Automakers accelerating on auto-braking

By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features

 Your next car could apply the brakes on its own to help avoid a collision Your next car could apply the brakes on its own to help avoid a collision Perhaps as the first step toward driverless cars, expect advanced safety systems that can help drivers avoid, or at least lessen the effects of a crash to become widespread in the not-too-distant future.

Ten automakers recently committed to making the potentially life saving systems standard in all their vehicles sold in the U.S., presumably over the next few model years. They include Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mercedes- Benz, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo. Together, these companies were responsible for 57 percent of U.S. light-duty vehicle sales in 2014.

Other automakers could follow suit, and has been the case with important safety features like antilock brakes and electronic stability control, there’s a possibility frontal crash protection could one day be mandated for use in all cars by the federal government.

Until recently limited to the luxury car segment, frontal crashavoidance systems are fast becoming prevalent among more affordable cars and crossovers, though they’re usually offered only on costlier versions within a given car line, and are often bundled with other features in expensive options packages.

A forward collision warning/prevention system uses radar, cameras or lasers to monitor the distance between a vehicle and the traffic or other obstructions in its path. The same hardware is also used in a vehicle’s adaptive cruise control system that maintains both a set speed and distance from the traffic ahead. Basic systems will engage visual and audible alerts if it determines the car is closing in at a potentially hazardous rate of speed and pre-charge the brakes to maximize their stopping power. A full-blown collision avoidance system will go a step further and automatically apply the brakes at full force if the driver isn’t reacting quickly enough.

Most such systems operate at higher speeds with the intent of saving lives, though a few models, specifically those from Volvo and Mazda, are also selling separate auto-braking systems that operate at slower speeds to avoid fender benders in stop-and-go traffic. A few Infiniti models further offer lowspeed systems that will automatically apply the brakes while backing up to avoid hitting pedestrians and other vehicles.

According to a report conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va., autobraking technology can reduce insurance injury claims by as much as 35 percent. “The evidence is mounting that AEB is making a difference,” says IIHS’ president Adrian Lund. “Most crashes involve driver error. This technology can compensate for the mistakes every driver makes because the systems are always on alert, monitoring the road ahead and never getting tired or distracted.”

In order for a vehicle to earn IIHS’s highest Top Safety Pick+ designation, it must offer an automatic braking system in one or more of its versions. Vehicles earning a “superior” rating are able to successfully avoid a crash or substantially reduce a vehicle’s speed in tests conducted at 12 and 25 mph. To garner an “advanced” rating a vehicle must include an autobraking function and be able to avoid a crash or reduce speeds by at least 5 mph in either of the two tests. Forward collision warning systems that meet performance criteria set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and autobrake systems that provide only minimal speed reduction in IIHS tests earn a “basic” rating.

As of this writing, the IIHS has given a record number of models a “superior” rating for forward crash avoidance when properly equipped, including the 2016 Acura ILX, MDX, RDX and RLX; 2016 BMW X3; 2015 Chrysler 300 and its twin, the 2015 Dodge Charger; 2016 Honda Accord Coupe and Sedan, 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, CLA and E-Class; and the 2016 Mazda 6 and CX-5. The 2016 Volkswagen Golf, Golf SportWagen, Jetta and 2015 Volkswagen Touareg are deemed “advanced” for front crash prevention.

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Coldwell Banker reports ranks most expensive, most affordable markets in New Jersey

Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC has released its 2015 Home Listing Report (HLR), which ranks the affordability of 188 real estate markets in New Jersey. The Coldwell Banker HLR named Chatham Township the most expensive market in New Jersey, with an average listing price of $882,260, while Willingboro ranked as the most affordable market in the state, with an average listing price of $134,853.

The annual report is the most extensive home price comparison tool currently available in the United States, ranking the average listing price of four-bedroom, two-bathroom homes in more than 2,700 markets. While other affordability reports provide average or median prices for all homes in a given area, the Coldwell Banker HLR analyzes more than 81,000 four-bedroom, two-bathroom home listings to better address how much a home in one market would cost if the same home were located somewhere else in the country.

“The Coldwell Banker Home Listing Report illustrates the wide variety of housing options available in New Jersey. Whether you want to live on the outskirts of Manhattan, in the scenic Appalachian and Highlands regions, or along the beautiful New Jersey shoreline, this state offers just about any lifestyle you desire. The HLR is an excellent resource for potential home buyers who want to compare home prices in New Jersey and across the United States,” said Hal Maxwell, president of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in New Jersey and Rockland County, N.Y.

The Top 10 Most Expensive Real Estate Markets in N.J. by Average Listing Price

1. Chatham Township, $882,260

2. Madison Borough, $847,494

3. Bernards Township, $816,920

4. Westfield Town/Westfield, $788,976

5. New Providence Borough, $727,242

6. Glen Rock, $725,162

7. Holmdel, $712,088

8. Princeton Junction/West Windsor, $711,442

9. Englewood/Englewood Cliffs, $705,375

10. Ridgewood, $682,495

The Top 10 Most Affordable Real Estate Markets in N.J.

1. Willingboro, $134,853

2. East Orange, $150,107

3. Newark, $159,448

4. Bridgeton, $162,310

5. Roselle, $182,229

6. Atco, $182,369

7. Woodbury/Woodbury Heights, $185,120

8. Paterson, $190,622

9. Clayton, $200,100

10. Millville, $200,865

According to the HLR, half of the top 100 most expensive markets in the United States are in California; Newport Beach topped the list with an average listing price of $2,291,764 for a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home. In contrast, Cleveland ranked as the most affordable market in the Unites States for the third consecutive year, with an average listing price of $74,502 for a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home. There is a difference of $2.2 million between the nation’s most affordable and most expensive average listing price, according to the HLR.

Full data for the United States, including affordability rankings of local markets in New Jersey, is available on the Coldwell Banker Home Listing Report website at hlr.coldwellbanker.com.

About the 2015 U.S. Home Listing Report (Methodology):

The Coldwell Banker U.S. Home Listing Report analyzes the average listing price of four-bedroom, two-bathroom real estate properties on coldwellbanker.com between December 2014 and June 2015 for 81,417 listings in 2,722 markets. The Coldwell Banker franchised affiliates, as well as other franchise brands associated with Realogy Holdings Corp, contribute to listings on coldwellbanker.com. Markets without at least 10 four-bedroom, twobathroom listings on coldwellbanker.com between December 2014 and June 2015 were excluded from the ranking.

About Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in New Jersey and Rockland County, N.Y.:

Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in New Jersey and Rockland County, N.Y., a leading residential real estate brokerage company, operates approximately 50 offices with more than 3,100 affiliated sales associates serving all communities from Rockland County, N.Y. to Monmouth County. Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in New Jersey and Rockland County, N.Y. is part of NRT LLC, the nation’s largest residential real estate brokerage company. Visit https://www.ColdwellBankerHomes.com/t ri-states for more information.

Unequal DUI laws

Q&A with Sharon Peters

Q: My nephew has been picked up for driving impaired at least four times. Very little in the way of punishment ever happens. And still he drives. In my part of the country, he would have lost his license years ago, and probably would have done time. He lives in Pennsylvania. Is that known as a state that does nothing about DUI?

A: You are correct in supposing that law enforcement/ courts can treat such individuals very differently from state to state. Pennsylvania is among the 10 most lenient states (ranking number 49 out of the 50 states and District of Columbia) when it comes to how strictly DUIs are approached, according to WalletHub, which did a recent analysis of DUI enforcement rules across the country. The group examined 15 metrics, including minimum jail sentences to ignition interlock devices (which are regarded by many as a highly effective deterrent to keeping drivers who have driven drunk or stoned in the past from repeating that behavior).

Any number of approaches could be used, of course, to assess how harsh or lenient the laws relating to DUI are written … and, especially, applied. This methodology may or may not lock in on all that contributes to whether a state is a crackdown state or a soft one.

MADD, using different methodology, also put together a list of the 14 most lenient states. Pennsylvania was on that group’s list, too.

All this seems to confirm your suspicions.

Readers comment: Several terrific readers got in touch with me after a recent column in which I answered a question about gas caps not consistently being on the same side of cars, and that can lead to confusion at the pumps when one is driving a rental car or the vehicle of a spouse or someone else. “I agree with all you wrote,” one reader commented, “that it would be easier if you could count on them being on one side or the other. You should have pointed out, though, as I remember you did several months ago, that in most vehicles there is a symbol on the gas gauge that indicates which side the gas cap is on.” Indeed I should have. I always appreciate the reminders!

© CTW Features

What’s your question? Sharon Peters would like to hear about what’s on your mind when it comes to caring for, driving and repairing your vehicle. Email Sharon@ctwfeatures.com.

A dim view of the road ahead

Today’s automotive car headlamps don’t do an adequate job of illuminating poorly lit nighttime rural roads, which accounts for 40 percent of all miles driven in the United States.

That’s according to research conducted by AAA in Orlando, Fla. The organization found that halogen headlamps, currently included in more than 80 percent of new vehicles, may fail to safely light the way on otherwise unlit roadways at speeds as sedate as 40 mph. Specifically, they don’t allow a driver enough opportunity to detect an object, pedestrian or animal down the road, react and come to a complete stop in time to avoid a collision.

Not as widely available and usually offered at an extra cost, the AAA found LED and high-intensity headlamps to illuminate dark roadways 25 percent better than halogen lights, though they still fall short at speeds over 45 mph. Choosing the high beam setting on these types of headlamps offered significant improvement, however, stretching visibility to as much as 500 feet on otherwise dark roads.

— Jim Gorzelany
© CTW Features

Keyport dealership among the first Ford dealers in the nation to sell new F-150

A Monmouth County dealership is among the first Ford dealers in the country to sell a 2016 F-150 truck.

Joe Jarock Jr., an auto body shop employee and street rod enthusiast, purchased a new 2016 F-150 XLT from Tom’s Ford in Keyport. An employee of Al’s Auto Body in South Amboy for nearly four decades, Jarock has driven Fords his whole life. As someone who says he simply “likes driving trucks,” Jarock is a big fan of the new F-150, which replaced his 1999 F-250. Jarock and his wife use the new truck as a daily driver, enjoying the vehicle’s innovative features, particularly the remote start option.

With a range of high-end features, the new F-150 is making waves in the automotive world for its high-strength aluminum alloy body, which shaves 700 pounds off the total weight of truck and makes the truck more fuel efficient. The EPA-estimated ratings of 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined are 5 percent to 29 percent better than previous F-150 models, due in part to the aluminum body.

Serving customers from Sayreville, Matawan, South Amboy, Red Bank, Middletown and beyond, Tom’s Ford has been in business since 1962. With a large inventory of both new and pre-owned vehicles, Tom’s Ford also provides top-quality regular automotive maintenance and commercial and diesel repairs.

Tom’s Ford is located at 200 Route 35 in Keyport. For more information, call 732-264-1600.

Hopeful buyers’ big question: Help?

 Many potential buyers seek help with down payment. But asking for it can be difficult Many potential buyers seek help with down payment. But asking for it can be difficult How do you ask a question when no one wants to talk about the subject? Often, it’s quite clumsily, without much effort at sparking an honest exchange.

That’s what Dave Hardin, of Hardin Financial Group in Troy, Mich., has observed after working with parents whose adult children have asked for money to assist with a down payment for a home purchase.

“It is so important to be careful when thinking about asking your parents for help,” Hardin says. “Many parents are unable to be honest with their children about their own financial situation … We often see parents spending down their retirement funds.”

Money may be a sensitive topic, but necessity has driven many to ask, with first-time buyers since the recession began circa 2008 twice as likely to receive down payment help from family and friends than those who bought before, according to a report from Zillow’s Aaron Terrazas, a senior economist for the real estate company.

What’s more, high rents, still-tight credit availability and student debt have combined to make down-payment assistance key to struggling buyers, notes Terrazas.

Before asking, hopeful buyers should investigate options, says David Reiss, a real estate professor at The Brooklyn Law School.

“You would want to press your lenders to identify all first-time homebuyer programs you might be eligible for,” Reiss suggests. The Federal Housing Administration offers loans with low down payments, and many state housing finance agencies offer low or no-down loans to eligible buyers, he notes.

In any case, says Reiss, “It would be helpful to know your options when speaking with family members about a gift.

“They might be willing to give a smaller gift for an FHA mortgage, or they might be willing to make a larger gift if they see that it would result in lower monthly payments for you,” Reiss says

“And, the mere fact you did this type of research is evidence that you are a financially responsible adult,” he concludes.

— Marilyn Kennedy Melia
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BUSINESS BRIEFS

Advance Auto Parts, Inc., the largest automotive aftermarket parts provider in North America, serving both professional installers and do-it-yourself customers, announced it opened its first store at 471 Shrewsbury Ave., Shrewsbury, this month.

Company officials said they chose this location for the store because it’s convenient to where their customers live and shop as well as the garages where they take their vehicles for repair.

Matthew O’Brien is the new General Manager and works with 10 other Team Members at the new Shrewsbury location. Mr. O’Brien has been with the Advance Auto Parts Team for almost two years.

The new store offers customers a wide range of parts and recognized national brands as well as several free services. Store Team Members will provide free installation for new windshield wipers and also offer a complimentary check of the vehicle’s electrical system and old battery, as well as provide free installation of a new battery with purchase on most vehicles.

The store features fast parts delivery to local commercial customers such as professional mechanics and garages. Customers can also order online and pick up in the new store in 30 minutes. During regular store hours, customers may drop off used motor oil and batteries for recycling – ensuring that these materials don’t end up in landfills where they could harm the environment.

The Company’s website, www.AdvanceAutoParts.com, offers articles, online videos, and audio and video podcasts on the website’s “Advance Know-How” section.

The store is open Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. and on Sunday from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Other area stores are located at 1175 Highway 35 in Middletown; 145 Route 36 in West Long Branch and 844 State Highway 36 in Hazlet.

Representatives from Quaker Steak & Lube, known for its Best Wings USA and 25 signature sauces, and Chevys Fresh Mex, a full-service restaurant with an array of made from scratch Mexican dishes, presented a check for $1,036.50 to the Tinton Falls based Beauty Foundation for Cancer Care, dedicated to easing the financial strains associated with cancer and allowing patients and their families to focus on the most important thing, beating the disease, while feeling confident, strong and courageous.

The money was raised through Pink Drink fundraisers at Quaker Steak & Lube restaurants in Brick, Edison and Pohatcong and Chevys Fresh Mex restaurants in Clifton and Linden, which donated a portion of proceeds from sales of their “Pink Drinks” during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

New rules for mortgage interest deduction

By Marilyn Kennedy Melia
CTW Features

 IRS requiring more info from lenders to confirm the mortgage interest owners can deduct IRS requiring more info from lenders to confirm the mortgage interest owners can deduct The Internal Revenue Service has a keen interest in your mortgage interest. One of the big perks of homeownership is the deductibility of mortgage interest, allowing owners to whittle down the amount of their gross income subject to tax.

That’s the broad-brush rule, but like just about all tax matters, there are exceptions. For those lucky owners of more than one vacation home, for instance, interest is deductible on the mortgage of only one home beside a primary residence.

Moreover, whenever interest either on one mortgage or two totals more than $1.1 million, the overage is not deductible, explains Melissa Labant, a tax specialist with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Another wrinkle that impacts people in all income brackets, is that any “points” paid up front when buying a home are completely deductible the year of the purchase.

But if you’re refinancing and pay points, the sum “must be amortized over the life [of the new, refinanced] mortgage,” says Labant. (A point is 1 percent of the total mortgage amount borrowed, and paying points up front lowers the rate on a mortgage.)

Confusing, yes. But if it’s any consolation, the IRS needs more help to keep track of who’s taking the right deduction. That’s why starting in 2017, for the 2016 tax year, lenders will have to send the IRS more info than the currently required for the total annual mortgage interest each loan holder pays.

Lenders will be required to include the loan’s origination date — that will help identify refinances from purchase loans, says Labant. And, they must identify the amount of outstanding principal at the beginning of the year, in addition to the address of the property.

Getting the mortgage interest deduction right is important, especially because the IRS, once it finds an error — improperly deducting points paid on a refinance, for example — will recover any tax amount due. Although new rules kick in for the 2016 tax year, mistakes made in the past, once discovered, will trigger a bill.

CTW Features

Where motorists spend the most time in traffic

By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features

 With more cars and trucks on the road, commuters are paying the price with increased travel times. Here’s where to find (or avoid) the worst gridlock while driving. With more cars and trucks on the road, commuters are paying the price with increased travel times. Here’s where to find (or avoid) the worst gridlock while driving. It should come as no surprise to commuters that traffic on our nation’s highways is worse than its ever been, due largely to the increase in cars and trucks on the road spurred by a healthy economy. Unfortunately, what’s good for the nation’s financial fortunes can be bad for both car- and truck-drivers alike, and it’s shocking to see the actual impact — both personal and financial — of the country’s growing gridlock.

According to the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard compiled by traffic information and driver services provider INRIX and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, motorists wasted a collective 7 billion extra hours last year sitting in traffic — that’s 42 hours per rush-hour commuter. What’s more, all those vehicles burned more than 3 billion gallons of fuel crawling their way to and from the office.

For many motorists, that amounts to a week’s vacation time and income down drain each year, and that’s not counting the potential productivity wasted just sitting in a car. Add up the numbers and the total value of time and fuel wasted amounts to an annual $160 billion, or $960 per commuter.

Findings from the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard are based on traffic speed data collected by INRIX on 1.3 million miles of urban streets and highways, along with highway performance data provided by the Federal Highway Administration.

By comparison, INRIX reports that back in 1982, when there were fewer vehicles sharing the road, the average traffic delay per consumer was just 18 hours per year with 0.5 billion gallons of fuel burned at a total cost of $42 billion. Though extreme gridlock affected only one out of every in nine commutes in 1982, it caused delays in an average of 25 percent of automotive excursions during 2014.

What’s more, the study found that traffic is getting so onerous in big cities that drivers find they have to allow more than twice as much travel time as they would otherwise require just to account for the unforeseen effects of bad weather, collisions, and construction zones. Drivers traversing America’s most congested roads typically waste 84 hours — that’s 3.5 days a year — sitting in traffic, which is twice the national average.

And the report’s findings indicate that the nation’s clogged arteries are spreading beyond the most populated areas. Though the average travel delay per vehicle is more than double what it was in 1982, it’s gotten four times worse in cities having populations with fewer than 500,000 people. And INRIX predicts commuters will be spending more time behind the wheel in the years ahead. Assuming the nation’s economic fortunes remain strong, by 2020, the annual rush-hour delay per U.S. motorist will swell to 47 hours, with a shared nationwide delay of 8.3 billion hours at a cost of $192 billion.

According to INRIX data, Washington, D.C. is the nation’s most traffic clogged city, where commuters suffered an average of 82 hours of delay last year, with Los Angeles coming in a close second at 80 hours, followed by San Francisco at 78 hours, New York City at 74 hours, San Jose, Calif. at 67 hours, Boston at 64 hours, Seattle at 63 hours and Chicago and Houston tied at 61 hours.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way for the nation to simply build its way out of its traffic woes. “Our growing traffic problem is too massive for any one entity to handle — state and local agencies can’t do it alone,” says Tim Lomax, a report co-author and Regents Fellow at TTI. “Businesses can give their employees more flexibility in where, when and how they work, individual workers can adjust their commuting patterns, and we can have better thinking when it comes to longterm land use planning.”

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Stop and start

Q&A with Sharon Peters

Q: I read or heard there’s a mid-size American car (the U.S. part is important to us) — not a hybrid — that has an automatic cut-off/cut-on function for when you’re at stoplights. I haven’t been able to learn what car that is. Can you help?

A: The 2014 Chevy Malibu got a lot of attention for being the first mainstream midsize sold in the U.S. with what’s termed “stop-start technology” as a standard feature. Fact is, this feature is increasingly available, sometimes standard and sometimes for extra cash.

Here’s how it works: The engine shuts off when the vehicle comes to a complete stop (as when you’re stopped at a stoplight or in a traffic jam). The car turns back on in a fraction of a second once the pressure on the brake pedal is released.

It’s regarded as a fuel-saver (though, of course, that depends on the kind of driving you do — how many stoplights you regularly hit; how much stop-and-go traffic you encounter). Chevrolet reported that its first-year Malibu provided a 14 percent gain in city fuel economy. Most manufacturers say the savings is 5 percent to 10 percent or so.

It’s available from many carmakers, including some models of Chevrolets, Chryslers, Fords, Hondas and BMWs. It’s safe to say it will be offered on an even greater proportion of the 2016 crop of vehicles that’ll be at dealerships soon. Ford, for one, said last year its stop-start technology would be on about half of its models by 2017.

Some who have purchased vehicles with the feature have loved it; others have said it has taken much getting used to (especially when parking). Worse, some hapless buyers have reported that they wound up with this feature without realizing it (poor sales people?) and believed the car was acting up or breaking down within minutes of driving away from the lot.

So, note to all soon-to-be buyers: ask whether this is on the car you’re buying, on the chance that your salesperson might not think to mention it. (The function can be switched off — at least in the vehicles that have offered so far — but you’ve got to be aware of its existence to know it’s possible to make it disappear.)

© CTW Features

What’s your question? Sharon Peters would like to hear about what’s on your mind when it comes to caring for, driving and repairing your vehicle. Email Sharon@ctwfeatures.com.