12 tips to tell if you’re buying a flood-damaged used car

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We’ve experienced two major hurricanes. Now Hurricane Maria is raking the Caribbean, storms are queued up in the Atlantic, and we’re only a bit more than halfway through the hurricane season. So now might be a good time to review the basics of how to avoid buying a flood-damaged used car.

First, understand that no good can come from flood damage. Cars today are rolling computer systems, laden with electronics, from engine control units to airbag circuitry to the heaters in your seats. That alone makes for serious trouble when a car has been immersed — engine, mechanical and body issues aside. And even if a car looks or performs well now, that might not be the case a year or two from now when corrosion sets in.

Second, in the age of Carfax, it’s easy to assume that the marketplace could never allow flood-damaged vehicles onto the used-car market. Sadly, that’s not always the case. The way the system is supposed to work: After an insurance company declares a car totaled, it gets branded with a “salvage” title, or in the case of some states, a “flood” title. It’s then wholesaled, parted out, salvaged, recycled. If it’s sold to a buyer, it’s with clear awareness of the compromised title.

But that’s not the way it always works. First, there’s the matter of cars that were never insured in the first place, so they are never totaled. Second, if someone buys a branded car at auction, puts some degree of repair into it and gets it reinspected, it can gain a “rebuilt” title status. But Consumer Reports says it has found cases where flooded cars regained a clear title, aka “title washing,” instates with lax regulations in that regard.

So buyer beware. Here is some advice, partly from Consumer Reports, for anyone buying a used car in the coming months:

1. Check: Is the car from out of state? Cars are often transported away from flood zones to areas where there is less awareness of the issue. Which is smart, right? A couple of months from now, you’ll have forgotten all about the hurricanes. Carfax offers a free flood damage check, based partly on where the car has previously been registered.

2. Use the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System to check a vehicle’s history. You can also try the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VIN Check service.

3. Hire a mechanic to check out the car. The mechanic, or you, should do the following:

4. Use your nose. Does the car pass the sniff test? Does it smell of must, mold or mildew? Or of heavy deodorant?

5. Check the carpets. Musty? Stained? Signs they’ve been mud-caked? Or worse, do they look like brand-new replacements? Same goes for the upholstery. Any water stains? Go ahead, peel back some carpet in the car and in the trunk. Any sign of moisture or rust? While you’re in the trunk, be sure to check the spare-tire well.

6. Check seat mounts and bolts to see if they’ve been wrenched. Seats are often removed in the course of drying out a car. Look at the springs under the seat (you might need a mirror). Are the springs rusty?

7. Check under the hood. Does the crankcase oil look properly clear or dark? Or is it more the color of chocolate milk? That can be a sign of water intrusion. Does the paper air filter show a water stain? Any evidence of a water line on the firewall, inner fenders or components? Are there signs of silt in nooks and crannies of the engine compartment?

8. Inspect headlights and taillights. Is there evidence of a past water line inside? Are they foggy?

9. Check gaps and crevices. Places under the hood, or under the dashboard, or in the trunk, or along the backside of a body panel. Run your finger over hard-to-reach (and therefore hard-to-clean) places. Is there evidence of mud or silt?

10. Check screw heads and other bits of unpainted metal under the dashboard or in other hidden places for signs of rust.

11. Check to see if rubber drainplugs on the underside of the car appear to have been removed.

12. Take a test drive. Does it run well? Check to see if all electronics work. Do the stereo speakers sound right, or do they sound garbled or distorted?

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Man gets 2 distracted driving tickets in 8 minutes in Vancouver

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The Vancouver Police Department is clearly very serious about keeping people off their phones while driving. Well, as the CBC first reported, the VPD posted on Twitter a pair of citations issued to a driver for using a cell phone while driving.

Each ticket cost $368 for an eye-popping total of $736 Canadian (or $596 American). That’s bad enough, but the real amazing thing is that the second ticket was issued just eight minutes after the first, and according to the VPD’s Twitter, they were issued within six blocks of each other.

The citations specifically say the driver was using an “electronic device.” The distracted driving law in British Columbia describes this violation as using a smartphone in just about any way, from texting to simply talking to someone on the other end. Talking while parked, when contacting police or emergency services, or using a hands-free system are the only exceptions to the rule.

On top of that, the tickets came with eight points on the driver’s license, four points for each offense. Those points also come with fines in addition to the basic citations’ costs. According to the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia and the British Columbia government, a first offense of the distracted driving law in British Colombia comes with a $175 fine for those first four points accrued. Having a second offense in 12 months, as in this driver’s case, adds another four points, and the fine jumps to $520. So the driver in question will be paying more than $1,200 for his few minutes of phone use. These penalties are higher than they used to be. In addition, the British Columbia government notes that two or more violations come with an automatic review of the driver’s record with the possibility of a 3- to 12-month license suspension.

[Source: Autoblog]

Autonomy and alcohol: You’ll be drinking while the car’s driving

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When fully autonomous vehicles hit the road en masse, we can expect fewer accidents, less traffic, and reduced tailpipe emissions. But according to two reports, we could also see sharp increases in the consumption of booze due to self-driving cars, and even more time spent staring at screens, binge watching and being bombarded by ads.

In a recent report, Morgan Stanley predicted that booze will get a significant boost in sales since the technology could allow people to drink more if they know they don’t have to worry about driving drunk. “Shared and autonomous vehicles could expand the total addressable market of alcoholic beverages while reducing the incidence of traffic fatalities and accidents,” Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas wrote in a report titled “Shared autonomous mobility: The solution to drinking and driving?”

Jonas predicted that autonomous vehicles could lead drinkers to consume on average one extra alcoholic beverage per week over the next decade. With what he calls “more opportunities to drink before getting in the car,” Jonas pointed investors to consider stock in brands like Anheuser-Busch and restaurants such as Buffalo Wild Wings, since self-driving cars present a “significant growth opportunity for alcoholic beverage firms.”

Jonas also believes that autonomous vehicles could allow drinkers to imbibe in the car once machines take over driving, further increasing liquor sales since there will be “more opportunities to drink while in the car,” he wrote. And I’m going on record predicting that autonomous shuttles will be used as mobile bars, similar to those pub-crawl beer bikes you see in cities, except for lazy booze hounds.

You’ll also be able to watch movies, TV and other content while knocking back a beer or two in an autonomous vehicle. An Ernst & Young report released last year predicts that streaming in-car entertainment could bring the entertainment industry an additional $20 billion in revenue, and Hollywood is already gearing up to keep us captivated while in confined in autonomous cars.

“That is the next journey for entertainment,” Ted Schilowitz, a futurist for Paramount Pictures, told The Hollywood Reporter, perhaps pun intended. “Multiple studios are looking at this and meeting with strategic partners.”

Judging from futuristic self-driving concepts like Mercedes-Benz’s F 015 Luxury in Motion concept that has six screens to turn the cabin into a “digital arena,” automakers are also looking at how to turn cars into drive-in theaters. “We’re re-envisioning the automotive experience,” said Alex Hilliger, advanced engineer at Mercedes-BenzResearch & Development North America.

“The vehicle could have a lounge atmosphere, and the passengers face forward or backward,” Hilliger added. “If you don’t need a steering wheel or driver’s seat, the car can be a new space.”

Schilowitz said that the entertainment industry believes “there’s a lot of real estate” in self-driving cars to project images. “If you look at the windshield and windows, they are screens at the right distance to be entertainment portals.”

Of course, with content will come ads, making autonomous cars a marketer’s dream since they’ll be able to literally drive consumers to purchase their products. “We could deliver interactive, geolocated advertising based on nearby shops, restaurants and businesses,” said Dennis Wharton, executive VP at the National Association of Broadcasters.

“The content personalization possibilities are endless,” added Danny Shapiro, senior director of automotive at chipmaker Nvidia. “The telcos, content providers, game developers and e-commerce companies will be transacting business within the car.”

So enjoy driving in peace while you still can, free from the constant content consumption that’s invaded every other aspect of our digital lives. On the other hand, if using your evening commute to catch up on Game of Thrones while sipping a cocktail sounds cool, the autonomous vehicle future has you covered.

Senate bill would secure the ‘internet of things,’ from cars to fridges

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A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Tuesday is introducing legislation to address vulnerabilities in computing devices embedded in everyday objects — known in the tech industry as the “internet of things” — which experts have long warned poses a threat to global cybersecurity and which has made several recent hacking events all too easy.

Reports of thieves using laptops to steal cars have persisted for years, and white-hat research into hacking cars goes back at least to a 2010 study at the University of Washington. The biggest real-world example surfaced last year when a pair of hackers in Houston were accused of using FCA software on a laptop to steal vehicles, mostly Jeeps, that were spirited away across the Mexican border. Possibly 100 vehicles were stolen this way.

Nissan had to suspend its Leaf smartphone app for a time, as did GM with its OnStar app, which got some notoriety when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) used the app to hack a Chevy Impala for 60 MInutes.

In 2015, cybersecurity researchers Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller accessed critical vehicle controls on a 2014 Jeep Cherokee via the infotainment system. This allowed the pair, without physical access to the vehicle, to remotely disable the brakes, turn the radio volume up, engage the windshield wipers, and tamper with the transmission, measure its speed and track its location. The hack prompted Fiat Chrysler to recall 1.4 million vehicles.

Security researchers say the ballooning array of online devices including vehicles, household appliances, and medical equipment are not adequately protected from hackers. A 2016 cyberattack was facilitated when hackers conscripted the “internet of things” into a “zombie army” of devices that flooded servers with web traffic in what’s known as a “distributed denial of service.”

The new bill would require vendors who provide internet-connected equipment to the U.S. government to ensure their products are patchable and conform to industry security standards. It would also prohibit vendors from supplying devices that have unchangeable passwords or possess known security vulnerabilities.

Republicans Cory Gardner and Steve Daines and Democrats Mark Warner and Ron Wyden are sponsoring the legislation, which was drafted with input from technology experts at the Atlantic Council and Harvard University. A Senate aide who helped write the bill said that companion legislation in the House was expected soon.

“We’re trying to take the lightest touch possible,” Warner said. He added that the legislation was intended to remedy an “obvious market failure” that has left device manufacturers with little incentive to build with security in mind.

The legislation would allow federal agencies to ask the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for permission to buy some non-compliant devices if other controls, such as network segmentation, are in place.

It would also expand legal protections for cyber researchers working in “good faith” to hack equipment to find vulnerabilities so manufacturers can patch previously unknown flaws.

Between 20 billion and 30 billion devices are expected to be connected to the internet by 2020, researchers estimate, with a large percentage of them insecure.

Though security for the internet of things has been a known problem for years, some manufacturers say they are not well equipped to produce cyber secure devices.

Hundreds of thousands of insecure webcams, digital records and other everyday devices were hijacked last October to support a major attack on internet infrastructure that temporarily knocked some web services offline, including Twitter, PayPal and Spotify.

The new legislation includes “reasonable security recommendations” that would be important to improve protection of federal government networks, said Ray O’Farrell, chief technology officer at cloud computing firm VMware.

Reporting by Dustin Volz. Background information from Autoblog was included.

Police car makes dramatic entrance to break up a bar fight

This Facebook video posted over the weekend shows an overly enthusiastic police response to what has all the classic signs of a bar fight — bloke explaining himself to a cop, another yob yelling and gesturing in a bloodied shirt. This all happened early Sunday morning in Kent, England.

The driver clearly was coming in too hot for the wet pavement. The bad part, obviously, is the car barely avoided striking a number of people on the sidewalk. On the bright side, the cruiser wound up perfectly parked. Though they may want to drop it off at the shop for an alignment.

Bill speeding deployment of self-driving cars clears next hurdle in Congress

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An influential U.S. House committee on Thursday approved a revised bipartisan bill on a 54-0 vote that would speed the deployment of self-driving cars without human controls and bar states from blocking autonomous vehicles.

The bill would allow automakers to obtain exemptions to deploy up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year, a cap that would rise to 100,000 vehicles annually over three years.

Automakers and technology companies believe chances are good Congress will approve legislation before year end. They have been pushing for regulations making it easier to deploy self-driving technology, while consumer groups have sought more safeguards. Current federal rules bar self-driving cars without human controls on U.S. roads and automakers think proposed state rules in California are too restrictive.

The measure, the first significant federal legislation aimed at speeding self-driving cars to market, would require automakers to submit safety assessment reports to regulators, but would not require pre-market approval of advanced vehicle technologies.

The House of Representatives will take up the bill when it reconvenes in September, while senators plan to introduce a separate similar measure.

“Our aim was to develop a regulatory structure that allows for industry to safely innovate with significant government oversight,” said Representative Greg Walden, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Initially, authors proposed to allow automakers and others to sell up to 100,000 vehicles immediately. Representative Frank Pallone said the phase-in period was essential so “millions of exempted cars will not hit our roads all at once.”

Manufacturers must demonstrate self-driving cars winning exemptions are at least as safe as existing vehicles.

Under the House proposal, states could still set rules on registration, licensing, liability, insurance and safety inspections, but could not set self-driving car performance standards.

Automakers praised committee passage, while Consumer Watchdog privacy director John Simpson said preempting state laws “leaves us at the mercy of manufacturers as they use our public highways as their private laboratories.”

General Motors Co, Alphabet Inc, Tesla Inc , Volkswagen AG and others have been lobbying for legislation to speed deployment of self-driving cars. Consumer advocates want more changes, including giving the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration quicker access to crash data and more funding to oversee self-driving cars.

The issue has taken on new urgency since U.S. road deaths rose 7.7 percent in 2015, the highest annual jump since 1966.

Automakers say that without changes in regulations, U.S. self-driving car testing could move to Europe and elsewhere.

[Source: Autoblog]

New car smell? Ford’s ‘golden noses’ know the Chinese don’t want that

While Western drivers like the “new car smell” fresh off the production line, Chinese would rather their cars didn’t smell of anything – a cultural divide that’s testing carmakers seeking an edge in the world’s biggest auto market.

At Ford, for example, 18 smell assessors – dubbed “golden noses” – at its research plant outside the eastern city of Nanjing test the smell of each material that goes inside a Ford car to be sold in China and around Asia.

The China smell test isn’t unique, but illustrates the lengths automakers go to attract buyers in markets where consumer attitudes vary widely.

“In North America, people want a new car smell and will even buy a ‘new car’ spray to make older cars feel new and fresh. In China it’s the opposite,” says Andy Pan, supervisor for material engineering at the Ford facility, which employs around 2,300 people.

The smell of a new car in China can have an outsized effect. A J.D. Power report last year showed that unpleasant car smells were the top concern for Chinese drivers, ahead of engine issues, road noise or fuel consumption.

The smell assessors at Ford, whose China sales are down 7 percent this year, carry out 300 tests a year, a third more than their counterparts in Europe. They rate the odor of all materials used in a car from “not perceptible” to “extremely disturbing.”

Pungent materials – from carpets to seat covers and steering wheels – are noted as smelling of anything from “burnt tire” and “bad meat” to “mothballs” or “dirty socks.” Some are sent back to the supplier.

Seats for Ford cars in China are stored in perforated cloth bags to keep them ventilated before being installed, as opposed to plastic wrapping in the U.S. market where consumers are less concerned about chemical smells.

“The smell inside the car can often be pretty pungent,” said Tom Lin, a 24-year-old high-school teacher in Zhejiang province, who bought a local Roewe brand car last October. He said there was still a bit of an odor six months later.

“With the next car I buy, I’m going to take more care to check out any odd smells,” he said.

EXTRA EDGE

To be sure, smell is just one factor for automakers to get right in China, where picky buyers are always looking for fresh car models and Beijing is making a big drive toward new-energy vehicles.

In a slower market – consultancy IHS forecasts vehicle sales will slip slightly this year – firms are looking for an extra edge to appeal to consumers, beyond price discounts, says IHS analyst James Chao.

Local rivals Geely Automobile and BYD Co Ltd tout their in-car air filters to protect drivers from China’s harmful air pollution, and BMW says it is adding larger touch screens and tweaking colors to appeal to Chinese buyers.

Smell is key, though, reflecting a wider concern in China about chemicals and pollution.

“When I lived in the United States, I might look at the suspension or the engine,” said Don Yu, China general manager at CGT, which makes materials to cover car seats and dashboards for General Motors, Volkswagen and Ford.

“In China, though, people open the car and sit inside. If the smell isn’t good enough, they think it will jeopardize their health.”

For Ford’s “golden noses,” that means a strict routine. Testers undergo a tough selection process, proving themselves on blind smell tests before being chosen.

“We have to have very healthy habits; we can’t smoke, we can’t drink,” says one of the team, 33-year-old Amy Han, adding she avoids spicy food and doesn’t wear nail polish, strong perfume or even a leather jacket to keep her sense of smell sharp.

Reporting by Adam Jourdan.

[Source: Autoblog]