Tire Maintenance: Tips for Spring

The first day of spring is finally here. And if you thought you were tired of winter, think about how your tires must feel. Built-up debris, potholes, and extreme temperature changes can all wreak havoc on their rubber soles. Routine tire maintenance will not only help you get the most out of them, but can also keep you safe while on the road.

A regular check of the following will do your tires a world of good.

Tire inflation

Winter weather can deflate your tires — tire pressure drops about 1 PSI (pounds per square inch) for every 10 degrees the temperature drops. Driving on overinflated or underinflated tires is dangerous, especially on wet pavement. Cars with properly inflated tires have better handling, shorter braking distances, longer tire life, and improved fuel economy — which is especially appealing given the high cost of gas these days.

Keep in mind that when you check your tires’ inflation, you might have to wait at least 3 hours after you last drove (people in the know call it waiting until the tires are cold). And don’t just eyeball it. Check your owner’s manual to find the recommended PSI for your tires and use a pressure gauge to get an accurate reading.

Tire tread

Tire tread provides the gripping action that prevents your vehicle from slipping or sliding, and is something to consider no matter what time of year. If your tread is worn down to 1/16 of an inch, it’s time for new tires.

Use the penny test to check your tire tread by sticking a penny in the tread with Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you. If part of the head is covered, you’re okay, but if you can see all of Lincoln’s noggin, it’s time for a replacement.

Tire rotation

Rotating your tires as they wear can help to maximize their life. Most manufacturers suggest you rotate your tires every 6,000 to 8,000 miles (about every 6 months for most drivers). Getting your tires rotated regularly can also alert you to any odd wear patterns, which could indicate your wheels need to be aligned.

Wheel alignment

Winter weather wreaks havoc on roads, often leading to potholes and other surface irregularities. Driving in these conditions can easily throw your front end out of alignment and result in handling problems. If your car seems like it’s pulling to one side, it’s time to take it in for a wheel alignment.

So now your tires are ready for the open road. But do they look as spiffy as they could? Find out how you could get professionally detailed tires for under $5.

For more info, check out our article on the dangers of spring driving.

Related link

Safercar.gov has a list of FAQs about tire maintenance

The Safest Seat in the Car: You Might Be Surprised

The safest seat in the car

As kids we all hated getting stuck in the middle seat of the car. The blasted floor hump, the lack of personal space … there’s no doubt the game of “shotgun” was invented solely to help us avoid the dreaded middle seat. But our bullying older siblings may have actually been doing us a favor. Turns out, the middle seat is the safest seat in the car.

You might already know that the backseat is safer than the front, but just how much safer required some investigation. Enter the researchers from University of Buffalo who studied crash-related fatalities in relation to seat location. It turns out the backseat is 59 to 86 percent safer than the front seat. More astounding (at least to us) is that the middle seat is 25 percent safer than the window seats in the back.

Why is the middle seat safest?

The middle seat offers the most distance from impact during a collision (sometimes referred to as crumple zone). So if you get hit at an intersection, the outer seat will take more of a direct hit, while the middle seat remains relatively insulated.

Interestingly, the researchers in Buffalo noted that the average age of the backseat passengers in their study was 20 years, but the average age of the middle backseat passengers was only 15.4 years. Perhaps this goes to show that no matter how old we get, we can still play the “older sibling” card.

Best place for kids and car seats

According to both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the middle seat is safest for kids too. In fact, the NHTSA recommends that all children under the age of 13 ride in the back — ideally in the center. But there’s a major caveat to this recommendation: the middle car seat is only safest if a full seat belt (rather than just a lap belt) is used. So if you’re driving an older car without a full, 3-point seat belt, your children are better off sitting in a back window seat.

The rear center seat is also recommended as the best place for kids’ car seats. In fact, the AAP found that children in the rear center seat have a 43 percent lower risk of injury than children in the rear window seats. Check your state’s child-safety laws for more info on child restraint requirements.

Applying this safest seat knowledge

Now that you’re equipped with this “insider” knowledge, it’s time to use it to your advantage. Next time you’re riding as a passenger, graciously offer to take the middle seat. You’ll look gallant and be safer too. Granted, if only 2 people are traveling in the car, it may seem weird to climb in the backseat, Miss Daisy-style. Still, wherever you end up sitting, remember always to wear your seat belt. Stay safe out there (and check out our other safety tips to help stay informed)!

Along with protecting yourself and your loved ones, keep your car protected by investing in car insurance you can count on. Get your quote from Esurance today.

Blood Alcohol Concentration and Breathalyzers: How It Works

“Kiss me” buttons, 4-leaf clovers, ubiquitous green beer — what else could we be talking about but St. Patrick’s Day? A day of reverence (and binge drinking) for the Irish and (just) binge drinking for everyone else.

St. Paddy’s (aka St. Patty’s) Day falls on a Saturday this year, so there’s no need to call in sick on March 18. But before you swathe yourself in green and hit the party circuit, we thought we’d answer a few questions about drinking and driving. Don’t worry, we’re not going to preach to you — most everyone knows drinking and driving is dangerous. Instead we thought we’d give you a little alcohol education. Consider it Alcohol 101.

Warning: we’re about to get scientific. Don’t run away. We’ll do our best to make it interesting.

What does “blowing a .08” actually mean?

The legal drinking limit in the U.S. is .08. That means, if someone blows a .08 or higher when given a breathalyzer test, they’re considered too drunk to drive. But that number’s a bit abstract if you don’t know what it’s measuring.

The number on the breathalyzer refers to your blood alcohol concentration (sometimes referred to as blood alcohol content or BAC). When a person drinks, the alcohol is absorbed directly through the walls of the stomach and small intestine. From there it moves into the bloodstream and travels throughout the body to the brain. Blood alcohol concentration is measured by the percentage of alcohol in a certain volume of blood. So, if someone has a BAC of .10, a sample of their blood would contain .10 percent alcohol.

How can a breathalyzer test measure alcohol concentration in blood?

Good question — just how are our breath and blood related?

As alcohol-infused blood travels through the lungs, some of that alcohol moves across the lungs’ membranes (the thin layer of tissue) and into their air sacs, or alveoli. The concentration of alcohol in the alveolar air correlates with the concentration of alcohol in the blood. So when a person exhales, the alcohol in the alveolar air can be detected by the breathalyzer. (Sure beats drawing blood on the side of the road!)

What factors affect blood alcohol concentration?

You may notice that the same number of drinks can affect you differently at different times. That’s because there are a few additional factors that could also affect your BAC.

  • The alcohol content of the drink. It doesn’t take a scientist to deduce that a martini has a higher alcohol concentration than a beer.
  • How fast you drink. In general, the quicker you drink, the higher your peak BAC will be. In other words, doing shots will hit you harder than sipping.
  • How much you’ve eaten. Alcohol is absorbed more slowly into the blood stream if there’s food in your stomach because the food dilutes the alcohol.
  • How much water you drink. Like food, water dilutes the alcohol. Have a glass of water for every alcoholic drink you imbibe to avoid become overly inebriated.

Just remember, though you may feel in control, your BAC could be at or above the legal limit.

Does size matter? (We’re talking about BAC, of course.)

There’s ongoing debate as to whether size matters, but when it comes to BAC, bigger is definitely better. The more you weigh, the more water is present in your body. This water dilutes the alcohol and lowers the BAC. Women tend to have less water and more body fat per pound of body weight than men. Since alcohol can’t penetrate fat cells as easily as other cells, more alcohol remains in women’s blood than in men’s. So, generally speaking, if a woman and a man drink the same amount, the woman will have a higher BAC.

Okay, we’re going to preach a little: don’t drink and drive

About one third of crash-related fatalities can be attributed to drunk driving. Though we all know the dangers of driving drunk when we’re sober, common sense often goes out the window when we’re inebriated. So plan ahead. It could end up saving your life.

How can you avoid drinking and driving?

  • Before the festivities begin, designate a sober driver. Draw straws, offer payment, or promise to be the designated driver (DD) for a month. Just make sure someone’s committed to being the DD before you head out on the town.
  • If you’re going to a house party, make arrangements to stay the night. If you’re going out to the bars, find a hotel within walking distance.
  • Get a ride home (from a sober driver) or call a taxi. We recommend programming a few taxi numbers into your phone ahead of time.
  • Find out if your city has a sober ride program. They’re often free and many run all night.
  • Pace yourself. Drink one alcoholic beverage per hour and supplement with water. It’ll keep your BAC low and also help you avoid a hangover in the morning.
  • If you’re hosting a party, remind your guests to plan ahead and designate a sober driver; offer alcohol-free beverages; and make sure all guests leave with a sober driver (or offer up your couch and a sleeping bag).

We hope everyone has a fun and safe St. Patrick’s Day this year. May the luck of the Irish be with you!

Plug in Your Mind: SXSW Recap

Taking place in pint-sized and palatial venues from one corner of Austin to another, SXSW Interactive is one of the most tech-centric, design-driven festivals of the year. But that’s not to say it’s a bunch of socially awkward nerds sitting in dark rooms discussing the future of CSS. Well, there is that. But beyond that, it’s 35,000-plus exuberant thinkers and doers from all over the world gathered in possibly the most outgoing city on the planet to share ideas and just generally be inspired by one another.

And even with a torrential (very soggy) kickoff, SXSW 2012 was no exception.

SXSW recap (interactive)

From Baratunde Thurston discussing how satire and comedy can change (and are changing) the world to David Eagleman’s presentation on the complexity and capability of the human brain, this week provided no shortage of fodder for the mind.

And with Rainn Wilson adding his own unique brand of wit and relativity (he discussed the creation of his site, SoulPancake), and presenters like Guy Kawasaki and Al Gore providing insights on everything from Google+ to free speech … Well, let’s just say it all added up to a practically limitless range of finely woven content for quiet (or not so quiet) collective contemplation.

Couple all these conversations with dozens and dozens of new product demonstrations, tech giveaways, and gadgety goodness galore and you have a week of mind-bending proportions. Nokia boasted a bass-blasting “igloo,” where free phones (and shots) were given away every hour. Spotify hosted a nonstop party at the brilliant-green Spotify House, where guests could add their playlists to the current set. And Google built a village. (Yes, village.)

Needless to say, SXSW Interactive 2012 was truly that … a place to mingle and interact with new brands and exciting technology.

Esurance at SXSW Interactive

As a newbie (though uber-excited) sponsor of this year’s festival, Esurance was on the scene to take in the cyber sights, synergized sounds, and (relatively) manageable mayhem that was SXSW. At this week’s tradeshow (March 12–15), our “insurance for the modern world” lounge featured event-friendly giveaways (think free coffee and lunch vouchers) as well as free charging stations where SXSWers could power up their gadgets and gizmos.

While charging up at the power stations or taking a breather from the maddening pace, visitors at our lounge could also chat with an Esurance expert or scroll through our interactive iPad display to learn more about some of the coolest products we offer.

Take a quick video tour of our booth:

SXSW summary

As a company committed to making things easier (period), Esurance was happy to help festival-goers stay connected, energized, and fully charged at SXSW Interactive. And as a dot-com survivor and car insurance innovator, we were beyond excited to be part of such an expansive, awe-inspiring, future-thinking, change-making festival. And when our new Texas friends say, “Y’all come back now,” all we can say is, “We sure hope to!”

SXSW Music

Stay tuned for more as we make our way to Auditorium Shores for the music portion of the festival. And if you’re in Austin, be sure to find us for a charge-up … and lots of other good (free) stuff.

Related links

More about comedian and author Baratunde Thurston of The Onion
More about neuroscientist and New York Times’ best-selling author David Eagleman
More about actor Rainn Wilson and SoulPancake

Check out a few pics from the Esurance Lounge:

Car Hacking: A Modern World Problem

Even though we’re still waiting for our jetpacks, hoverboards, and flying cars (looking at you, scientists), people from 2 generations ago would probably view our world as something out of sci-fi.

Think about it: we use our phones to find out everything from the night’s movie times to who the president of Burundi is — without talking to a single person. We can talk to our cars as if they were people. And our cars can take over for us if we happen to lose attention and drift. All pretty cool — especially if you have a hankering for a “damn fine piece of pie” or happen to nod off for a second (i.e., fall into a microsleep).

On the other hand, we’ve got groups like Anonymous capable of shutting down such seemingly impregnable federal websites as FBI.gov. We get emails from supposed Nigerian princes and the hacked accounts of friends promising or asking for vast sums of money. We live in a world where our credit card numbers — and our very identities — can be taken and used by others if we’re not careful.

And soon, a National Academy of Sciences panel warns, we may need to worry about hackers breaking into our cars, too.

How car hacking can occur

The problem is that modern-day cars have 2 sets of computerized systems: one that controls informational and entertainment (infotainment) devices like OnStar® (which will soon have social network integration), and another that controls vital functions like braking.

And unfortunately, though they’re designed to be entirely separate, it could be possible for savvy hackers to exploit the entertainment computers to access the safety-related ones.

Stefan Savage and Tadayoshi Kohno — professors at UC San Diego and University of Washington, respectively — have found ways to exploit cars’ telematics systems, which make mobile communications possible. They also managed to insert an infected CD into a car’s compact-disc player and use it to control safety systems.

No real-world hackers seem to have pulled the trick off — yet. But a National Academy of Sciences panel is urging automakers to develop solutions before car hacking becomes a dangerous reality.

In fact, SAE International, the Society of Automotive Engineers, is already working to develop industry standards for in-car electronics that will help address just this problem. But even with these standards in place, it could be difficult for authorities to identify cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

After all, automakers and safety experts aren’t cybersecurity experts. In fact, authorities already have their hands full investigating normal malfunctions in auto electronics. And a recent study proves it.

NHTSA ill-prepared to assess modern car electronics

According to the National Research Council (NRC), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) lacks the tools and knowledge necessary to properly analyze in-car electronics’ safety. (Including how secure they are against cyber attacks.)

In a recent 162-page NRC study requested by the NHTSA, the research council declared 2 major findings. One, that the NHTSA had been correct in saying that it could find no electronics defects behind recent unexpected acceleration troubles with Toyotas. And 2, that despite the accuracy of these findings, the NHTSA isn’t equipped to keep up with high-speed developments in cars’ electronic devices.

To address the problem, the NRC has issued several recommendations, including the appointment of an outside technical advisory panel to help the NHTSA.

Sound off

Now that you know a little more about car hacking, what do you think? Will cybersecurity someday be an important consideration when buying a car? Do you think the NHTSA is properly prepared to handle issues involving the complex electronics in today’s cars? Let us know.

Related links

Auto hacking seen as a growing risk with electronics frenzy
In-car advertising: the wave of the future
NHTSA calls on automakers to curb distracted driving
Car tech innovations on the horizon