the first thing to do is call your local dealer and find out if they have the parts and tools to make the fix. They may not yet, and in that case, don't bother going to the dealer until they do. When the dealer does get the necessary parts and tools, don't just go roaring down there demanding your car be fixed. The best thing to do is to make an appointment, just like you would for a regular service visit. This will give the dealer the time to do the fix right the first time. Finally, and most important, remember that with any recall, the dealer can not charge you one dime for any of the necessary service. If they try to charge you or try to sell you more service, tell the dealer forget about it...and never go to that dealer again!

Copyright (c) 2001 Steve Parker,