All your top car questions answered

January 6, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Are hybrids really that much better? How much auto insurance do you really need? And what do you do if you've bought a lemon? Jon Guzik, editor-in-chief of DriverSide.com, answers your top consumer car questions.

1. Are hybrids really that much better?

Hybrids are great where fuel economy and emissions are concerned but they may not be worth all the hype, extra price and the waiting list at the dealer.

Hybrids lose the fuel economy to price ratio battle when compared to a sub-compact car like the Honda Fit

If you're looking for a giant SUV with three rows of seats, a hybrid will definitely save you a few mpgs but look to the new diesel SUVs that make as much sense.

Regarding the issue of Hybrids being the "greenest" cars, consumers often forget about the long-term affects of disposing the batteries.

Those will go into landfill and while they can be recycled, the still have environmental despoiling metals.

2. What to do if your car breaks down?

Don't panic or overreact. This makes the situation more dangerous.

Turn on your hazard lights and pull as far to the right shoulder as you can.

Don't get out of the vehicle if you can help it, make the emergency call from your car if possible and don't unbuckle your seatbelt.

If you can slowly drive your vehicle to safety, do so as getting off the road minimizes the risk of someone hitting your disabled car.

Only perform repairs (such as changing a flat) if you know you're capable and it's safe to do so. We think there's no point in risking your life for a flat tire.

3. How do you know if you've bought a lemon?

According to the California Lemon Law, if any automobile turns out to be defective or a lemon, then a consumer with valid proof is entitled to get his money back or to get compensated against that loss. It could be either a replacement or a cash settlement.

Any car that has received service for the same defect four or more times within the warranty period is considered a lemon. If you think your car is a lemon, there are a few things you can do:

Let your dealer know about it, if that doesn't work to your satisfaction, or the car still has problems, contact an attorney or the Better Business Bureau.

4. How do you shop for auto insurance and how much insurance do you need?

In California, drivers are required to carry 15/30/5. Which means $15,000 of bodily injury liability per person for a total of $30,000 and $5,000 for property damage liability.

If the accident causes more damage, that leaves you to foot the remainder of the bill. Each driver has different needs. But most minimum coverage is just that - minimum. Evaluate your own driving tendencies, how much time you spend on the road and the cost of vehicles around you and settle on a level of coverage you're comfortable with.

5. Dealerships and Mechanics?

If your new or leased car is under warranty, always take your car to the dealer. It saves you time and money in the long run, as the service is usually paid by the warranty from the car company.

If you have an older car, a reputable private mechanic will work. Research mechanics and warranties at DriverSide.com.

If it's a new cars, we recommend factory replacement parts, while more expensive, they have a better guarantee than generic or rebuilt parts.

That said, local shops also tend to bend the pricing a little bit and you may find yourself getting better deals on labor costs than the dealership.

Reasons to Take Your Car to the Dealer:

Well-trained personnel - the technicians are factory-trained and work solely on one or two makes of car, meaning they have insider knowledge about your vehicle that the shops may not have.

Factory replacement parts - they won't have to scrounge around for aftermarket parts when they have access to parts straight from the factory.

Precise diagnosis and state of the art tools -technicians can use the exact tools needed for your specific car.

Reasons to Take Your Car to a Local Shop:

Personal service and face time with your mechanic - piece of mind comes from being able to talk to the people directly working on your car.

Lower prices - factory parts and training mean prices at dealerships are generally higher. You're more likely to find deals with aftermarket parts.

Personnel with greater field experience - while dealerships have factory training, that's all they have. Small shops provide you with expertise in multiple areas.

We'd recommend taking your car to the dealership for a more refined and thorough repair process.

BONUS ANSWER:

Top 10 2009 cars under $20K for your teen

  • 2009 Honda Fit $13,950
  • 2008 Ford Focus $14,395
  • 2008 Mazda3 - $18,560
  • 2008 Volkswagen Rabbit - $15,600
  • 2008 Scion tC $17,620 - $18,420
  • 2008 Volkswagen Jetta - $16,990
  • Mitsubishi Lancer - $13,990
  • Suzuki SX4 - $14,339
  • Nissan Versa - $12,880
  • Honda Civic - $14,810

For more information, visit www.DriverSide.com

About Jon Alain Guzik
Jon Alain Guzik is a journalist and cultural critic based in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Currently, he is the Editor-in-Chief and Director of Editorial Development for DriverSide.com. Prior to joining Driverside.com, he was the Editor-at-Large at Yahoo! Autos - the most trafficked web site on the Internet - where he developed and wrote the portal's original automotive content. His content was featured weekly in Yahoo!'s front page to a global audience of billions of viewers.

Throughout his career, Guzik has written on subjects ranging from art, architecture and popular culture to media convergence, sports, fashion, video games and automobiles for 0-60, Rides, L.A. Weekly, Variety, Los Angeles Magazine, Dazed and Confused, Dwell, McSweeney's and The Los Angeles Times, to name a few.

He was a contributing editor at Stuff, Maxim and Complex magazines from 2003 to 2008. Guzik has also worked as an editorial and brand management consultant to numerous media companies and websites.

Mr. Guzik has a B.A. in Cinema from San Francisco State University and an M.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Critical Studies with a supplemental certification in Integrated Media.

He is currently at work on a non-fiction book, The Rhetoric Of Speed, about the history - from World War Two to present day - of youth subcultures and the automobile. He dreams of one day owning his own NASCAR race team. Said Mr. Guzik of this automotive aspiration, "It'd be awesome."


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