4 Ideas for a Safe New Year’s Eve

It’s been awhile since Ella Fitzgerald sang “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” but the million-dollar question remains: Where to spend those last 10 seconds of 2010?

With so many New Year’s parties and events planned, it’s hard to decide which way to go. And with so many revelers on the town, it’s often impossible to get there. Not to mention the fact that no one wants to drink and drive.

So, keeping all these challenges in mind, we came up with a short list of drive-free, stress-free ideas for  a safe New Year’s Eve.

Throw a PJ party

Invite a few friends over for an all-nighter. To make sure no one tries to drive home late-night, collect everyone’s car keys at the door and hide them somewhere you’ll remember. Point out all the good sleeping spots, and proceed to pour the champagne and make ready the noisemakers.

Throw a popcorn party

Who says you have to go out to have fun? Queue up a few classics, pop some buttery corn, and snuggle in for a cozy night of mellow movie watching. If you time it right, you can see the ball drop in Times Square too. (Because, seriously, it’s not really New Year’s Eve without Dick Clark!)

Call a taxi

If you decide to go out on the town, schedule a taxi to pick you up and take you home. Most cab companies are busy on New Year’s, but if you call in advance, you can usually arrange for scheduled pickups. At the end of the night, you won’t have to worry about driving or finding a cab either. It’s win, win.

Order room service

Whether you get a hotel room in New York City or in the middle of nowhere, hotels offer a novel way to ring in the new year. Hit the town in style knowing it’s just a short walk back to your room, or kick back with a bottle of bubbly and enjoy the last hours of 2010. Either way, you won’t have to drive once the party gets started (or make your bed the next day).

However you decide to spend your New Year’s Eve, have fun and stay safe. See you in 2011!

From Flying Cars to Solar Power: Transportation Innovation of 2010

Sure, the DeLorean is pretty cool (it can take us back to 1985, after all), but by today’s standards it’s about as technologically hip as a floppy disk. In the past 15 years, cars have come a long, long way. iPods and satellite radio replaced CD changers; GPS units made actual road maps nearly obsolete; and hybrids and EVs evolved from concept cars into everyday vehicles. Not all that surprising when you consider the speed of transportation innovation these days.

Each year cars get more and more futuristic, and 2010 was no exception. Here’s our list of the top 5 automotive innovations hat made headlines this year:

1. Terrafugia Transition®

True, the Transition, a drivable aircraft or flying car, has been a concept vehicle since 2006, but in 2010 it finally got the go-ahead from the FAA. In addition to flying at a speed of 115 mph and at a range of 460 miles, the Transition can drive on any surface. Priced at a cool $200k (cheaper than most Lambos), the first models will be delivered next year.

2. EV charging stations

2010 was the year of the EV, but without charging stations, EVs are limited in range. Thankfully, 2010 was also the year of the electric car charging stations. The first public charging station debuted in NYC in July 2010 and many more are slated to appear in the coming year.

3. Pedestrian Detection System

Safety just got a little bit safer. Volvo’s S60 Pedestrian Detection System uses radar and cameras to detect pedestrians in the road. It warns the driver if anyone walks into the car’s path, and automatically brakes if the driver doesn’t react in time.

4. Solar-powered cars

The 100% solar-powered car is still a futuristic concept, but some models of Toyota’s 2010 Prius leaped ahead by installing solar roofs. While it only powers the AC for now, the sun-powered roof nevertheless bodes well for the future of solar technology. And thought it seems a little space-aged today, you might one day see sun-powered cars cruising your way.

5. Google’s driverless car

Who needs a chauffer when there’s Google’s Prius? To date, the driverless car has driven itself 140,000 miles along busy streets and highways. And while this technology is not yet available to the public, it seems likely that it could be at some point in the future (but don’t quote us on that).

So what’s next? A DeLorean that can actually take us into the future? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, we can marvel at how far technology’s come and toast to another innovative year. Cheers!

Cool Car Accessories: If Your Car Had a Christmas Wish List

With the holidays burning rubber around the bend and the spirit of gift-giving in the air, we thought we’d take a moment to talk car accessories. (Sure, it’s not all that surprising.)

If you’re one of the 90 percent of Americans who drive, then your car’s most likely been working its trunk off over the past month or so. Doubtless, it’s taken you on countless trips to the mall and the grocery store (carried Tickle Me Elmos and turkeys), circled packed parking lots, and idled patiently in the crush of holiday traffic.

And what have you done for your car in return? Although it doesn’t usually take much to keep your ride happy (a little maintenance and a mango-scented air freshener can go a long way), many of us tend to neglect our vehicles during the busy holiday season.

With that in mind, here’s a short (and affordable) list of things that might be on your car’s wish list this year.

  • Windshield wiper blades. Although replacement blades generally cost less than 10 bucks, they’re also one of the most neglected components on our cars. Nonetheless, wiper blades should be replaced at least once a year, and the beginning of winter is the perfect time to do so. Your car will repay you for this gift by allowing you to see the road the next time it rains.
  • A good detail. With all the running around that we do, it’s easy to understand why our cars sometimes look as though they’ve been through the ringer. Having your vehicle detailed occasionally can help extend its resale value, and usually costs $60-$90. Or you can always run it through the carwash and vacuum it out for a handful of quarters. Both your car and your passengers will thank you.
  • Tire rotation. Like replacing windshield wiper blades, rotating tires is probably not all that high on your list of things to do. But because tires wear differently, it’s recommended that you rotate them every 5-10,000 miles. This can help extend the life of your tires and it costs as little as $2.50 per wheel. Your car will show its gratitude by keeping you safe on the road.
  • An oil change. With this, you can never go wrong (sort of like buying Almond Roca for Aunt Meg). The importance of changing your oil regularly can’t be overestimated, but neither can the ease with which this small task can be forgotten. The average oil change costs between $25 and $35, and your car will show its appreciation by not melting down on the side of the freeway on some Monday morning. It really is the gift that keeps on giving.
  • Air freshener. When you forget to put on deodorant in the morning, it’s embarrassing, right? Well think about how your poor car feels. Car air fresheners can cost less than a buck, and smell like everything from cedar to cotton candy to wild cherry. How will your car thank you? By smelling like a lush forest, your forgotten childhood, or delicious wild cherries.
  • Fuzzy dice. (Carstache?) No, cars are not people, but just the same, make your car feel special with a unique doo-dah this year. From fancy seat covers to Hula girls to fuzzy dice or other lucky talismans, there are (literally) hundreds of inexpensive accessories you can give your car to make it stand out a little. In turn, your car will show its thanks by being easier to find the next time you’re wandering the parking lot Seinfeld-style.

Whether you decide to grant your car its wishes or not, drive carefully this holiday season and stay safe out there!

Related links

Find out who invented the windshield wiper (it may surprise you)
Get some tire maintenance tips

Holiday Driving Tips: How to Play Nice When Suspected of Being Naughty

With more and more drivers on the road each holiday season, police officers are forced to amp up efforts to curtail risky driving behavior. Our holiday driving tips are the same as always: buckle up, use caution, stick to the rules of the road, and don’t drink and drive.

But if (Santa forbid!) an officer happens to suspect you of some other naughty driving practice and pulls you over, here are a few tips for safely navigating a stressful situation:

  1. Take a deep breath. Remain calm. It might be difficult to relax given the circumstances, but a calm demeanor and a friendly smile can make a difference. At the very least, a positive attitude can make the incident go more smoothly.
  2. Put on your hazard lights. This lets the police officer know that you’re planning to pull over.
  3. Pull over to a safe place as soon as possible. Generally, it’s recommended that you pull over to the right-hand side of the road, but if you’re on a busy street or highway, this may not be safe. Use good judgment and pull over only where it’s safe to do so.
  4. Stay in your car and wait for instructions. It may take a moment for the officer to get your license plate info before approaching you and providing instructions on what to do next. Be patient and wait calmly.
  5. Keep your hands visible. Keep your hands in plain sight (at 10 and 2 on the wheel) to signal that there’s nothing (literally or figuratively) up your sleeve.
  6. Provide info when asked. Make sure that you have your drivers license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance with you. (If you’re an Esurance customer, you can print copies of your insurance cards online whenever you want.)
  7. Don’t argue or pick fights. Whatever you do, don’t make things difficult for yourself or the police officer. You’ll generally get a better response if you’re polite and respectful. Remember, you’ll have your chance to fight the citation in court if you feel you’re in the right, but arguing with an officer is not likely to do you much good.
  8. Don’t admit guilt. By admitting guilt, you forfeit your right to contest the potential ticket in court. It’s no joke; anything you say could and might be used against you.

By being a safe, cautious driver, you can usually avoid being pulled over, but if you see blue lights in your rearview mirror, remember to stay calm and to play nice this holiday season.

Helpful winter driving tips

Don’t get caught out in the cold this holiday season — winterize your car before it’s too late with the help of this infographic

Refresh your winter driving know-how with these time-tested tips

One of the best ways to prepare for adverse weather conditions is to assemble a winter car kit — here are 11 essentials you should include

The Green Car Olympics

The era of the green car is finally here.

Well, that’s not exactly true. Our friends at NativeEnergy recently linked to the 170-year history of the electric vehicle, proving that the top green cars in the market today are the result of a long and interesting history of trial and error. What’s finally here, to be more precise, is the global acceptance of electric and hybrid cars as real, viable alternatives to traditional gas guzzlers.

The Chevrolet Volt was recently named the 2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year at the same time the Nissan LEAF was recognized as Europe’s Car of the Year. So what do these trendy new models have in common? Efficiency, low-to-no emissions, and perhaps most importantly in the brave new world of EVs and hybrids, affordability.

With all that said, we’d like to welcome you to the first-ever Esurance Green Car Olympics. Inspired by the Ancient Greeks’ admirably efficient modes of transportation like the chariot and the long walk, we’re handing out a gold, a silver, and a bronze to our favorite eco-conscious rides of 2011.

The Bronze Medal: 2011 Toyota Prius

Mpg: 51 city, 48 highway
Base price range: $23,810–$29,080

By any standard, 2010 was a tough year for Toyota as millions of recalled cars affected the company’s hard-earned reputation for dependability and safety. But it wasn’t enough to bring down a decade of hybrid progress. The Prius continued to remain the most popular hybrid on the market, and in Japan, 2010 models sold more than 300,000 units (a national record).

The new model continues to tweak and refine its technology. At 51 mpg, the 2011 Prius is the official leader in efficiency according to an EPA report (which didn’t include the LEAF or Volt). In other words, as the Car Connection’s review reminds us, “The 2011 Toyota Prius gets the highest mileage of any gasoline-powered vehicle you can’t plug in.”

And it comes with a wide range of sci-fi-sounding features designed to appeal to the eco-loving techie in all of us, including Intelligent Parking Assist and an optional moon roof equipped with solar panels.

The new edition also marks a subtle change for the Prius dynasty: What used to be the Prius III in years past will now be called the Prius Three. At the risk of reading too far into it, this small tweak may reflect a back-to-basics approach to the innovative engineering and safety measures that made the Toyota Prius so successful in the first place.

The Silver Medal: 2011 Chevrolet Volt

Mpg equivalent: 105 (more info on this tricky calculation)
Base price: $41,000

After a rough decade for the U.S. auto industry, it’s hard to overstate the significance of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

The Volt won the Los Angeles Auto Show’s prestigious Green Car of the Year award in addition to an even heftier feather in the cap: Motor Trend Car of the Year. It’s quite an accomplishment for a green car like the Volt to join this illustrious club — past winners of this award include a GTO, a Mustang, a Camaro, and 2 Corvettes.

In practice, the Volt is an electric car with a small gas engine, which extends the car’s range when the batteries are low. It’s the first of its kind because it can operate as an EV or hybrid in order to maximize efficiency — it’s the first “intelligent hybrid” according to Motor Trend.

It’s also cool-looking, the acceleration is good for its class (8.8 seconds from 0-60), and the reviews have been universally positive. So get ready to see it in a lane near you — GM foresees 45,000 Volts cruising the roads by 2012.

The Gold Medal: 2011 Nissan LEAF

Mpg equivalent: 99 (more on this tricky calculation)
Base price range: $32,780–$35,240

We’re smitten by the Chevy Volt, but we have unabashed reverence for the inaugural Green Car Olympic’s champion (and Europe’s Car of the Year), the Nissan LEAF.

With an official range of 75 miles and efficiency equivalent to 99 mpg, the LEAF (which is an acronym for Leading, Environmentally friendly, Affordable Family car…sort of) is the only all-electric car from a major automaker available to U.S. drivers in 2011. And perhaps more importantly, its driving experience holds up against traditional cars. As Car and Driver reports, “It feels like a real car.”

While going green is a driving factor behind many LEAF purchases, the car also saves green. According to the EPA, the average annual electricity cost for the LEAF is $561, or roughly $1,000 less per year than it costs to fill up a typical Nissan Versa.

Plugging the LEAF’s battery in for a charge is easy, and when the battery gets low, the car can send a reminder. That’s right: the LEAF can even text.

For all these reasons and more, we’re happy to say congratulations, Nissan LEAF. It’s a gold medal well deserved.

Questions or comments on this post? We’d love to hear from you! Send us an email at communications@esurance.com.

More green-driving resources:
GreenCarReports.com’s best car to buy in 2011
The Nissan LEAF: Europe’s official Car of the Year (Wired)
The 2011 Fuel Economy Guide