» The Commuter News, Opinion, Analysis and More For the Adjunct Faculty Nation Wed, 28 Sep 2016 20:45:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Winterize Your Car Thu, 01 Jan 2004 04:00:00 +0000 by Brent Romans

If you were to ask your car where it would want to live, and it just so happened to be a talking car, it would most likely say “Southern California.” “It’s warm there, the roads are fairly decent, and I might get to see a movie star,” it would say. If you were to ask it where it wouldn’t want to live, it would reply “Detroit.” Or in a broader sense, it wouldn’t want to live where it’s cold, snowy, and just generally yucky.

Wintertime is very unfriendly to a vehicle. Cold temperatures make it harder for an engine to work properly. Snow and ice limit traction. Potholes damage wheels and tires. Salt causes rust and gravel pits the paint. But there are things you can do to help your vehicle in this time of duress. Following are some easy steps to “winterize” your car. In fact, they are so easy, a talking car could figure them out! Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  • 1. Consider using snow tires.
    2. Check the tire pressure.
    3. Make sure your vehicle’s four-wheel drive system is working properly.
    4. Change the engine oil and adjust the viscosity grade.
    5. Inspect the belts and hoses.
    6. Inspect the wipers and wiper fluid.
    7. Check the battery.
    8. Check antifreeze mixture.
    9. Carry an emergency kit inside the car.
  • 1. Consider using snow tires. The condition of your car’s tires is critical during the winter. If the tires are worn, or they are high performance tires, braking, acceleration and handling are all negatively impacted while driving on slippery roads. Because of reduced vehicle capabilities, the likelihood of a crash increases.

    The tires mounted on this beat-up Ford we spotted were a joke. If you have the cash, consider buying a set of winter tires. Winter tires are optimized for snow and ice. They aren’t magic tires–even with winter tires, your car will still be worse on slick roads than dry ones. But winter tires do help to improve traction on slick surfaces more than all-season tires.

    2. Check the tire pressure. Tire pressure is especially important during the winter. Traction is often at a minimum due to wet or snowy conditions. It is critical to have properly inflated tires, as this guarantees the best possible contact between the tire and the road. A properly inflated tire will also help protect against wheel damage that might occur as the vehicle is driven over potholes. Read your owner’s manual to find the correct tire pressures.

    Because of wintertime’s lower temperatures, the air pressure in a cold tire will drop. Why? Because air is a gas, and gas contracts when it cools. Keep this in mind if you are checking tire pressures. Generally, for every 10-degree Fahrenheit change in ambient temperature, your tire’s inflation pressure will change by about 1 psi (up with higher temperatures and down with lower temperatures).

    3. Make sure your vehicle’s four-wheel-drive system is working properly. A big selling point for SUVs is that they offer 4WD, which improves traction in slippery conditions. But most people don’t use their 4WD systems during the summer. And while a four-wheel-drive system requires minimal maintenance, it’s still a good idea to check that it works properly before the onset of winter.

    Make sure the system engages and disengages smoothly, and that there are no strange noises emanating from the drivetrain when the system is in use. Check to make that the transmission and gear oil levels are correct.

    If there are multiple drivers for your SUV, make sure each of them knows how to operate the 4WD system. The owner’s manual will state at what speeds and environments the 4WD can be activated.

    4. Change the engine oil and adjust the viscosity grade. This isn’t nearly as hard as it sounds. Viscosity simply refers to how thick or thin the oil is. Tar has a higher viscosity than orange juice, for example. Engine oils are sold with different levels of viscosity. When winter arrives, the outside temperature drops. And just like you, the oil inside your vehicle’s engine isn’t feeling too perky after sitting in the cold all night. The colder an oil is, the thicker it will be. A thicker oil doesn’t circulate as well in an engine during start-up as a thinner oil would. If the oil is too thick, the engine doesn’t get the proper lubrication. Also, dirty oil doesn’t circulate as well as clean oil.

    To solve this wintertime problem, you can change your vehicle’s engine oil to one that is thinner to begin with. Even when the thinner oil is cold, it is still not too thick for proper engine lubrication. Keep in mind that an engine oil can be too thin.

    Determining what type of oil your car should have during the winter is easy. Simply read your vehicle’s owner’s manual. The manual will list the manufacturer’s oil recommendations for different climates. If you have a dealership or local garage perform the oil change, you can ask the manager what type and viscosity of oil they are putting into your vehicle. Pretty much all modern cars have recommended oil grades of 5W-30, 10W-30 or 10W-40. For more information on what these numbers mean, check out

    5. Inspect the belts and hoses. The belts and hoses in modern cars lead long lives. But that doesn’t mean they don’t die. Cold temperatures can accelerate the demise of a belt or hose. Before winter starts, have the belts and hoses inspected on your vehicle.
    6. Inspect the wipers and wiper fluid. Visibility is particularly key in winter, as it is often compromised by precipitation, salt buildup on the windshield and reduced daylight. The life expectancy of a wiper blade is one year. If your car’s blades are older, replace them.

    Also check and fill your wiper fluid reservoir. A harsh winter storm is the worst possible time to run out of wiper fluid or to discover your blades aren’t performing properly.

    7. Check the battery. A battery gives little notice before it kicks off. And it absolutely loves to croak when you can least afford it doing so. Very cold temperatures can reduce a vehicle’s battery power by up to 50 percent. If your vehicle battery is older than three years, have it tested at a certified automotive repair facility. Also, make sure the posts and connections are free of corrosion.

    8. Check antifreeze mixture. The ideal mixture of antifreeze (coolant) and water inside your vehicle’s radiator is 50:50. If the mixture deviates from this norm, then hot- and cold-weather performance can be compromised.

    If you were to put pure water in your vehicle’s radiator, it would freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. But if you combine the water with an equal amount of antifreeze, the new mixture won’t freeze until -34 degrees Fahrenheit!

    You can check the composition of a radiator’s mixture by using an antifreeze tester. You can find these at all auto parts stores, and they are inexpensive and easy to use. If the mixture is off, adjust it by adding either coolant or water.

    9. Carry an emergency kit inside the car. Wintertime requires you to load more junk into the back of your vehicle. But hey, better safe than sorry, right? Things you might want to consider carrying:

  • A flashlight, flares and a first-aid kit.
    Jumper cables, a tool kit and tire chains.
    A blanket, warm clothes and gloves.
    Paper towels.
    A bag of abrasive material, such as sand, salt or non-clumping kitty litter. Use this for added traction when a tire is stuck.
    A snow brush, ice scraper and snow shovel.
    Extra washer fluid.
    Extra food and water.
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    Putting Together a Roadside Emergency Kit Sun, 01 Sep 2002 04:00:00 +0000 by P.D. Lesko

    Have you ever been in this scenario? It’s 7 a.m.; you’re driving to your first class of the day. You know in an instant that something’s wrong. Controlling the vehicle becomes increasingly difficult and you ease the car to the side of the road. Getting out, you see that the left rear tire is flat.

    If you’re lucky enough to be driving a Caddy with OnStar, help is only a phone call away. However, if you’re an average part-timer, you’re either faced with having to hail a passing motorist or missing your classes (and, perhaps, a day’s pay). That is, unless you have a well-stocked emergency roadside kit in the trunk of your car.

    When it comes to commuting, a roadside emergency kit can mean the difference between getting back on the road or being stuck for a long period of time. A roadside emergency kit is the one item that every vehicle should have; yet most of us never carry any of the basic items to help you get back on the road quickly and safely. See the chart at right for a list of basic items.

    Granted, all these items practically necessitate a Ford Excursion to haul them down the road, but a basic version of a roadside kit will fit into even the most compact of compact cars. This mini-kit includes flares, a quart of oil, small first aid kit, extra fuses, flashlight, Leatherman Tool (or any other multipurpose tool commonly containing pliers, wire cutters, knife, saw, bottle opener, screwdrivers, files and an awl), tire inflator, rags, pocket knife, pen and paper and a help sign.

    A few companies offer pre-assembled emergency roadside kits, ranging from RightTrak’s 58-piece Deluxe Auto Safety Kit ($24.00) to the 78-piece Auto First Aid Kit from Home First Aid ($39.95). While these kits contain the basics in a small convenient carrier, you might want to augment yours with a few of the items listed above to suit your needs.

    Before you actually use your kit in an emergency situation, take some time to familiarize yourself with the items you’ve collected and how to use them properly. Also remember that the most important item is your own good judgment–stopping to change a tire in the high-speed lane is only an accident waiting to happen.

    Unfortunately, there isn’t “one tool for all roadside emergency needs.” But with a little planning and a smidgen of trunk space, an emergency roadside kit can often save the day.

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    Tax Credits For EVs and Hybrid EVs Fri, 01 Mar 2002 04:00:00 +0000 by P.D. Lesko

    THE 1990 CENSUS estimated that 3.90 percent of American workers over the age of 16 walked to work. A decade later, the 2000 United States Census estimates that only 2.68 percent of American workers over the age of 16 walk to work. In the last decade, slightly more than a million people stopped walking to work. That automobile use has increased substantially since 1990 is no shock to part-time faculty — particularly those part-timers who piece together full-time work by teaching at multiple institutions. Alex Alixopulos teaches nine courses at three colleges, and he puts 200 miles a day on his car.

    According to an article written by Paula Harris for a California Bay area newspaper, “The longtime Sonoma County adjunct instructor and Santa Rosa resident [Alixopulos] spends tedious hours
    on Highway 101 shuttling between college campuses. He teaches morning classes in Pleasant Hill, beyond Vallejo, then drives back to Santa Rosa to teach afternoon and evening courses at Santa Rosa Junior College.”

    For “freeway flyers,” commuting expenses can eat away a large portion of the monthly paycheck. The United States Tax Code, however, does not allow workers to deduct expenses incurred
    while commuting from home to one’s place of employment. On the other hand, one may deduct commuting expenses incurred while driving between places of employment at the rate of 36.5 cents per mile (remember to keep an accurate daily written mileage log which clearly tracks deductible commuting miles and nondeductible miles).

    I don’t want to focus on the standard mileage deduction, however. I want to talk about IRS tax credits available until 2005 to individuals who buy EVs and Hybrids. EV stands for Electric Vehicle. Anyone who commutes 65 miles per day or less should seriously consider leasing or buying an EV and taking advantage of these government tax credits, as well as the fuel cost savings associated with using alternative energy sources. (There is currently no generally available income tax credit for purchases of fuel-efficient vehicles). A 10 percent tax credit is provided for the cost of a qualified electric vehicle, up to a current maximum credit of $3,000.

    According to the IRS, “A qualified electric vehicle is a motor vehicle that is powered primarily by an electric motor drawing current from rechargeable batteries, fuel cells, or other portable sources of electric current, the original use of which commences with the taxpayer, and that is acquired for use by the taxpayer and not for resale.” The full amount of the credit ($4,000) is available for purchases prior to 2002. To claim the credit retroactively, you would have to submit amended income tax forms. The deduction is not amortized (spread out over time), but must be taken in the year the vehicle is acquired.

    IRS Form 8834 can be used to figure the credit for qualified electric vehicles placed in service during the year. The credit, however, will be reduced by 25 percent per year until it is fully phased out in 2004. There is a piece of legislation currently under consideration in Congress to extend the tax credit until 2011. There are also Clean Fuel Vehicle tax deductions and credits. These credits are scheduled to be phased out in 2005. Unfortunately, electric vehicles do not qualify for the clean-fuel vehicle deduction. That doesn’t mean EV and Hybrid owners can’t take advantage of state-sponsored programs, tax credits and deductions.

    California, for instance, has one of the most comprehensive  programs in place to encourage residents to purchase and drive Electric Vehicles, as well as Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs).
    The California Air Resources Board (CARB), in conjunction with the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission, distributes grants to individuals for the purchase
    of eligible new zero emission light-duty cars or trucks. A maximum of $9,000 per vehicle is available. To find out if your state offers incentives, go to Plugin Cars. So, how much money are we talking about here to buy or lease an EV? If you’re the truck type, Ford offers the Ford Ranger EV. Only available for lease or sale in California at the moment, this electric version of the company’s popular light truck will go a top speed of 75 miles per hour and can range 65 miles in between charges. Lease charges vary, of course, and can run anywhere from $150-$250 per month. The trucks are priced at around $18,000.

    As an aside, in two years Ford expects to introduce the Think City for sale in the United States. A two-seater, this car cruises at a top speed of 55 miles per hour and goes 55 miles between charges. Ford expects the City to retail for about $6,000.

    General Motors offers the EV1, with a top speed of 80 miles per hour and a range of 55-130 miles per charge. The car is priced from $33,995. It may also be leased, and lease rates go from $349 to $574 per month. To find out more, visit

    Before the price stops you cold, remember the tax credits and state incentives. In California, for instance, a qualifying consumer could get a $9,000 grant toward the purchase of the car, and then take the federal tax credit, as well. What about options for those who commute past the range of the typical EV?

    Well, that’s where the hybrids come in. The Honda Insight, a gas/electric hybrid car, costs around $20,000 and gets 70 miles to the gallon on the highway and 61 miles to the gallon in the city. The Toyota Prius is also a gas/electric hybrid. Prius’s mileage is rated at 52 m.p.g. highway and 45 m.p.g city. It retails for about the same price as the Honda Insight.

    You don’t need to recharge these cars with a cord or any other external power supply. You don’t need to retrofit your home or garage in any way. You don’t need to have the dealer freshen the battery. You just drive these cars. You may not be able to join the ranks of the 3.4 million Americans who walk to work every day. However, you can join the ranks of taxpayers who are being rewarded for their environmentally sound vehicle purchases. Good luck and good commuting.

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