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How to Avoid Panicking When Your Brakes Fail [Video]

There are few things more nerve-racking than the idea of your brakes failing. Luckily, it’s not a common occurrence. But if you want to prepare yourself just in case, watch our how-to video and learn how to navigate yourself to safety.

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The Surprising Link Between Extreme Weather and Electric Car Range

Driving an electric car has a lot of advantages — skipping the gas station and cutting air pollution being 2 of the most obvious. But electric vehicles (EVs) do present one major challenge: limited range. Electric-only cars can go an average of 60 to 100 miles between battery charges. This is not typically an issue, since the majority of American drivers travel less than 40 miles a day. But extreme temperatures can cause EV range to drop substantially.

How temperature affects electric car range

According to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, electric cars consume more energy on extremely hot or cold days, which can reduce EV range by as much as 40 percent. Drivers are also more likely to crank up the heater or air conditioner when its freezing or scorching out, which can drain the battery even faster. So if someone is used to going 100 miles between charges, they may find themselves running out of power after just 60 miles instead.

Drivers in regions known for very high or low temperatures, such as Phoenix or Minneapolis, can expect an overall reduction in vehicle range. But extreme temperatures have become more common throughout the U.S., due in part to the El Niño weather system that’s brought severe floods to the Midwest and contributed to the East Coast’s balmy Christmas. El Niños happen about every 2 to 7 years, and this one is particularly strong. It already helped to make 2015 the hottest year ever recorded — and it may make 2016 hotter still.

Well, at least we won’t be freezing our electrodes off, right? Not necessarily. Despite the overall warmer temperatures, El Niños can also bring colder-than-average winter weather to the South.

So what’s an electric car driver to do? Lowering your air conditioner can help. So can using your seat warmers instead of your car’s heater. Keep an eye on the weather and watch for extreme high or low temperatures. Drive at a moderate speed (the higher your mph, the faster your battery drains) and take a moment to find the charging stations along your route before you start your trip.

Related link: Discover more ways to increase your EV’s range

New advancements in electric vehicle batteries

The 60-to-100-mile average range limit may be a thing of the past soon (well, soon-ish). Universities and companies around the world have been working hard to create a battery that offers higher capacity without increased size, weight, or expense. In September, the Bosch technology company unveiled their new solid-state, lithium-ion concept battery, which they claim will offer double the range at a reduced cost. They aim to have a production-ready version available in less than 5 years.

Meanwhile, chemists at Cambridge University made a breakthrough in lithium-air battery technology, potentially leading to the development of a super battery with 5 times the energy capacity of current batteries. (They feel another 10 years of work will be needed before the system is commercially viable for cars, however.)

Researchers at 2 U.S. universities have also been developing wireless, in-road charging stations that recharge vehicles as the cars pass over them. (In August of last year, the UK announced plans to test one such system.)

In the meantime, EV drivers who are turning down their heater to expand their car’s range can be warmed by the knowledge that their ride is good for the environment as well as their wallet.

Whatever type of vehicle you drive, make sure it’s covered by top-notch car insurance — especially during this year of crazy weather. And check out our El Niño Survival Guide for useful tips on handling any storm.

4 Wild Ways Technology Is Personalizing Homes

When I was a kid, I was certain we’d all be living in space-age homes by the time I grew up. But here I am, a bona-fide adult, still using the stairs instead of sliding down a spiral tube. And why doesn’t my front door scan my face or slide open automatically as promised by every sci-fi movie?

Well, the truth is, while I’ve been unlocking doors with a jagged piece of metal and climbing stairs with my old-fashioned legs, amazing high-tech developments have been changing science-fiction to science-fact. Here are 4 exciting new advancements for homes.

1. Your house might soon recognize you

Most home tech is designed to make life a little easier. Appliances, thermostats, pool pumps, sprinklers, and security cameras can now be controlled from anywhere, and some systems will even alert you if there’s a water leak. I know what you’re saying — all this sounds pretty standard these days. But what if your home were smart enough to distinguish between you and your guests? A Paris-based company, Netatmo, recently launched a security system that can now recognize the people in your home. You simply register the people you live with and if the system’s facial-recognition technology doesn’t recognize anyone in your home, you’ll be instantly notified on your mobile device.

2. The loo could care for you

Science can tell a lot about our health from our bodily waste. But with breakthroughs in electronic analysis, we may have a new (and slightly less uncomfortable way) of finding harmful bacteria and nutrient imbalances in our bodies. Gone will be the days when we’d have to bring doctors little specimen containers for a diagnosis. Imagine your humble toilet quietly checking your blood cell count, heart rate, and dietary balances, or even detecting the early signs of preventable disease.

Well, imagine no more. Toto, Japan’s largest toilet manufacturer, has released the “Intelligent Toilet” system that not only checks your vitals, but transfers the results to a health network for further analysis. If the “Intelligent Toilet” does find something that needs further examination, it can even share those details with a local doctor.

3. Going seriously green

The technology we use to power our homes recently went through some exciting changes. One of the latest comes from those electric maestros at Tesla: Powerwall. In a nutshell, Powerwall is a battery that charges itself using solar panels during the day so it can power your home by night. But, unlike the hulking generators of the past, Powerwall is energy efficient, compact, and easy to install. Each one has 7 kWh of storage capacity — enough to power most homes for an evening.

4. Robots on the rise

Of course, no high-tech home is complete without a friendly and helpful house robot. Every vision of the future I imagined growing up included a fun, freewheeling machine to help around the house. Sure, we’ve all seen the “robotic” vacuum that drunkenly bumps against furniture as it roams around cleaning up, but that’s about it … or so I thought.

High-tech, humanoid, multi-use robots are now being developed by some of the world’s largest consumer product companies. Honda recently unveiled their amazing “Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility,” or “ASIMO” for short, and a German company has introduced a bartending robot that stiffly shakes martinis to order. They may be multi-million dollar prototypes right now, but it shows that tech companies are rapidly progressing robot technology for all sorts of purposes.

The future is here

There’s no doubt that we’re in a wonderful time of technological advancement, and much of it will determine how we live in the future.  But while only some of these futuristic inventions are available to the public, you can experience the modern world with Esurance and get a personalized homeowners quote that’s right for you.

How to Shovel Your Driveway Efficiently (and Safely)

Shoveling the driveway has always been one of the most hated chores. But did you know it also has the distinction of being one of the most dangerous?

During a 17-year study by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, nearly 200,000 Americans visited the ER with snow shoveling-related ailments. Of these, 54 percent reported soft-tissue problems, 34 percent had lower-back injuries, and 1,647 individuals actually suffered fatal heart attacks.

This winter, don’t let your haste to clear away snowy remnants put your health in jeopardy. Instead, learn how to shovel your driveway with both speed and safety in mind.

Before you shovel

1. Choose your shovel wisely

There are more shovel varieties than you might imagine and picking the right one matters. For instance, if you live somewhere that gets seriously heavy snowfall, consider adding a pusher shovel to your garage arsenal. You can use it to guide snow to the edges of your driveway first, and then break out a deeper-sided shovel to lift at the end. Or, if your driveway is particularly uneven, you can save time with an all-plastic shovel, which is less likely to catch on bumps and cracks than ones with a steel front.

But that’s only scraping the surface. Check out this Consumer Reports guide to finding the right snow shovel for your situation.

2. Dress for the conditions

It’s tempting to throw on a hoodie and sneakers in your rush to put this annoying task behind you. But don’t forget: it’s winter. Dress in several light layers to keep yourself insulated without getting drenched in sweat. Boots with no-slip soles will help you avoid tumbling on icy ground, and water-repellant gloves, socks, and hats retain crucial heat as the temperature drops.   

3. Stay off the snow

Dense, packed snow is a pain to move, so try to stay off the driveway before shoveling. If you know you’ll have to drive somewhere early in the morning, park on the street the night before to avoid flattening the snow as you leave. Even walking on freshly fallen snow makes clearing it that much harder.

4. Grease the shovel

Spraying lubricant onto the edge of the shovel will help keep snow from clinging.  A multi-purpose spray (like WD-40® or one from DuPont®) is an easy choice you might already have around the house. Even some non-stick cooking oil can do the trick.

5. Prep your body

Shoveling the driveway is surprisingly strenuous work on par with sprinting on a treadmill. We doubt you’d go for a hard run without first prepping your body, so why not do the same before shoveling?

Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, which happens just as easily in the cold as the heat. Steer clear of nicotine and coffee (no matter how much that hot cup of joe calls out to you). These can put added stress on your heart as your blood gets pumping. Also take a few minutes to stretch or walk around to warm up your muscles.

And, perhaps most important, if you’re not a regular exerciser, get the green light from your doctor before heading out for another season of shoveling.

During shoveling

1. Tackle snow right after it stops falling

For the lightest resistance, shovel the snow as soon as possible. While it’s easy to procrastinate, especially with a chore this mind-numbing (and body-numbing, for that matter), it’ll only get worse if you wait.

2. Fine-tune your technique

Not to sound too much like your personal trainer but … lift with your legs, not your back. Here are a few other pointers to try:

  • Hold the shovel close to your body to avoid wrenching
  • Keep your feet waist-width apart
  • Remove snow in layers rather than all at once
  • Only load your shovel a quarter-full or (at most) half-full with each scoop
  • Always point your feet in the direction you’re moving the snow
  • Take breaks as needed

3. Find the right pattern for your driveway

Vertical or horizontal strips? Walk from the middle or from the edge? Push the snow or toss it? Unfortunately, there’s no tried-and-true method for the fastest shoveling. Depending on your strength, the width and length of your driveway, and the density of the snow, almost any of the above could work. You may need to test a few methods before you find the magic combination for your blizzard-born woes.

Are you ready for El Niño?

Knowing how to shovel your driveway safely and efficiently can be a big help this winter, but it’s not the only way to stay prepared. Since El Niño will be increasing the risk for unpredictable weather around the nation, check out Esurance’s ultimate El Niño Survival Guide for handy tips that’ll help keep your vehicle, home, and loved ones safe.

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