The High Cost of Losing Your Keys

Our car keys have an uncanny ability to get lost inside coat pockets or underneath couch cushions — or to disappear altogether. Prior to the 1990s, this wasn’t a big deal. You could get a spare key at any hardware store or locksmith shop, not to mention at the car dealership, of course. But because it was easy to copy a key, it was also easy for a thief to steal your car. These days, advances in key technology have made vehicles more difficult to steal, but the price has been costlier key replacements.

Here’s a rundown of what you’ll face in the way of cost if you have to replace your key, along with some alternatives that could lower the bill. The prices quoted here are for Santa Monica, California, and West Los Angeles, an area where an hour of labor at an auto dealership can cost more than $100. Labor costs in your region may vary.

Basic Keys and Fob
A basic car key, which was common up until the mid-to late-1990s, has no security feature other than its unique cut. The shank, which is the long metal part of the key, has cuts and grooves like a

Do You Have the Right Car Insurance?

Car insurance is inherently tricky to navigate because you don’t find out just how well it works (or doesn’t) until you have an accident. And if you’re lucky, that doesn’t happen too often. So how do you know if you have the right kind of car insurance for your budget and lifestyle?

U.S. News interviewed a handful of car insurance experts to find out what you should do before making a final decision on your policy in order to get a good deal and decrease the chance of being surprised by unexpected costs after an incident. Here’s their best advice:

When choosing a policy, start by asking friends for recommendations. “It always makes sense to first ask people who you respect who they have auto insurance with, and if they were happy when they had a claim,” says Jeanne Salvatore, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, an industry group.

[See: 10 Unexpected Costs of Driving.]

Strangers can also offer useful advice. People often take their complaints about car insurance to social media, blogs and other websites. Search for posts on Twitter using the hashtag for the company you are considering. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners and the Center

How To Tell if Your Body Shop Did the Job Correctly

When you last saw your car, it was a twisted mess being towed away from the scene of the accident. Now it’s weeks later and the car is parked in the driveway of a body shop. All you have to do is write a check and the car is yours again. But how do you know that everything under the surface has really been fixed correctly?

One key to getting your car fixed right is choosing a reliable shop in the first place. But you should still inspect the work performed before you drive away. To better understand what to look for, here are some insider tips from several knowledgeable veterans of the body shop business.

Have a Clear Understanding Up Front
The process of having your car fixed right starts when you drop it off, says Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists. Be clear on what the shop is going to fix and how it will do the repair. Get everything in writing. Ask about the shop’s warranty on its work. When you return, review the paperwork to confirm that the shop did the repairs correctly.

“A reputable repair facility will go through everything with

5 Tips for Choosing the Right Auto Body Shop

It’s not uncommon for estimates from different body shops to vary wildly. One shop might give you an estimate for $500 while another wants $2,000 for the work. What’s the difference? And when is it OK to choose the cheaper shop?

John Mallette, owner of Burke Auto Body & Paint, in Long Beach, California, knows better than most people how to choose a reliable shop. Mallette started working on cars when he was 12 years old and has been in the body shop business for 24 years. Here are some of his tips for choosing the right shop to work on your car — particularly when you’re the one paying the bills.

1) Pay Attention to Word-of-Mouth
Any business can advertise, but you’ll do better with a shop that friends, family or acquaintances recommend. It’s a business that has proven it can satisfy customers. And it might not be the biggest or best-known shop in your area.

Mallette went to a shop years ago on such recommendations and found that the owner was a “real stand-up guy…. He doesn’t advertise on the Internet; it’s a family-owned shop,” Mallette says. “But, golly, if you take your car there, you’ll get a fair

How To Shop for Use-Based Car Insurance

In recent years, nine of 10 top U.S. auto insurance companies have started selling policies based on how motorists drive. At least a handful of pay-as-you-drive policies are offered in every state, covering as many as 3 million U.S. vehicles, according to industry estimates. Switching to use-based insurance (UBI) could help you save a little or a lot over what car owners spend on premiums associated with a more traditional policy.

If you’re considering changing to a UBI plan, it pays to understand what you’re getting.

Carriers set UBI rates by collecting mileage or other information directly from your car, but similarities among policies end there. Some insurers use a small, meterlike electronic device that plugs into a car’s onboard diagnostics port to store or transmit information. Newer versions gather driving data through an app and a smartphone connected to a car’s infotainment or telematics system.

Drivers may happily trade access to their driving habits for lower insurance rates. But privacy advocates worry that insurance companies aren’t always 100 percent transparent about what data they collect, what they do with it and with whom they share it.

“Privacy is a real question,” says J. Robert Hunter, insurance director for the Consumer Federation

Should Newlyweds Combine Car Insurance Policies?

Chances are, car insurance wasn’t the first thing you thought of after the proposal. In fact, you might not have thought about how marriage might affect your car insurance rates at all. But after the decorations have been cleared and honeymoon adventures logged, you’ll want to consider adding “check on combining car insurance policies” to your newlywed to-do list. Car insurance is usually cheaper for married couples — with a few important caveats.

No Matter What, You’ll Likely Save
Even if you do absolutely nothing, the sheer fact of being married is likely to have a positive impact on your rates once your policy is up for review. The Zebra, a car insurance comparison engine and digital auto insurance agency, projects a premium savings of 10-12 percent when all other factors remain the same.

Why is this the case? According to Frankie Kuo, an auto insurance specialist at Value Penguin, “Insurers find married people less likely to file a claim compared to single drivers of comparable profile, and so consider them less risky to insure.”

When Combining Policies Makes Sense
To nab an even steeper discount, consider combining your car and your beloved’s in a single policy. This makes the most

Confessions From the Auto Body Shop

For most consumers, auto body shops are intimidating and mysterious. The good ones restore your beloved car to gleaming perfection. The bad ones hide problems and stick you with a big repair bill.

We talked with three veterans of the auto body industry, two of whom (Brian and Neal) run their own collision repair businesses and the third expert (Andy) who is a well-connected industry observer. Our sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, shed light on this shadowy world and offer suggestions on how to manage costs, avoid rip-offs and ensure that sure your car is fixed right.

Know That Body Shops Run the Quality Gamut
“I don’t care what state you live in, for every 10 body shops, three of them are unethical and five of them do mediocre work at best,” Neal says.

It’s clear that finding the right shop and building a relationship with the owner or manager is an essential first step in the repair process. There will always be fly-by-night shops, and even mobile dent-repair guys working out of the trunks of their cars. Consumers should look for brick-and-mortar body shops that have been in business a long time and have a solid track record of

Do I Have To Use the Manufacturer’s Oil?

Ten or 15 years ago, choosing the oil for your car was simple. All you needed to know was the viscosity — 5W-30, for example — and you could get a few bottles at the local auto parts store. But this simplicity is starting to go away.

General Motors’ transition to a new oil specification for all its 2011 and newer vehicles is bringing new attention to the issue of manufacturer oil specifications. GM isn’t the first to require such a specification, but its move signals a change in the car-maintenance landscape.

A manufacturer’s oil specification is a unique blend that an automaker creates and mandates for use in its vehicles. GM’s new oil product, Dexos, consolidates its five prior recommended oil specifications into two blends: Dexos1 for gasoline-powered vehicles and Dexos2 for diesels.

GM and other automakers warn that failure to use their factory-specified oils could void a car’s warranty. These new oil specifications can also create confusion and cost issues for consumers who change the oil themselves or take their cars to local mechanics who may not be aware of the changes.

Oil Has Changed
The oil inside a modern engine might look just like it did a decade ago,

Four Steps to Switching Car Insurance

Could you save hundreds of dollars by switching your car insurance? It is a question worth asking yourself at least once a year. By doing a little research now, you may be able to find a comparable insurance plan at a better rate with another company, and save money. But you have to make sure you take the appropriate steps to switch, because you don’t want to have a lapse in coverage.

Jeanne Salvatore, senior vice president at the Insurance Information Institute in New York, suggests asking yourself if you’re happy with the cost, coverage and service of your current policy each time it comes up for renewal. “If the answer is ‘yes, yes and yes,’ then stay with them. But if you’re not sure, it’s a good opportunity to shop around,” she says.

Here are four key steps to take when it comes to switching car insurance:

1. Review your current driving situation.
Take note of your driving circumstances as well as the needs of other drivers in your household. Do you have a newer model car? Do you commute several miles each week to work? Do you have recent traffic tickets?

According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC),

How To Prep Your Car for Long-Term Storage

There are a number of times when people need to store a vehicle for an extended period of time. Maybe you have a convertible that you love to drive in the summer, but winter is on the way. Or perhaps you’re going to leave town for a job or an extended vacation. Maybe you are in the military and are being deployed overseas.

Whatever the reason for your time away from the vehicle, you’ll need to put it in storage. If you simply let your vehicle sit on the street or in a garage for an extended period of time, you may return to a dead battery or — worse yet — a damaged engine, ruined tires and a rat’s nest under your hood.

Here are important steps to take before you store a vehicle. They will preserve the life of the engine and ensure that your car starts when you return to it.

Keep It Covered
A garage is the ideal place to store a vehicle. This will protect it from the elements and keep it at a temperature that’s relatively stable. If you don’t have a garage and you can find accommodation at a reasonable price, consider putting the car in