Toyota Sienna, Ford Flex break into U.S. News rankings for great family cars

Something old or something new, priced where used car buyers can afford to borrow, and both are available in blue.

That’s the story of the Toyota Sienna and the Ford Flex, two vehicles that were recently named as two of U.S. News’ top seven family cars.

The Toyota Sienna, a minivan that has been available in the U.S. since 1998, was cited by the news provider for its low cost, smooth handling and its ability comfortably seat eight passengers.

Something old may mean good quality for prospective car buyers, as editors lauded the 2002 Sienna for its safety features, optional and standard, as well as a smooth engine.

Something new, or newer is the Ford Flex, which first appeared here in 2009. U.S. News lauded its styling, the ability to fit seven adults and accessories that make it the “ultimate road trip vehicle.”

Those looking to save a little money may find people have traded in or sold their 2009 model year Ford Flex, which Edmunds editors gave an 8 out of 10 rating

However used car buyers would choose to finance their options, both cars come in blue, as well as white, black, beige and a host of other colors, too.

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Tires, ‘seat time’ the difference as NASCAR star falls to soap box derby driver

NASCAR drivers know how important tires are when it comes to winning races: team strategists try to guess on whether to change two or four tires at nearly every pit stop.

But that didn’t stop a teenage girl from using tires to her advantage when she took down Busch champion Greg Biffle in a soapbox derby race.

To be fair to Biffle, Tyler Shoff is a champion in her own right, but in a quarter-mile race at Derby Downs Raceway, it was the tires that helped to make the difference.

In a competition that lasted just 90 seconds, Shoff used specially designed tires that increase fuel efficiency by reducing rolling resistance.

“As a NASCAR driver, I understand the critical role tires play in my ability to perform on the racetrack, and today, Goodyear really proved how big a difference its new fuel-efficient tires can make… even over a distance as short as a quarter mile,” said Biffle, jokingly adding that Shoff did have more “seat time” in the racers than he did.

The fuel economy that some tires can offer may allow used car owners to maximize their cost effectiveness.

Another option is to make sure that all tires are properly inflated, which can improve mileage by up to 3 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

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Fusion Hybrid gets 1,000 miles on single tank, goes for more

A challenge to see how long the Ford Fusion Hybrid could travel on a single tank of gas provided dividends for both “hypermilers” and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

The goal for a team of engineers, one racecar driver and a man known for milking mileage, was to make it 1,000 miles using tactics to conserve fuel like coasting, keeping windows closed at high speeds and turning off electronics.

But they reached that goal with about a third of a tank remaining, and ended up traveling 1,445 miles and raising over $8,000 for JDRF.

NASCAR driver Carl Edwards was a member of the team, and even he was impressed by the Fusion Hybrid’s economy, though he’s no stranger to sipping fuel: in 2008, he won at Texas by traveling well below the average race speed and conserving fuel while other racers had to make pit stops.

The tactics that they used can benefit drivers of any vehicle, including used cars, because the tactics were developed by drivers using standard cars. Just don’t expect to make it almost 1,500 miles before the next fill-up.

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Saturn is up for grabs, but its future is unknown

With Saturn‘s future up in the air, fans of the company’s cars may find it easier to find used Saturn cars than some of their newer brethren.

Saturn’s corporate parent General Motors is in the midst of trying to find a business plan that will allow it to avoid bankruptcy, and it has suggested that it is willing to sell or phase out Saturn, according to an Associated Press report.

Bids on the company will continue until June 1, general manager Jill Lajdziak told the news provider, and GM hopes the sale can be completed this year

The company built its reputation in the 1990s as a unique part of General Motors that initially did product development in-house and used parts not found in other GM vehicles.

Used versions of Saturn models are available, and have received some positive reviews from

The 2007 Aura sedan, for example, was described as “handsome and athletic” by the site, and it received praise by the editors for the interior fit and finish.

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Alleged text messager crashes into building in Chicago

Police in Chicago said that a 2001 Jeep wagon collided with a small car as a result of alleged texting, and the mangled cars then went into a building, according to a police statement.

Jessica Flanagan, 25, was allegedly driving the Jeep when it collided with a parked Toyota Yaris, Shakespeare District Captain Marc Buslik told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Police told the news provider that the two cars then traveled into construction in progress, reportedly mangling a parking meter in the process.

Flanagan was cited for failing to maintain her lane and using a cell phone, the news provider reported, after she allegedly told officers she had been texting and reportedly not watching the road.

She may not be the only driver who underestimates the effects of distractions on driving ability, according to a study in the Journal of Safety Research.

Researchers found that drivers didn’t distinguish between activities with or without distractions, although they performed markedly worse.

The National Safety Council estimates that cell phone use leads to up to 636,000 car crashes annually, causing more than $40 billion in damage.

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New legislation may force automakers to provide repair information

A bill called the Right to Repair Act was recently introduced in the House of Representatives in a bid to increase the distribution of information needed to properly repair vehicles.

It would require that automakers make tools and service information, especially those that relate to the computers that increasingly control the inner works of automobiles, available to independent service centers at the same time it is provided to new car dealerships.

“Without the Right to Repair Act, millions of motorists would be forced back to fewer dealers for service” said Ray Pohlman, Coalition for Auto Repair Equality president. “Consumers spend thousands of dollars to purchase their vehicle and should not be told where they should obtain those repairs by the manufacturer.”

Those in the market for a used car may benefit from this service as well, since the information would lead to better quality care at local auto body shops even after a car warranty is up.

Car makers may appreciate language in the bill that protects proprietary information and trade secrets, although that information would be publicly available once it is distributed to the dealers.

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Pontiac gone, car enthusiasts mourn end of the make

Now that Pontiac enthusiasts’ worst fears have been confirmed, the used car market may be the last place to find the make that some fans loved.

General Motors released a plan to avoid bankruptcy that included heavy government influence, but also included a plan to discontinue Pontiacs after 2010.

That means that the maker of such popular performance cars as the GTO, Firebird and the Grand Prix will now only live on in the remaining examples that haven’t been junked or scrapped like their namesake was this week.

Collector Ron Schultz told the Chicago Sun-Times, “It hurts American heritage to see Pontiac go away,” even though he owns three classic Pontiac models himself.

Reviews of used Pontiac models on by internet users consistently beat the editor’s rating, with the minimum being an 8 on a 10 point scale, suggesting the appreciation that Pontiac owners have for their vehicles.

One example is the 2008 Solstice roadster, a sporty little car that Edmunds editors called too small, noisy and underpowered. Users, on the other hand, gave it a 9/10 rating.

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Nissan releases feature lists for Murano, Armada

Two Nissan SUV models may become more affordable for new car buyers, but those looking at used cars could still find a better deal.

The full-size Armada will be available next year with a camera-assisted rear view system, Bluetooth mobile phone system and other comforts for about $43,000. A Platinum edition that adds heated seats and steering wheels along with an upgraded entertainment package will retail for around $50,000.

Used versions may be more readily available and at a lower price point, as Armadas have been available from Nissan since the 2004 model year. All models have come with a 5.6 liter V8 mated to a five-speed automatic transmission that drives a chassis similar to Nissan’s trucks.

Edmunds said the 2008 Armada had a powerful engine that helped with towing and plenty of room in every row.

Nissan also announced that prices on the Murano, its mid-sized SUV offering, have dropped in turn with recent feature additions as well.

The Murano, first introduced in 2003, offers a continuously variable transmission in all model years designed to improve efficiency. An optional all-wheel drive system does not reduce the fuel economy, according to EPA estimates.

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Car collectors may have to turn to used models for favorites

A recent survey of car collectors by Hagerty Insurance found that they would be sad to see 10 current models go if struggling automakers decide to discontinue certain models and makes.

But, those looking to pick up American classics like the Chevrolet Camaro and the Saturn Sky may have to turn to the used car listings to sate their thirst for the gasoline-powered greats based on industry reports.

GM is reportedly closing up shop on Saturn and Pontiac production, including the Sky roadster and its Solstice counterpart that provided American buyers the chance to buy a 170-hp convertible at a lower price point than many of its competitors.

Edmunds said the 2006 model year cars had “nimble handling” and offered lots of legrooms in a stylish package.

“As car enthusiasts, many of us would hate to see these cars become extinct,” said Hagerty Insurance CEO McKeel Hagerty. “We appreciate the place in American society that a great car can occupy and the value of that car to future motorists down the road. It would be sad to see them go.”

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Texting in Idaho leads to collision with cop car

A man in Idaho who was reportedly found texting and driving, plowed into a cop cruiser on an interstate there.

Joshua Benney, 37, drifted from his lane and hit a cop car that was pulled over while an officer was conducting a DUI stop. According to police, he admitted to officers that he was texting immediately prior to the collision.

Neither police officer involved in the DUI stop was injured.

“Every time I pull somebody over, every time I stop on the side of the freeway, it always runs through my mind. It’s dangerous that somebody might do exactly what happened here and run into the back of my patrol car,” Boise Police Sergeant Snyder told KTVB.

Although no laws in Idaho currently ban the practice, Benney still faces possible charges of reckless or inattentive driving.

In Pennsylvania, a statewide ban on cell phone use while driving recently failed, cities like Philadelphia have laws restricting usage, and New York and New Jersey both have laws on the books that allow police to issue citations for driving while using a cell phone.

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