Category Archives: Tips and HInts

Best driving roads in America

It doesn’t matter if it’s a Mustang, a BMW or a louche Lamborghini. Every fan of fun-to-drive machines has learned to brace for the dumb, obvious question: “Where are you supposed to drive a car like that?” 

The answer, of course, is “everywhere,” from the g-forcing off-ramp in your own town to some of the world’s most scenic and challenging driving roads, right here in the U.S.A. And America is definitely hitting the road again, despite brutal gasoline prices and the drawn-out pandemic. More than 50 million people drove or flew over Thanksgiving, nearly matching pre-Covid travel levels. Gasoline consumption that fell to a 25-year-low in 2020 is seeing a sharp rise. 

Certainly, there’s no American Autobahn. And between some police departments acting more like revenue agents (fueled by $600 million in annual federal grants to subsidize ticket writing), insurance companies and soaring car prices, there are plenty of wet blankets to smother the fun. And yet, we keep driving, on the lookout for new roads and new adventures, or returning to the ones we know and love. 

With an optimistic eye to unfettered travel in 2022, and millions of car trips to come, here are eight of our favorite American driving roads. Some are touchstones that you’ll recognize, or have experienced yourself. Others are less well-known or swarming with sightseers, but definitely worth a trip or detour. As ever, take the curves at your own pace, and be safe out there. 

NYS Route 73, High Peaks Scenic Byway, New York

Tiny Lake Placid, New York became famous as the improbable host of the Winter Olympics in 1980, including America’s “Miracle on Ice” hockey win over the Soviets. Today, drivers can enjoy another form of schussing, on a 30-mile beauty road that accesses the 43 tallest peaks of the Adirondacks, and the highest source of the Hudson River at Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds. It’s the gateway to the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park, the largest protected contiguous area in the U.S, bigger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier and Great Smokies parks combined. There’s no fee to enter, and the “park” doesn’t close at night, so have at it. My last run came in a 2017 Camaro SS with a manual transmission, blazing a fast trail through these lonely and largely police-free roads. 

U.S. 129, Tail of the Dragon, Tennessee/North Carolina

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Overexposure has dimmed some of the Dragon’s luster, including heavy scrutiny and heavier fines from some of Tennessee’s finest. But this collection of curves at Deal’s Gap, with 318 bends in just 11 miles, can still be a great workout for cars and drivers alike — and about as close as America gets to an Alpine-road descent in Italy or Austria. Just keep eyes in the back of your head, or a radar detector in front. Avoid weekends at all costs (dawn and dusk are smart bets on other days), take a warm-up run to get acquainted, don’t ever cheat over the double yellow lines, and you’ll escape with memories instead of hospital or repair bills. 

FM 335, 336 and 337, The Twisted Sisters, Texas

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Feel the noise, indeed. Motorcyclists especially flock to this 100-mile loop in Texas Hill Country, northwest of San Antonio. But the metal trio of “Farm to Market” Roads 335, 336 and 337 is also pure entertainment for car fans. It’s a place to lose count of curves, even as you keep eyes peeled for free-ranging cattle, wild pigs or whitetail deer. Fill your tank in Medina, and your belly at Keese’s BBQ, whose slogan is “A serious ride requires a serious breakfast.” Don’t miss the Devil’s Sinkhole in Rocksprings, a 350-foot-deep cave where a nightly commute of 3 million to 4 million Mexican free-tail bats takes place from May to October. And you thought traffic was bad in L.A. 

Highway 1/Pacific Coast Highway, California

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Opened in 1937, Highway 1 (or the Pacific Coast Highway/PCH) traces 666 miles through the Golden State. Some of the most magical, mystical scenery is near Big Sur, south of Monterey and Pebble Beach. Prior to my last drive in 2017, in a new Mazda MX-5 Miata, a cataclysmic landslide had buried one-third of a mile of roadway under about 40 feet of debris, forcing demolition of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge. That created “Big Sur Island,” the hamlet cut off in both directions for months. Now the fabled stretch is fully reopened, which means more SUV-clogging tourists, but more chances to enjoy the switchbacks and splendor.

Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, Oregon

Set aside a full weekend, if possible, to savor this underappreciated gem in Oregon: 218 miles from La Grande to Baker City, wrapped around the Wallowa Mountains. The meandering road leads to Hells Canyon Recreation Area and the mighty Snake River, near the western border of Idaho. This stretch of the Snake boasts the deepest river gorge in North America at 7,993 feet — deeper than the Grand Canyon. Keep the tank full, because there are stretches of more than 80 miles between gas stations and other services. But the road and scenery are spectacular, the fish and wildlife plentiful, the towns charming. 

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, Chattahoochee National Forest, Georgia

This road may not be on your personal to-do list. It wasn’t on ours until our rom-com-worthy introduction in a pair of Porsche 911 GTS’. Now, we’re in love. The smoothly paved, 40.6-mile byway links Georgia Highways 17/75, 180, 348 and 75A. A section is part of the better-known Six Gap Georgia run. These roads course up and over gaps in the southern Appalachians, with vistas including Brasstown Bald, the state’s highest peak. Compared to some mountain-y destinations like Tail of the Dragon — all second-gear hairpins and blind corners — the Byway has a serious trump card: Multi-mile passing lanes in one or the other direction, with great visibility to boot. You’ll never get stuck behind a minivan or semi again. 

Highway 550, The Million Dollar Highway, Colorado

Pikes Peak is better known. But the 23-mile stretch of Highway 550 between Silverton and Ouray offers free fun, better views and a superior final destination, versus Pikes Peak and its off-putting, $15 driving fee. That terminus, after a long descent through the Uncompahgre Gorge, is Ouray, the charming Colorado town known as “Little Switzerland.” The Highway was originally laid by Otto Mears in the 1880’s, the Russian immigrant known as “Pathfinder of the San Juans” for his engineering marvels in mountain road and railroad construction. Give thanks to Mears, or say a little prayer for yourself, as you negotiate this improbably cliff-hung, no-guardrail highway. 

SR 79, Sunrise Highway, California

California roads offer an embarrassment of riches. But if Mulholland Drive seems too cliché, head east from San Diego. Pick up the Sunrise Highway near Pine Valley, and get ready for 26 miles of perfect sweepers, hairpins and elevation changes through Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. This is where many  automakers go to fine-tune and validate their cars. And no trip here is complete without a stop in Julian and its Julian Pie Company. (Try the pie that blends raspberries, strawberries, boysenberries and apples). If your appetite for curves isn’t sated, keep heading north to Palomar Mountain Road, a loop around the the mountain that houses Caltech’s famous observatory and its three active telescopes.

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Traffic jams are back, yet work-from-home leaves downtowns empty

Empty roads and cleaner air at the start of the pandemic have given way to a gradual return of traffic congestion in many global cities, but U.S. and UK downtown centers remain less busy as office workers continue to work from home, according to a study published on Tuesday.

Trips to U.S. downtown areas were 22% below pre-pandemic levels, and down as much as 49% in San Francisco, where many tech workers continue to work remotely, a 2021 traffic study of more than 1,000 cities by transportation analytics firm INRIX Inc showed.

Downtown trips in the UK remain 19% below pre-pandemic levels, but are back to pre-COVID strength in Germany, likely a result of fewer Germans working from home, said Bob Pishue, INRIX transportation analyst and author of the study.

“In the U.S., we don’t expect congestion to go back to the way it was before for a while, at least through 2022,” he said.

Traffic, an indicator closely tied to economic activity and recovery, overall has returned at uneven levels around the world, the study showed.

While the average London driver lost 148 hours in traffic this year — the most of any city dweller and roughly the same as pre-pandemic — the average U.S. city driver lost 36 hours in traffic, a nearly 43% decrease from pre-pandemic levels.

The stark differences are the result of governments’ varying approaches to pandemic restrictions, cities’ structures of downtown business centers, and workers’ ability to telecommute, Pishue said.

“There’s really not one answer for everything, it’s very complex,” said Pishue.

Vaccination rates also do not appear to influence traffic levels, with remote work being a larger driver, Pishue said. For example, in Washington D.C., normally one of the top congested U.S. cities, nearly 80% of residents are vaccinated, but hours lost to traffic remain down 65%.

Opening your car windows could reduce your COVID-19 risk

By now, we all know the basic coronavirus rules. Wear a mask, limit your exposure to other people and when you can’t, keep your distance, and … keep wearing your mask. We also learned at the outset of the pandemic how to properly keep surfaces clean, including in your car. But what we haven’t known is whether we should keep the windows up or down.

A new study from Brown University seeks to answer that question. Using complex computational fluid dynamic simulations, Varghese Mathai, Asimanshu Das, Jeffrey Bailey and Kenneth Breuer studied how the aerosols that we breath (some of which do escape even properly worn masks) move about a car’s cabin and how those flows change with various windows up and down. The results are very interesting, but in short, you’re probably going to want the windows rolled down when possible.

The details of the study are worth noting. The vehicle used in the simulations was loosely based on a Toyota Prius, and likely apply to vehicles of similar shape and size but may not be applicable to larger or smaller cars, trucks or vans. The occupants sat diagonally from one another, which is a common arrangement in taxis and rideshares. The team of researchers found that opening the windows opposite of each occupant can create a flow that drastically reduces the collection of aerosols in a car’s cabin. According to the New York Times, they also found that opening the windows even halfway can be very helpful but that just cracking them a bit doesn’t generate enough airflow.

There’s a lot more information in the study that you can read here. There’s also some additional information from the Times that’s worth checking out.

Wash me now: What’s the best type of car wash?

Touch car washNeed to give the car a wash? Deliberating between doing it yourself or going to a professional car wash? If you don’t have the time, desire, or supplies to clean your car at home, then it’s time to hit the pros. There are three types of places you can go to get your car washed, all with differing degrees of effectiveness. Options include a quick…

Gen-Z less likely to drive distracted than older generations

Don’t blame the kids. According to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll and commissioned by Volvo, the youngest and newest drivers on the road are less likely to use their phones while driving. Only 71 percent of survey takers belonging to Gen-Z, or whatever those currently aged 18 to 24 will eventually be called, admitted to using them. That’s actually a bit less than younger Baby Boomers (72 percent) and considerably lower than the evil Millennial scourge and Gen-X (both 81 percent).

The Gen-X bit is particularly interesting since they are most likely to be the parents of those Gen-Zers. According to the survey, parents with children under the age of 18 are among the most likely to use their phones while driving – be it alone or with someone else aboard. A significant 62 percent of parents admitted to using their phones while their kids are in the car, with 32 percent saying they do so often. No matter the scenario it seems, parents are the most likely to be distracted when behind the wheel by their mobile devices. The fact that Millennials are distracted overall to a similar degree shouldn’t be surprising, therefore, as they are also likely to be parents (older Millennials are deep in their 30s, after all, as I’m reminded every single day).

That the Gen-Zers are using their smartphones less while driving is certainly encouraging, as is the finding that they are generally more concerned about their phones being a distraction to their overall lives. On the other hand, the fact that aging Baby Boomers are being so widely distracted by their smartphones should terrify us all and make us thankful that so many cars now come standard with automated accident avoidance tech.

Now, in terms of what they’re doing on their phones, the most common activity for all generations is talking on the phone. This is followed by reading texts and dialing a phone call. Gen-X is the most guilty of these. Millenials are most guilty of sending texts, but when it comes to checking social media (arguably the most distracting of these activities), Gen-X far outpaces all others and the younger Baby Boomers match the Millennials. Gen-Z is barely higher than old Boomers.

One more take away: 33 percent of Americans drive in silence to minimize distractions. What a fun ride that would be.

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Our suggestions for a last-minute Labor Day road trip

Couple driving in convertible under sunny sky
  • Image Credit: Getty Images/Blend Images

Labor Day

Not to be the bearer of bad news, but Labor Day, the unofficial start of the fall season, is today, September 4th, 2017. That means time is running out on all those ambitious plans for barbecues, lounging at the beach and road trips.

On that last matter, we’ve got you covered. If you’ve left your planning to the last minute or are fresh out of ideas for your Labor Day road trip, let us propose five great scenic routes out there waiting for you. We recommend not merely driving them, but enjoying them in a convertible, the classic summer car.

Check out our look at five classic American roads that you need to see this Labor Day:

Route 1, Key Largo, Fla. to Key West Fla.
  • Image Credit: cupprof

Route 1, Key Largo, Fla. to Key West Fla.

Distance: 127 miles.

Key West is one of America’s most notorious party towns, but in this case, getting there can be as much fun as the destination.

The most well-known site along the 127-drive from the greater Miami area is Seven Mile Bridge, which stands as one of the iconic American crossings. It greets drivers west of Marathon, Fla., and continues over a seven-mile stretch in which drivers can see a beautiful blue horizon much more easily than land at the far end.

If checking out Key West, the one-time pirate cove and home to Hemingway, sounds a little too touristy, there’s plenty of out-of-the-way stops along the drive to make the trip one for the ages. There are mangrove swamps, crocodiles, pelicans and even the rare wild orchid found along the route, as well as a fisherman’s paradise and several state parks.

Route 2, M-22 in Northern Michigan
  • Image Credit: jimflix!

Route 2, M-22 in Northern Michigan

Distance: 117 miles

OK, so the Sleeping Bear Dunes garnered a bit of national attention this past year when Good Morning America named the national lakeshore the most beautiful place in the country. But Michiganders know that the road to get there, M-22, is just as picturesque as the towering sand dunes.

Starting on the north end in Traverse City, the curvy route showcases quiet lakes, cozy vacation towns and the sand dunes, all while following Lake Michigan’s shoreline south. Much like our first selection of U.S. 1 in the Florida Keys, this route in northern Michigan also traverses some classic Hemingway country.

Need a break? At Pyramid Point, hikers can enjoy a tree-lined three-mile trail to a lookout that offers a spectacular view of the Manitou Islands, a few miles offshore. But those wishing to stay in the car will get spectacular views throughout the drive south to Manistee.

Route 3, Aloha Loop
  • Image Credit: jshyun

Route 3, Aloha Loop

Distance: 266 miles

This one may require some degree of advanced planning. But we couldn’t think of a road that better captures the spirit of the MX-5. If you can make it over to the Big Island of Hawaii, this would be a road trip worthy of any bucket list.

After ostensibly renting your ragtop at Kona International Airport head down Route 11 to Captain Cook, where you can stop off at Hookena Beach Park and do some snorkeling. Make your way around the southern tip of the island and spend ample time at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Let’s be honest: There are majestic views from just about anywhere along this road. For more points of interest, stop at Akaka Falls State Park as you make your way around the island in a counterclockwise direction and check out verdant rainforests and sugarcane fields, from which you can view Mauna Kea, one of the tallest mountains in the Pacific. (And for the adventurous, you can ski in February and March).

Jeep Wrangler
  • Image Credit: Jeep

Jeep Wrangler

The perfect road-trip vehicle – if your plans involve going off road. The Wrangler may be one of the most capable Jeeps ever made, and the standard soft top can be folded down or the hard top removed for trips along mountain trails.

The two-door Wrangler comes with four-wheel drive standard and a 285-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 engine. For those headed off road, it’s important to note that electronic stability control, traction control, brake assist and hill-hold control also come standard.

Research the 2017 Jeep Wrangler

Route 4, Monument Valley, Arizona
  • Image Credit: mosoltysik

Route 4, Monument Valley, Arizona

Distance: Approximately 208 miles.

Skip the crowds at the Grand Canyon during the peak summer season and head toward the northeast corner of Arizona and into Monument Valley Tribal Park. Long before John Ford’s classic westerns made the area famous, the Navajos knew it well. Indian artifacts and history abound here.

There’s a 17-mile route inside the park that curls around some of the sandstone towers perfect for new offroaders. It’s unpaved, rocky and rutted. And it’s the only way to access some of the best parts of the park. Merrick Butte and Mitchell Mesa, named after two prospectors killed by Ute Indians, are two of the more spectacular monuments, as is Bird Spring, from which visitors can look out over vistas and sand dunes.

Route 5, Death Valley, Calif.
  • Image Credit: Frank Kehren

Route 5, Death Valley, Calif.

Distance: 310 miles

To see the Corvette at its best, you need a flat, open expanse to test its capabilities. No better place than the arid desert of Death Valley National Park.

Start off your journey near the Panamint Springs entrance to the park – and with plenty of gas. There’s plenty of dunes to see along the way, as well as remnants of lava flows, distant peaks and overlooks across the desert.

The power of the Camaro can be harnessed as motorists make their way from the lowest elevation in the United States in Badwater Basin, at 282 feet below sea level, to one of the highest in the park, at Dantes View, at more than 5,000 feet.

Along the way, you can stop and see abandoned mines, rattlesnakes, fringe-toed lizards and hikeable canyons. One thing you will not see a lot of is water, so bring plenty for everyone.

Why does buying a car seem so hard?

Recently a customer came by our store and, in idle conversation, asked, “Why is car buying so difficult?”  I understand why she said that, because it can be very challenging, not to mention a bit scary and can be as equally frustrating for both a customer and the dealer.  As an insider, let me explain why.

There are three main components to buying a car:  price, trade in and financing.  Today I’ll review price.

Are You a Frustrated Buyer?

Price should be the easiest part of the car buying process.  When a customer researches & test drives a car, truck, SUV or crossover and gets quotes from multiple dealerships, they should compare apples to apples. Meaning that you want to make sure you’re comparing the same vehicle with the same equipment and options.  A simple way to do this is to make sure the MSRP’s are the same.

As a salesperson, the hardest question to answer for a customer is “what’s your best price?”  When asked that question, I’ve told my sales people to show customers the invoice.  This shows what the dealer paid on that car.  Most good dealerships will gladly show you the invoice so you see in black & white where their numbers are coming from.  You should calculate in any rebates, as well as a small profit, which all dealers are entitled to make.  It’s that easy.

Here, check out this video..the audio isn’t Grammy quality, but you can still learn a lot from it

Has your experience been that the price is the most difficult part of the car buying process? Share your experience here and check back for part two:  trading in your vehicle.  Of course, if you want to talk in person, just swing by and I’ll make it the easiest experience you’ve ever had.

Do you use child restraints properly?

I found a perfect example of the how important it is to not only use a protective child seat, but to understand how to install it properly. Read below. I found this story at consumer reports. Not only does it emphasize the importance of child restraints, but also wearing YOUR seat belt as well!

You never think it’s going to happen to you. I was driving up to visit a friend for a playdate, both kids, 2 and 4, in the back. This was a tough winter in the northeast, and the roads were not perfect.

I was trundling along at the speed limit, not talking on the phone, not texting, when I hit some ice on the road. I completely lost control of the car, which hit the snow bank on the side of the highway. The car rolled one-and-a-half times and ended up upside down on the side of the highway.

I was trapped in the seatbelt (thank goodness!) and the kids were suspended from their carseats. Four or five cars stopped, reaffirming my faith in human nature, and helped us all out of the car, which was totaled. The kind strangers stayed with us until the police and ambulance arrived. Bottom line, we were all OK (except for the car).

This is what I took away from the incident: We were very lucky, but it wasn’t just luck that protected us that day. I was driving a Consumer Reports recommended vehicle. The kids were in Consumer Reports’ top-rated, carseats, which happen to be inexpensive. The seats were properly installed. The kids were correctly buckled in. My 4 year old, being just under 40 pounds (he’s a skinny one), was still using the 5-point restraint.

Things could have been, and likely would have been, very different if I didn’t use Consumer Reports ratings and follow Consumer Reports advice. My kids and I walked away from a horrific accident without a scratch. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I owe my life and my family to the people here who work day in and day out to provide this information to the public.

This is just one story out of the 1,000’s of serious accidents that happen every year. Luckily, this one had a happy ending, but not all are as lucky.

A properly used and installed car seat is paramount when driving with children. Further, you can teach them the importance of using their seatbelts as they get older. Hopefully, by the time hey start driving, using their seatbelt will be automatic.

Just have a baby? If you have any questions on how to properly install your car seat, swing by and we’ll show you!

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Avoiding Common Driving Annoyances

Avoiding common driving annoyances is something we all attempt to do when we get behind the wheel to face the madness of DFW traffic. But what about all of the annoying things you do as a driver? All of the things that seem to plague you throughout the day. Seriously, this sort of stuff happens to all of us at least one in our lives.

  • Can’t remember where you parked your car? : Sorry folks, this happens to the best of us. Regardless if it is because the parking is inefficient and confusing, or you just didn’t pay attention to where you parked, if this happens to you frequently, I have a suggestion. Use an app. There are quite a few to choose from. With names like ‘MyCar Locator’, ‘Car Finder’, ‘Find My Car’ or ‘Where Did I Park’, I’m sure you’ll find one you like.
  • Can’t avoid driving directly into the glare of the sun when it’s low on the horizon? : I can’t stand when this happens! There’s one point in my daily drive that’s a solid mile of setting Sun in my eyes during most of Spring. I told a friend, who is a pilot , and he told me a trick he does when he has to fly into the Sun for long periods of time. He carries a tinted translucent plastic sheets, they make them for cars too. You can find them under names like clinging shades, glare screens, or clinging glare blockers. There are types that attach to the visors as well that you can find at most automotive parts stores.
  • Can’t get that key on or off your key ring? : OK, this isn’t actually about driving, it’s more like a life hack. Remember those “snake fanged” staple removers you were likely obssesed with in elementary? Well, now they have another use! Be careful when you do this, but you can use the teeth to pry apart the loops. The harder you squeeze, the larger the opening.

These are just a few for now. I’ve got more I’ll be adding to what is looking like a 3 part blog series. It gives you some time to think about the things that annoy you whether you driving, or it has something to do with driving; I want to hear about it.

 

How Often Do You Rotate Your Tires?

I would say that the majority of people know that regular scheduled maintenance is a necessity when it comes to owning a car to keep it running properly. One of the most common maintenance produces is getting oil changed. A no -brainer, right?! Well, you’d think so, but there are a handful out there that just don’t get their oil changed. And then they end up with some major, and sometimes even irreversible damage to their vehicles engine.

But enough about the importance of oil changes. Another important maintenance procedure you need to have done is getting your tires rotated. Now this one I can understand being overlooked….sometimes!  For some reason, people seem to always forget about the tires, which is crazy to me because they are the ones doing the ground work…no pun intended!

Keeping your tires properly maintained not only keeps you safe…very important, but also helps you to get the most wear out them as well.  And if that’s not enough, rotating your tires also helps you get better gas mileage as well  which all adds up to saving money, and, in this economy is a very important thing.

If you find that you have trouble remembering to rotate your tires, I suggest you add it in when you get your oil changed. To get the most of your tires, you want to keep them on a regular rotation so that they wear evenly. But even more frequently, you should at least check the tire pressure. Driving with low tire pressure is unsafe and can make your tires more susceptible to flats and punctures and can even make driving your vehicle challenging.

If you need a service shop, then of course I recommend giving Freeman Grapevine a try and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.  And of course you’re always welcome to come check out our great selection of new and use vehicles too!

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