Revised crash safety standards to be tougher on vehicles

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced that it will begin testing vehicles in September using more stringent safety requirements, quite possibly leading many 5-star rated vehicles to drop in acclaim.

The new tests and restrictions, which have been planned for a number of years, are designed to streamline the safety rating process. Rather than different star ratings for different tests, vehicles will now be assigned one rating on a five star scale. When the measures were initially announced a few years ago, the NHTSA said that many five and four star vehicles may actually drop to 2 stars, thanks to the more accurate and harsher system.

“This new testing program significantly raises the safety bar for all vehicle manufacturers,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The group hopes that the new requirements will encourage automakers to make safer vehicles. The NHTSA has ordered numerous recalls lately for seemingly minor issues, after being given new authority and oversight in the wake of the Toyota unintended acceleration scandal.

Those who plan on buying a used car should always have the car checked out by a mechanic to ensure that it is up to safety standards.

Andy Warhol’s used BMW on display in museum

The great thing about buying used BMWs is that there is a chance that the car will become a true classic and appreciate with time as it becomes a collector’s item. That’s even more true if the owner was especially famous. It’s particularly amazing if the owner was Andy Warhol and he added his own iconoclastic touch to the vehicle.

Andy Warhol’s used BMW is now considered a work of art, and is on display at the Palace of Arts in Budapest for a limited time.

According to car blog Jalopnik, the legendary BMW M1 of Warhol’s has quite a history. Andy Warhol painted the car in 23 minutes, and the random splotches of vibrant colors haven’t completely worn off in the three decades since its inception. BMW raced the vehicle at the 1979 24 hours of Le Mans, where it came in sixth overall.

Now, the car is considered to be art. In many ways, it is, according to the news source. Whatever drivers think of the man who painted it, any M1 is considered to be a work of art by some collectors.

Buying a used BMW carries with it a significant legacy. And if a consumer happens to stumble upon an old M1, they might just want to snap it up on the spot, as the car is legendary with or without an artist’s touch.

Unique Mustang to be auctioned off for charity

A unique Mustang inspired by the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird spy plane will be auctioned off for charity at an aviation event in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture aviation show asked Ford to design a special vehicle in order to raise money for EAA Young Eagles, a foundation that provides educational flights for children.

The automaker obliged, and designed a one-of-a-kind iteration of its 2011 Mustang model. The unique vehicle includes a supercharger that boosts its V8 engine up over 500 horsepower, special performance wheels, and a lower ride height. In addition, the sleek black paintjob and “fuel streak” racing stripes, calls to mind the classic stealth plane.

“The difficulty is trying to honestly make the car look like the plane has sort of wrapped itself around the car,” Mustang chief engineer Dave Pericak told the news source. “Anybody can just bolt things on and make it gimmicky. You want to really make the car become the aircraft.”

It’s unlikely that many buyers will be able to afford the unique vehicle’s $500,000 price tag. Yet that doesn’t mean drivers have to price themselves out of a pony car. By searching the pre-owned market, consumers can easily find used Ford Mustangs at a fraction of the original price.

Market possibly shifting toward SUVs again

New data is suggesting that the SUV might not be as dead as many think, as the segment’s growth outpaced that of smaller cars for the first half of 2010.

According to trends analyzed by Autodata and reported by USA Today, SUV sales actually increased at a faster rate than that of more compact and fuel-efficient compact cars. The data shows that SUV sales grew at a rate of 19 percent as compared to the auto industry’s overall rate of 17 percent and compact cars’ 14 percent growth.

While compact cars still outsold SUVs by a tidy margin – 974,000 to 121,000 – the data indicates that many may be ready to get back into an SUV.

The news source pointed to several potential reasons for the possible shift, citing a recovering economy, lowered fuel prices and the addition of fuel-efficient crossovers to the SUV fleet.

SUV fans may be able to find deals on classic SUV models, like used Ford Explorers, by visiting their local auto auction, as many have opted to trade the vehicles in in favor of crossovers.

Honda reports record profit

Honda is reporting that it recorded a record-setting $3.2 billion in profits for the second quarter of 2010, causing it to raise its financial outlook for the entire year.

The $3.2 billion net income was 36 times greater than 2009’s total of $86 million in profit. In general, Honda is in good shape, posting 5 quarters in a row of growth. The automaker’s continued success has caused it to revise its total outlook for the 2010 financial year to $5.2 billion, eclipsing the predicted value of $4.6 billion posited by an average of analysts surveyed by Reuters.

While all auto companies struggled during the recession, Honda was able to avoid losses, largely because its fleet of smaller vehicles continued to perform well. The company is currently the second-largest Japanese automaker, still trailing its beleaguered rival Toyota and neck-and-neck with third-place Nissan.

As the country comes out of the economic recovery, carmakers are beginning to increase prices again. Drivers who are considering a purchase may want to opt for a used Honda over a new one in order to save some green.

Toyota pulling used Avalons off the road

Toyota has announced that it will recall 373,000 used Toyota Avalons off the road, citing a problem with the steering system.

The Japanese automaker says that a component in Avalons sold from 2000-2004 can crack when the vehicle is turned hard to the right. This piece can then become lodged and cause the wheel to lock up, increasing the risk of a crash, according to the Los Angeles Times. The problem has resulted in six incidents that have caused three crashes in the U.S., none of which injured drivers or passengers.

The company will also recall its 2003-2007 Lexus LX 470 SUVs for a steering problem unrelated to that of the Avalons. These recalls bring the total number of vehicles recalled by the company in the last year to 9 million. After the major debacle with unintended acceleration, some automotive analysts believe the Japanese automaker is playing it safe.

“If one of their vehicles so much as hiccups or coughs, they now do a big recall,” Rebecca Lindland of IHS Automotive told the news source, “and it is very expensive.”

Those who own used Toyota Avalons will be able to take the car to the dealer to get a fix, which the company estimates will take about two hours.

New York cabbies prefer used Ford Crown Vics

A new initiative to replace New York City’s 13,400 taxis with a more fuel-efficient and greener option is being met with some resistance by the taxi drivers who navigate the cars through the city’s busy streets every day.

Although the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission has kicked off its “Taxi of Tomorrow” competition in an effort to find cleaner vehicles, many drivers say they will be sad to see their used Ford Crown Victorias go. The commission hopes to replace the varied models among the NY used cars that cabbies drive with one clean, standard model by 2014, according to USA Today.

Yet Ford has decided to discontinue the Crown Vic, so taxi companies will need to find a new option. The Taxi of Tomorrow competition was launched in order to find a satisfactory alternative. Still, many drivers have nostalgia for the vehicles they have driven for years.

Jana Stroe says she has been driving used Ford Crown Vics for 20 years. “The car is good the way it is,” she told the news source. “We don’t want the hybrid. Hybrids have so many problems. We take a lot of customers from the small cars.”

Many drivers echoed her views, saying that when given the choice between the two, many customers will gravitate toward a roomier vehicle like the Crown Vic over a more compact car. Some drivers even report earning extra money behind the wheel of a Crown Vic.

Whatever the city ends up deciding upon as its new model, tourists can rest assured: the cars will still be painted that famous shade of yellow.

Enterprise to obtain fleet of rental Leafs

Enterprise and Nissan have struck a deal that will see the Japanese automaker sell 500 of its upcoming Leaf electric vehicle to the rental car company.

According to the Associated Press, Enterprise will initially make the car available to drivers in eight cities: Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson, Knoxville, Nashville and Portland. The car will be available for rent in January, but Enterprise will begin installing charging stations in November.

The Leaf is one of the first electric vehicles to be mass produced. Nissan says that the vehicle will get 100 miles on a full charge of its electric motor. However, the car requires more charging after 100 miles, meaning that drivers could be stranded if they don’t plan carefully. Still, the car should be perfect as an emissions-free rental for those simply driving around a city while on a business trip or vacation.

Enterprise has not yet announced the cost to rent a leaf. The company currently charges a premium for customers who wish to rent a hybrid.

Rental cars are one way in which vehicles eventually find their way to the used car market. Often, these rental cars are kept in top shape and given dealer certification. Buyers interested in purchasing a Leaf may want to wait until the used Nissans begin finding their ways to dealerships and auto auctions.

How to lease a used car

For many drivers, leasing is the most cost-effective option in order to ensure that their used car payments are manageable. But how does one get the best deal?

The answer is to comparison shop. Many dealers have standard quotes for leasing, but will lower the terms of the deal when confronted by a better price from a competitor. Drivers who do a little research and head to several different dealers can pick the best deal that works for them.

First up is identifying what kind of car a driver wants. There are many options here, but a good idea is to pick a class and stick to it.

Decide on a midsize sedan, or fullsize SUV, for example, then compare cars in that class across several different brands. Narrow this list down to four models or so before beginning negotiations. A savvy buyer might be able to find a used Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra and Toyota Corolla all within the same price range. These cars are very similar, but after test drives and talking with salesmen, buyers can make a list, ranking the cars from their favorite to the least desirable.

A good idea is to set the terms of the lease ahead of time. Dealers will change up different offers, so set a few key terms, like 36 months, 36,000 miles, 1,000 due at payment. By giving these figures to several different dealers, buyers can then negotiate on the most important figure- the monthly payment.

Some dealerships offer incentives and bonuses for a limited time, and these should be factored in as well. Its worth going to dealers that are offering low interest rates, no money down or are willing to extend the terms of the lease.

One thing buyers might want to consider is that a lengthier lease means that a car may be outside its warranty. Longer leases also mean lower monthly payments.

Once a buyer has quotes for each model with the same lease terms, it’ll be easy to compare. It’s also worth taking the figures from competitors to each dealer to see if they will come down at all in price in order to beat one of the others. Perhaps the dealer who has a buyer’s favorite used car will lower the price in order to beat the cheaper cost of the buyer’s least favorite used car. Or maybe the least favorite car is also the most expensive, and a buyer can cross that model off their list immediately.

Leasing a used car has many benefits. For example, a car may lose its value significantly after three years, and those who buy will be paying more money up front for a car that will have little to no trade-in value. Rather than driving a used car into the ground, buyers who lease a car every three years or so can keep payments manageable and enjoy the variety of changing up their ride every few years.

Battle of the electric cars

Both GM and Nissan have plans to introduce electric cars by the end of the year, but its unclear which approach car buyers will ultimately favor.

While the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are usually mentioned in the same breath, both cars actually have radically different philosophies when it comes to driving.

The Volt is an electric hybrid, with both a 40-mile range electric motor and traditional gas engine. After the motor’s 40 mile limit has been reached, the gas engine kicks in, ensuring that drivers can continue as long as they have gas.

The Leaf, on the other hand, can actually claim to be a purely electric vehicle, and one of the first to be mass marketed. It’s also about $7,000 cheaper than the Volt and offers the attractive possibility of never touching a gas pump again. In addition, its battery pack squeezes out 100 miles of power when fully charged. However, once the charge is gone, that’s it – it needs to be plugged in before it can go again – and charging takes much longer than filling a tank of gas, essentially meaning drivers will be stranded after 100 miles with no charge.

So how should car buyers decide? The best way might be to wait until both cars hit the used car market. By then, consumers will know all the pros and cons and will be able to purchase a used Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt at a reduced price.