7 Handy Car Hacks That Will Make Your Life Easier

We all love our cars, but oftentimes we come across unavoidable problems and issues on the road that need a quick fix.  Below, we collected a slew of handy car hacks to make driving a breeze and tide you over until your next maintenance appointment. Read on, and share these tried-and-tested tips from Shift with your friends!

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Romantic Getaways in California

From national parks to wineries to beaches, the Golden State is home to endless options for outdoor adventures that are easily accessible by car. We collected some of our favorite picks for the most swoon-worthy romantic getaways in California to add to your West Coast long weekend agenda. Cue the wanderlust!

BIG SUR

While this one is perfect for a romantic getaway with your significant other, we also love this spot for a fun solo expedition and camping with the crew. “Get back to nature and escape to the wild and rugged coastline of Big Sur, which offers stunning views of the Pacific along miles and miles of dramatic cliffs. Visit a few ‘jewels’ of California’s state park system and walk among the redwoods to discover secret beaches and waterfalls. Soak in natural hot springs, pamper yourselves with a massage or spa treatment and enjoy a romantic dinner for two perched above the endless blue ocean.” (CBS Los Angeles)

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NAPA VALLEY

Perhaps the quintessential romantic getaway in California, Napa is a no-brainer. “It’s an interesting experience; peaceful and quiet floating through the sky intermittently interrupted by the roar and flames, only to have the propane turned off abruptly and be wrapped by the cool air and silent drifting once again. […]Hot air balloon rides are on many travelers’ bucket lists of vacation activities. I can’t think of a better way to check that item off your list than to enjoy the sun rising over Napa Valley. ” (The Vacation Gals)

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Check out our favorite road trip-friendly cars

JOSHUA TREE

“There’s no sunset quite as spectacular as a desert sunset. From the red-hued rocks to the yucca trees and tumbleweeds, Joshua Tree is a serene escape with sparse beauty all around. Rent a design-forward home in the middle of it all, and soak in the sights and sounds of the high desert. Explore the wilderness during the day and cozy up and star gaze with your S.O. at night.” (Refinery29)

LA JOLLA

“The village area of downtown La Jolla oozes luxury and has many romantic restaurants, bars, and cafes ideal for couples looking for a romantic getaway, but La Jolla’s main romance factor can be found at the La Jolla Cove. Curving around the Pacific Ocean, the La Jolla Cove is one of the most spectacularly stunning stretches of coastline in California. With a wide grassy area ideal for a picnic and a meandering walking trail along the perimeter of the cove, its an ideal place to spend a leisurely romantic afternoon.” (One Day In A City)

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SANTA BARBARA

If you’re making the trek between Northern and Southern California, this is a can’t-miss spot. “The air feels fresher and the ocean more serene in Santa Barbara, which offers great hiking and mountain views amid historic 1930s architecture and terra-cotta paved streets.” (LA Weekly)

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YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

One of our all-time favorites, “Yosemite National Park is sort of like a theme park plunked into the great outdoors: visitors can choose any number of activities during their trip, including hiking, climbing, trail rides, photography tours, live theater, and fine food.” (CN Traveler)

BONUS: Last but not least, one of the easiest romantic getaways in California requires almost no planning: a simple cruise along the iconic Pacific Coast Highway, spanning San Diego to San Francisco. The sweeping views are unforgettable.

What’s My Car Worth? The Science of Car Pricing

We heard this one all the time. A simple question with a not-so-simple answer: What is my car worth? Since the car market isn’t usually top of mind, it can be hard to think about value of your car. Car pricing guides like Kelley Blue Book act as good price anchors. But one-size-fits-all car pricing guides tend not to capture every element that could affect a car’s true value.

So we put together three real-world considerations that can impact car value that every seller (and buyer!) should have in mind the next time they’re in the market.

How Market Forces Affect Your Car’s Worth

The question of what your car is worth depends, in part, on what people are willing to pay for it. The laws of supply and demand lie at the heart of every transaction, and used cars are no different. But unlike commoditized goods like milk and coffee beans, the supply and demand for used car can vary widely from place to place. Think about if you live in a rural area — you probably want a car that can handle rough roads. If you live in a packed city on the other hand, a compact car is your best bet. So the demand for those vehicles will change with the location. When it comes to supply… well, your car might be a great one, but if there’s lot of your exact same car on the local market, it could make yours harder to sell at its KBB value.

Other things like area dealer presence and activity, seasonality, and even weather can also impact car pricing. The best way to capture this would be to look at a variety of actual, live listings in your area, how long they’ve been on the market, and compare them to each other. Shift’s estimate tool actually does this precise calculation for you, and when you schedule an evaluation, our Car Enthusiast will actually show you a graph of local vehicle listings similar to yours for your reference.

How Features Affect Your Car’s Worth

The car’s features can also throw a monkey wrench into an already tough calculation. How do the features of your car influence price? Well, it depends:

Paint color – 61% of the cars sold through Shift are black, white, silver, or grey. While not the most exciting, safe neutral colors are still the easiest to sell.

Shift's most popular car colors
Grayscale colors represent a whopping 61% of cars sold on Shift

Bright or exotic colors can fare well among collectors and buyers looking on edges of the color palette, but because there are simply fewer adventurous buyers, you’ll either have to be more patient or lower the price of that lime green Beetle.

Color's effect on sale price at Shift
Purple: a fun color that’s not fun to sell

Transmission – Much to the dismay of car enthusiasts everywhere, fewer and fewer cars are being made with manual transmissions. As a result, fewer people are learning to drive stick. So if your ride sports a manual transmission, you are already significantly limiting your potential buyer audience and may have to lower the price or wait longer to sell.

Trim and package – While most used car shoppers would prefer leather seats and premium audio (hey, who wouldn’t?), whether or not they are willing to pay a premium for it is going to depend from buyer to buyer. Generally speaking, the older a car is, the harder it is to recoup the original cost of your car’s options.

Aftermarket parts – You’ll often see Craigslist listings that list out how much money has been put into the car in after market parts, but these modifications almost never bring a very good return on investment. In fact, because aftermarket parts have a poorer reputation for quality and durability, they could even hurt a car’s resale value. Some sellers will even reinstall the stock parts and just throw the aftermarket pieces into the deal (or sometimes not at all). When it comes to aftermarket mods, seller beware.

How Condition Affect Your Car’s Worth

It should come as no surprise that a car’s condition is a huge factor in determining its value, but when it comes to flaws, not all damage is the same. Deployed airbags, wheel misalignment, and frame damage, for example, are far more likely to hurt a vehicle’s value than fender dents or paint scratches. (That’s just one reason why every car listed on Shift must first pass a detailed inspection by our ASE-certified master mechanics — and why only 3 out of 5 cars make the cut.)

By that same token, not all repairs are the same, either. Even assuming that all repairs are done by an equally skilled hand (which isn’t always the case), some repairs can do more to improve a car’s value than others.

So if you find yourself confused about car pricing, you’re not alone—determining a car’s worth is no easy task. Know that car pricing guides such as KBB are just starting points. If you’re ever looking for a second opinion, check out our quote estimate tool, which already takes your local market into account.

Things to Check on a Used Car

Your car is one of the biggest purchases you’ll ever make—second only to purchasing a home. It can be stressful, and it’s easy to forget the basics. So we’ve put together a list of things to check on a used car before you buy.

Check under the hood

This is one of the most important things to check on a used car, and should be top of your list of steps when performing a pre-purchase inspection. Check all of the accessible fluids—not just the engine oil.

All of the fluids should be filled to their full marks and clean. You can read up on how to check car fluids, but in general, this is what good fluids should look like:

  • Oil: should be honey colored. It should not smell burnt
  • Brake fluid: should be clear to honey colored
  • Power steering fluid: should be honey colored
  • Transmission fluid: should be pink and not smell burnt
  • Coolant: should be green, yellow, blue or red depending on the manufacturer

When inspecting your future ride, you’ll want to take a look at the coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid and automatic transmission fluid. Some modern vehicles have electric power steering and lack a dipstick for the transmission, but check what you can. While you’re poking around under there, you’ll also want to check for fluid leaks.

SAFETY TIP: Hot exposed metal can reach temperatures hot enough to burn errant hands, and opening a hot radiator cap could burst off and cause severe injury. Before your test drive, pop the hood while the engine is still cool.Checking out the engine

Pay attention to the gauges

Once you’ve checked all the fluid levels, the next thing to check on a used car is the gauges. Not all drivers pay close attention to them, but they’re really important—they provide valuable information about the health of the vehicle.

During the test drive, pay particular attention to the oil pressure and temperature gauges. Allow the vehicle to reach operating temperature and drive it at different speeds and on a variety of roads.

Be sure to idle the car and observe its behavior. Engines are more prone to overheating at idle and low oil pressure is also more likely to be apparent. This is because the oil pump is driven off either the crankshaft or camshaft, meaning the oil pump turns faster at higher RPMs, and builds more pressure.

car gauge

Listen for noises

Turn off the radio and instead listen to what the car has to say. Listen for clunks, rattles, groans and any other abnormalities. Make sure to test drive the vehicle at various speeds, both in town and on the highway. Some of the most important noises to listen for include:

  • Engine noises: knocking, rattling, or pinging from the engine indicate potential big-time problems.
  • Transmission noises: whining, growling or rattling noises from the transmission area could quickly empty your pocket book.
  • Differential and transfer case noises: whining or growling noises from the rear end and/or transfer case (if the vehicle is a four-wheel drive) are a very bad sign.

A general rule of thumb is no news is good news; quiet is good.

Check the vehicle history

A Carfax report will provide insight as to whether a vehicle has been in an accident, if it has a clean title and how many owners it’s had. Don’t buy a used car without one.

What does Carfax tell you?

Check the undercarriage

Unless you’re buying a truck or SUV, you probably won’t be able to get completely under the vehicle for a lookie loo. However, you should still make a point of getting down to peek under the vehicle, looking for fluid leaks and damaged parts.

While you’re at it, take a look at the condition of the tires. After all, paying for a new set of tires is an ugly expense after shelling out significant money for the car itself. Tires should have at least 5/32” worth of tread (2/32” is the minimum to pass safety in most states), should be free of sidewall cracks and bulges, and should have a production date less than 10 years old. On all tires produced since year 2000, the last two digits of the DOT number listed on the sidewall will list the production date. For example, in the image below, the tire was manufactured in 2007.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 2.14.22 PM
Image courtesy of TireRack.com

There, that’s it! You’re now a pro and won’t have any trouble inspecting your next used car — right?

The Rain Rundown

Over the past month or so, El Niño has been sweeping the nation. No, it’s not a hip boyband, although it did make a famous appearance back in 1998. Reactions to this millennial incarnation of El Niño are mixed. Flourishing gardens, wicked surf, and the perfect atmosphere for days-long cuddle sessions have left many Americans singing El Niño’s praises. But drawbacks to this unique weather pattern are serious, especially when it comes to driving. Slick, puddle-filled highways and byways may be an unfamiliar and dangerous challenge to California drivers.

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