Car Security

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This blog has covered an electronic key fob before and that our assumption as consumers is that it is safer than a simple key. The truth is that automakers were actually trying for convenience, not theft resistance. The fact that you can just point the fob at your car and press the button makes it easier to use, especially since you can also usually “pop” your trunk without even taking your hand out of your pocket.

Unfortunately, as safety precautions go, automatic locks can be at best a chink in your armor and at worst, entirely unsafe. This matters not only to the owners of cars but to their designers. This issue isn’t with key fobs that only put out a signal when you push a button, but with the more sophisticated proxemics style of fob that allows you to unlock and start your car as long as you have the fob on your person or in a purse.

The issue is a piece of equipment called a relay box, which is a signal booster available online. You’re fob is essentially “leaking” a little signal continuously, so that if you’re near your car it will allow you to push a button on your car door to unlock it. It’s usually harmlessly since you aren’t near your car when a thief is trying to break in. However, this signal can escape your home through windows and doors though it’s easily blocked by metal among other things.

All that the relay box does is boost the signal. One thief goes near enough to your home to pick up the signal with a relay booster then another thief stands near your car with another relay box. When the second thief pushes the button on your car door he the car will believe it’s you. He can then start the car before driving out of signal range. Some of these relay boxes can even store you signal allow the thief to turn your car off and back on again.

Here’s a link to a video of thieves using this exact process. (https://youtu.be/8pffcngJJq0)

A test by a German company shows that this relay box is amazingly effective and can open 230 out of the 237 car models tested, that’s a success rate of 97% (or a failure rate, depending on your viewpoint). This is highly disconcerting if you have this type of lock.

This particular breed of miscreant is known as a “relay thief.” What’s truly frightening here isn’t that the thieves will simply start your car and go. It’s that if their real target is inside your home, aka you, then your garage door opener is right there in your car.

There are several versions of this car fob hacking. One is to use the fob keys to jam the signal when the driver attempts to lock the car, in the same way, that you might have heard of radio messages or mobile phone calls getting jammed. It’s also possible to though rare to combine jamming with key programming in order to get the car started.

Slightly more advanced is app hacking if your car should be equipped with a cell phone remote unlock/starter. Essentially it means entering the right password either through stealing the details or guessing. This may well be the latest growth area in car crime, who can say?

car-keys-2653311_1920If you have a proximity key fob it’s a good idea to not store your keys next to the front door in a dish. Keep them further inside your home. It is generally a good idea to keep your car in a garage though keeping it behind a locked gate works relatively well and is a lot cheaper. When leaving your car parked most people know not to leave valuables in plain sight, yet we still do it. In particular, we leave navigation systems and dash cams mounted in plain view. It’s could be worth the effort to store them away each time you exit your car.

It’s advisable to use a steering lock, though it tends to be one of those things that drivers receive as a gift and never take out of its box. Procrastination is never a good idea. It’s not that these locks are impossible to beat it’s that there’s probably a car right next to yours without one and that makes these sorts of physical deterrents nearly 100% effective.

The jury is out whether car alarms actually work or if they just slow the criminals down a bit and annoy the neighbors and passers-by. Still, it’s another security device you can use. And if you’ve got something to lose chances are you’ll spend money to prevent it.

#10 Car DIY: Handle Car Body Damage Yourself

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In this Series of How-To posts, we’ll be covering knowing when to do something, how to do something and our own hack to try at your own risk. A big thanks to Tire Kickers, our sponsor and consultants on all things mechanical. They can be found on Facebook, or check out their auto health & safety advice.

(Note: this is the best information we could gather from our research and consulting our automotive advisors, but at the end of the day, our purpose is to entertain and inform. Don’t let us shame you into taking on something if you don’t feel qualified to do it. Trust your gut.)

Know When

Clearly, if you’ve got an insurance claim to file then you need to run everything through the insurance. However, sometimes there’s some parking lot damage that you don’t notice right away, or someone didn’t leave you a note. On occasion, insurance cuts you a check and you have a better use for the money than fixing some cosmetic issues on a car that’s not as new as it once was.

If you’ve decided not to get something professionally repaired its likely small enough that you might be able to fix it yourself. That’s a win/win, keep the money and still get a better-looking car.

Know How:

See the hack below for some crazy shortcuts that often reduce the appearance of damage to almost invisible.

EDC/Hack:

You can buy car wax at any automotive store and you’d be shocked how many sins it can wipe away. Simply apply with one clean rag and wipe off with another. Superficial scratches can catch the light and make damage seem large. Shadows can appear as dents. If the paint and metal aren’t actually damaged simply buffing out the scratches will improve your appearance dramatically.

Another trick we’ve heard of, but not had a chance to try yet is taking a common house plunger to medium-sized dents. We’ve used some of the commercially available dent removal options with mixed results. Honestly, anything that starts with the words, “drill a whole,” is something you want to live with or pay a pro.

 

 

#9 Car DIY: Value of a Dash Cam

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In this Series of How-To posts, we’ll be covering knowing when to do something, how to do something and our own hack to try at your own risk. A big thanks to Tire Kickers, our sponsor and consultants on all things mechanical. They can be found on Facebook, or check out their auto health & safety advice.

(Note: this is the best information we could gather from our research and consulting our automotive advisors, but at the end of the day, our purpose is to entertain and inform. Don’t let us shame you into taking on something if you don’t feel qualified to do it. Trust your gut.)

Know When

 

You never know when you’re going to need a dash cam. In the early days, go cams were the rage, strapped skateboards, and duct taped to helmets to capture your crazy stunts. Now they are vital in our legal state of the union to help you tell your side of the story. Here’s a video of a fake accident in England by a team of hustlers. If you watch this and don’t order a dash cam, then you probably never will.

(https://youtu.be/zAczz3nYuh4 Video Link)

Know How:

Follow the instructions that come with the one you buy. Heres a link to a couple that have nice features. The key is to know what’s important to you feature-wise. Do you want battery life, recording quality, hard drive space, external memory slots, etc. The features we’ll point out is twin cameras facing front and back, and some sort of inertia crash detection.

Apeman wins on bang for the buck.

This one has got to be the least obtrusive if you find that you can live without an in-car recording of your passengers.

EDC/Hack:

You can turn an old cell phone into a dash cam. It has all the right stuff—two way camera, GPS, memory, etc. All you need is one of the many apps available on the market. As an added bonus you can easily find mounts because they’re standard sized. There are quite a number of apps so try this link or this link to compare.

 

#8 Car DIY: Escape a Sinking Car

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In this Series of How-To posts, we’ll be covering knowing when to do something, how to do something and our own hack to try at your own risk. A big thanks to Tire Kickers, our sponsor and consultants on all things mechanical. They can be found on Facebook, or check out their auto health & safety advice.

(Note: this is the best information we could gather from our research and consulting our automotive advisors, but at the end of the day, our purpose is to entertain and inform. Don’t let us shame you into taking on something if you don’t feel qualified to do it. Trust your gut.)

Know When

The unlikely event of a water landing when driving a vehicle doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Unlike the duck and cover method of avoiding nuclear explosion you were tot in school, it actually can save your life to know how to escape a submerged vehicle. Assuming you were wearing your seatbelt so you weren’t knocked unconscious when your vehicle struck the surface of the water, you will have a little time before your car sinks—but not long.

The challenge is that the water pushing against the door will make it impossible to open the door. You’ll need to let the water in so that the pressure inside and out is equalized. Clearly, if you aren’t a professional free diver you’ll want to exit the car before it sinks too far, but the less air in the car the faster it will sink. Then there’s the whole needing to breathe. Bottom line, evacuate the vehicle swiftly without panicking.

Know How:

Roll a window down. Don’t freak out when it’s cold and you can’t do much until it’s full. Breathe while you still can. Then remove your seat belt. Visibility may be bad after the car is full of muddy water so make your preparations quickly. Still better to keep your seatbelt on until the rush of water is done—unless you need to get your kid out of a complicated car seat.

If you can’t roll down the window, because the water shorted your power systems, use a special device to break the window by striking it near a corner. It’s actually not easy to break a car window and there’s a good chance that you’re going to cut your hand. So plan on cutting your hand—it’s better than drowning.

EDC/Hack:

If you don’t have one of the many devices we recommend below for smashing car windows, you can remove your headrest and use you metal legs.

#7 Car DIY: Get Cheaper Extended Warranties on Used Cars

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In this Series of How-To posts, we’ll be covering knowing when to do something, how to do something and our own hack to try at your own risk. A big thanks to Tire Kickers, our sponsor and consultants on all things mechanical. They can be found on Facebook, or check out their auto health & safety advice.

(Note: this is the best information we could gather from our research and consulting our automotive advisors, but at the end of the day, our purpose is to entertain and inform. Don’t let us shame you into taking on something if you don’t feel qualified to do it. Trust your gut.)

Know When

Your new car warranty probably ran out at 3 years or 36,000 miles. It’s a good idea to purchase an extended warranty after that time, provided you can get it cheaper than through a dealership.

Your dad probably drummed it into your head, “Never buy a used car warranty…” We’ll dad was right—mostly. When you purchase a vehicle you have an opportunity to roll the cost of a warranty into the loan for the vehicle. It’s like buying the fridge with the house. It’s easy on the pocketbook compared to going separately to buy the exact fridge you want, until you realize you’re paying for the fridge for the next 30 years.

We’re no financial advisors so do what you think is best. BUT the real reason to avoid buying the warranties are these. You are paying a heavy markup to the guy/gal who is already making a commission on selling you a car. So you’re paying more and you are paying someone for insurance against them screwing you over. “Here, this is a good car, but in case it’s not, why don’t you pay us extra to fix it.” It’s just not a sensible thing to do.

Know How:

If you are interested in a warranty on your used car, see our hack for a link to purchase a used car warranty independent of a dealership.

EDC/Hack:

The standard markup on a warranty is at least $1,000. Here’s a better option. Call around to pre-purchase inspection services and find one that can sell an extended warranty. Warranty companies love to sell through them because these are the guys helping you establish the quality and value of the vehicle. You’re less likely to need one if an inspector is willing to sell it to you and since they aren’t salesmen, they offer them at a much lower cost. Here’s a link to one such inspection service.

#5 Car DIY: Handle a Check Engine Light

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In this Series of How-To posts, we’ll be covering knowing when to do something, how to do something and our own hack to try at your own risk. A big thanks to Tire Kickers, our sponsor and consultants on all things mechanical. They can be found on Facebook, or check out their auto health & safety advice.

(Note: this is the best information we could gather from our research and consulting our automotive advisors, but at the end of the day, our purpose is to entertain and inform. Don’t let us shame you into taking on something if you don’t feel qualified to do it. Trust your gut.)

Know When

Don’t ignore check engine lights. I know it seems like it’s either going to be something really expensive or an annoying thing you have to pay to find out is nothing. What doesn’t come to mind, and should, is if you’re in danger of an engine failure that could make your vehicle unsafe.

Know How:

There are some ways to check the codes which may be included in your owners manual, but check the hack section for an easy way to know exactly what’s wrong in simple English.

EDC/Hack:

Check out the FIXD device. It’ll plug into any car made after 1996 and tell an app on your cell phone what’s up with your engine. Beyond peace of mind, being able to do your own diagnostic saves you money with your mechanic.

 

 

#4 Car DIY: Handle Cold Weather

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In this Series of How-To posts, we’ll be covering knowing when to do something, how to do something and our own hack to try at your own risk. A big thanks to Tire Kickers, our sponsor and consultants on all things mechanical. They can be found on Facebook, or check out their auto health & safety advice.

(Note: this is the best information we could gather from our research and consulting our automotive advisors, but at the end of the day, our purpose is to entertain and inform. Don’t let us shame you into taking on something if you don’t feel qualified to do it. Trust your gut.)

Know When

Don’t wait for bad weather is upon you to prepare. Set it in your calendar, depending on where you live. In mild climates, it can go on a list of actions you take whenever you turn the clocks back in fall. Here are some helpful links:

Know How:

When snow and ice are upon you, you’ll need some kind of liquid deicer or salt for your driveway and sidewalks. You’ll need a good plastic snow shovel with a flat blade. Metal flat bladed shovels damage the concrete of your driveway. Salt can wear out your car, but it can be used strategically and it can be a necessary evil.

Use a broom to knock off extra snow from windshield and windows. Don’t leave snow on your roof as this chunks fly off at speed and can cause accidents. Work from top to bottom for best efficiency.

Use a scraper, which you can store in your car.

If your door locks get frozen shut you need heat. There are devices on the market like this one that applies heat where you need it. Or see the hack section for a quick trick.

Also, check in the gadget section below for our recommendation for cold weather EDC (post link)

EDC/Hack:

One trick to ice scrapers is getting the right angle and trying both shoving it and pulling it to see which suits your needs.

To open a frozen lock, use hand sanitizer. The high alcohol content lowers the temperature at which water freezes just like salt does, but isn’t corrosive. It’s cheap and available in portable bottles.

#3 Car DIY: Get Better Insurance Rates

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In this Series of How-To posts, we’ll be covering knowing when to do something, how to do something and our own hack to try at your own risk. A big thanks to Tire Kickers, our sponsor and consultants on all things mechanical. They can be found on Facebook, or check out their auto health & safety advice.

(Note: this is the best information we could gather from our research and consulting our automotive advisors, but at the end of the day, our purpose is to entertain and inform. Don’t let us shame you into taking on something if you don’t feel qualified to do it. Trust your gut.)

Know When

Its always a good time to save money on car insurance but opportunities can sneak up on you. So if it’s been two years since your last accident and you’re paying more than $50 a month it’s a good time to look around for a better deal. If you are happy with the service you’re receiving now you can still call and ask for a review. None of our researchers have encountered an actual reward for loyalty at an insurer but hope springs eternal and there’s no harm in trying.

Know How:

We aren’t insurance agents so technically we can’t legally tell you anything about insurance…but here’s a link to common sense ways to get the best price on insurance any time.

If you are searching for a better rate because a blemish has fallen off your record we recommend finding a broker that can represent several companies. Each company tries harder to compete for customers in their target audience so you need to find a good match for you.

EDC/Hack:

For drivers of personal vehicles, you might want to try AAA.

If you drive commercially, either CDL truck, rideshare, parcel delivery or medical transport follow this link to NTC where you can get a host of benefits on everything from cell coverage to health insurance. For taxi and rideshare in OR/WA you can check out OTTIS. Or search around.

We don’t have much experience on Metromile which piloted the pay per mile insurance, but if you do we’d love to have a review of it. Please comment on this post below.

#2 Car DYI: Clean Windows & Headlights

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In this Series of How-To posts, we’ll be covering knowing when to do something, how to do something and our own hack to try at your own risk. A big thanks to Tire Kickers, our sponsor and consultants on all things mechanical. They can be found on Facebook, or check out their auto health & safety advice.

(Note: this is the best information we could gather from our research and consulting our automotive advisors, but at the end of the day, our purpose is to entertain and inform. Don’t let us shame you into taking on something if you don’t feel qualified to do it. Trust your gut.)

Know When

*Windows need to be cleaned when dirty, which is obvious, OR IS IT? Ever had a film or fog seem to form on the inside of your windshield that makes it hard to defrost in fall/winter/spring? There’s actually a mold that forms which creates this. Use the secret formula in the hack below to wipe it out.

*Headlights need wiping off weekly or more often. You can lose as much as 50% of your light by having normal dirt accumulations on your headlights. Whenever you think you might be struggling to see at night, start by wiping or cleaning your headlights. See hack below for the #1 way not to clean your headlights.

*Headlight deep cleaning needs to happen whenever you notice a film forming on your headlights.

Know How:

Avoid using the free soap water and squeegee at the gas station to clean your glass, unless you’re on a trip and desperate. People have a habit of checking their oil and washing their hands in the rinse bucket. They get oil in there which will form a film on the glass that quickly re-acquires all the dirt and makes it hard to see. It’s also hard to get off. See the EDC/Hack below for the best way to get windows clean.

EDC/Hack:

Deep clean headlights by using toothpaste and a clean rag. All the same, reasons it’s safe and effective on your teeth make it the perfect stuff to take the cloudiness out of your headlights without scratching them up.

You can make a cheap and super effective glass cleaner out of alcohol and vinegar, equal parts. It cuts the film on the inside of your windows that clings to fog and it dries without streaking it also removes some hard to remove odors. (note that it’s not good smelling during cleaning, so be aware.) As a bonus, most coffee filters are cheaper than lint-free cloth and leave less mess than paper towels.

#6 Car DYI: Change Your Own Air Filter

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In this Series of How-To posts, we’ll be covering knowing when to do something, how to do something and our own hack to try at your own risk. A big thanks to Tire Kickers, our sponsor and consultants on all things mechanical. They can be found on Facebook, or check out their auto health & safety advice.

(Note: this is the best information we could gather from our research and consulting our automotive advisors, but at the end of the day, our purpose is to entertain and inform. Don’t let us shame you into taking on something if you don’t feel qualified to do it. Trust your gut.)

Know When

Most cars have two filters these days—one for the engine and another to clean cabin air inside the car.

The one for the engine needs changing about every 6 months unless your owner’s manual suggests less often. That keeps your peak fuel economy. This can seem expensive or obnoxious because if you have a service change your oil they’ll generally ask if you want your air filter changed also. They often want a good bit of money to do that.

There’s a big difference in the difficulty of changing your oil and changing your car air filter. Most car air filters aren’t hard to get to. No need for a pit or lift so no getting on the ground to shimmy under your car with a special wrench and trying to torque the thing off without barking your knuckles on the concrete of your driveway, and then spilling oil on yourself etc. Your car air filter is generally on top of the engine somewhere. Five minutes of searching your owner’s manual should show you how to do it yourself. You can find new filters at any auto parts store and often install it with your bare hands.

Another reason you might want to pay to have your oil changed is, depending on where you live, there are special regulations about how to dispose of old oil. By the time you pay for new oil and proper disposal of the old oil, you might not be saving any money at all doing it yourself. Air filters, on the other hand, you can install even if you live in an apartment complex without a garage. The trick here is to be very deliberate about hooking up anything you unhook to access your car air filter. Don’t lose track of vacuum hoses, or nuts or clamps. Reverse your tracks and put things back where you found them.

Cabin air filters on the other hand, vary from car maker to car maker. Some car designers hide those things in crazy places and it could be worth letting someone do it. Another reason it’s okay to let someone else do it is that you don’t have to do it as often. Assuming you don’t have allergies you can get away with changing that filter when you notice it’s not working well. Some will argue that it runs the AC motors harder if its clogged up which could burn gas and wear out your AC system. That’s a fair point, so you should probably have checked annually and use good judgment.

Know How:

Each car can be a little different so consult your owners manual.

EDC/Hack:

Don’t tell anyone we told you this, but all sorts of crud will float into your filters that can make an impact on performance but not actually mean the filters bad. Check the car air filter monthly, and look for leaves or hair that might be caught up in it. Sometimes you can pick it off with your fingers or knock it against your palm and dislodge a problem. You’ll still need to replace it every 6 months, but you can keep it running its best until it needs replacing. If you’ve had a forest fire or volcanic eruption nearby, that’s creating a specific bad air quality issue, you can sometimes put pantyhose over the filter temporarily to pre-screen large particles so it doesn’t destroy your filter early.