Category: Property

SUVs and Your Teenager – A Bad Combination

By now, most of us are aware that SUVs have a greater chance of rolling over in a single vehicle accident than cars.  You’re also probably aware of what type of vehicle your teenager wants to drive.  But before you purchase a SUV for your teen, you should be aware of the increased safety danger they pose for inexperienced drivers.

A University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study recently looked at SUV rollover tendencies in conjunction with teen driving habits to conclude that a SUV may not be the safest vehicle for your teenager.  Between 1999 and 2001, 37% of SUV drivers under age 25 were involved in single vehicle accidents that resulted in a rollover.  Compare that to the 30% rollover rate in single vehicle accidents among all drivers and you can readily see the safety concern.

Parents commonly think that with SUV’s height and weight being greater than a regular car, their teenager will be better protected behind the wheel.  The facts show otherwise.  Putting your teen in a SUV may actually compromise their safety.

A common type of accident for young drivers is one where a single vehicle runs off the road.  This type of accident usually involves a change in grade or road surface, causing the vehicle to begin to roll over.  A SUV’s higher center of gravity, coupled with a teenage driver’s lack of experience behind the wheel increases the chance for a serious accident in this scenario.

Federal data indicates that in 2003, 6.4% of drivers on the road were teens, yet they were 14% of drivers involved in fatal accidents.  Of the almost 4,000 under 20 year-old drivers killed, 53% were not wearing seat belts and almost 31% had been drinking.  In response, most states have instituted graduated licensing for young drivers.  While this has helped curb the number of accidents involving teen drivers, the type of vehicle your teen drives can further reduce those numbers.

The Michigan study noted that almost half of SUV rollovers start with a sideways slip and loss of control.  This type of scenario is more difficult for a young driver to negotiate successfully due to their lack of experience.  Electronic stability control may help correct a sideways slip, but not all SUVs are equipped with that feature.  In addition, the study found that a greater chance of rolling over exists if the driver was drinking, had two or more passengers, was driving through a curve, or was traveling on a high-speed road.

When considering a vehicle for your teenager, the safest car is the one they don’t want to drive – a large, low-power car.  Whatever type of vehicle you choose for your teen, it is important to consider the conditions your child will likely come across and their ability to react to those conditions.  If you do choose a SUV, consider providing your child with the additional resource of a defensive driving or accident-avoidance course.  The money you spend educating and protecting your teen will be worth it in the face of the elevated risks they face by driving a SUV.

Do Not Fall Prey to a Staged Auto Accident

As if it wasn’t painful enough to be found at fault in an auto accident, imagine finding out that it was not an “accident” after all.  Each year thousands of drivers become victims of staged auto accidents, and most never realize it.  Criminals plan the accident to appear as the innocent driver is at fault, and then file claims for vehicle damage and personal injury to the at fault driver’s insurance company.

The CPCU Society and the National Insurance Crime Bureau offer the following safety tips to help avoid these scams:

  • When driving look beyond the car in front of you. If you see traffic slowing, start applying the brakes – don’t wait for the car in front of you to brake first.
  • Allow plenty of space between your car and the car ahead of you so you have time to react to sudden stop.  The general rule is one car length for every ten miles per hour traveled.
  • Be especially careful when turning into a lane that allows for two vehicles to turn left simultaneously. People committing staged collisions often prey on cars that cross the center line, purposely sideswiping the victim’s car.
  • Call the police to the scene and get a police report, even if damage is negligible. If the police report describes the resulting damage as minimal, it will be harder for the criminal to inflict further damage to their car afterwards and collect a larger claim.
  • Carry a disposable camera in your glove compartment and take as many pictures of the other car and its passengers as possible.
  • If you suspect a scam, call the NICB hotline at (800) TEL-NICB.

Tips to Reduce Insurance Premiums for Your Teenage Driver

While most parents would prefer to keep their teenagers off the road, you probably won’t have much success encouraging them to withhold from getting that long awaited ticket to freedom.

Unfortunately, because teenagers are at a higher risk for traffic accidents and tickets, their insurance rates can easily be 50 to 75 percent higher than their parents.  Furthermore, premiums for teenage drivers generally won’t be significantly reduced until they turn 25, get married or both.  In the meantime, they’ll stand to save money by having themselves added to your insurance policy instead of getting their own policy.

Here are some ways to reduce car insurance premiums, courtesy of the Independent Insurance Agents of America:

  • Make sure your teen stays in school and studies to make good grades. Many insurers offer discounts to good students.  A “B” average or better in school carries a lot of weight in keeping insurance costs down.
  • Sign up your teen for a supplementary driver’s education course.  Many insurers will offer a discount to offset your investment.
  • If your teen will be driving a family car, designate one vehicle he or she will drive.  Otherwise, the insurance company will calculate the premium based on the highest risk vehicle covered by your policy.
  • Consider a higher deductible. Moving from a $250 to $500 or $1,000 deductible can save you 10 to 20 percent on your premium.  Consider whether you can absorb the extra out-of-pocket expense in the event of an accident.
  • Reward safe driving.  More than anything else, an accident- and ticket-free driving record will keep your premiums at their lowest.

Trading Places – When It Becomes Necessary to Tell Your Elderly Parents to Stop Driving

There sometimes comes a point in the relationship between adult children and their parents that you begin to notice a shift in power.  Suddenly, the people whose favorite words were “because I said so” are the ones being counseled on their decisions.  Role reversal is an extremely difficult change for parents, but it is no less intense for the adult child.  One of the areas this shift becomes the most unpleasant is when the child needs to tell a parent they should no longer be driving.

Driving often equates to independence.  Take away the keys and you limit personal freedom.  Obviously when faced with the option of not being able to come and go as they choose, often the result is the parent chooses not to go down without a fight.  Still, there are warning signs that a parent has arrived at that fork in the road when it becomes necessary to find other ways of getting around.  AARP lists the following warning signs:

  • Changing lanes without signaling
  • Going through stop signs or red lights
  • Reacting slowly
  • Problems seeing road signs or traffic signals
  • Straying into other lanes
  • Going too fast or too slow for safety
  • Exhibiting problems making turns at intersections, especially left turns
  • Performing jerky stops or starts

If you see these signs on a consistent basis, it is necessary to have that dreaded, forthright discussion with your parents.  When you decide it’s time, there are a few basic rules to follow.  The first is watching your approach.  Things may get loud, but avoid using a nasty tone, criticizing them, or making them feel inadequate.

Don’t make discussion of their deteriorating driving abilities a head on collision.  Try bringing it up indirectly by mentioning you read an article about problems older drivers have or perhaps you know of someone who decided to stop driving.  Ask them if they’ve noticed changes in their own abilities.  Then talk about ideas of how they can get around and not feel housebound.  This will necessitate having an action plan in place with family and friends as to who will be available to drive your parents to their regular activities. Get everybody involved so that it isn’t just the responsibility of one or two drivers.  Also, include in that plan any public, private and community transportation services available.  Be sure to investigate public buses, subways, taxis, private drivers for hire, senior transportation services and volunteer driver services.

Be understanding if your parents resist change.  It may require more than one discussion to finally get them to relinquish the keys.  However, you do need to remain firm without being harsh.

Finally, if your parents insist on continuing to drive, ask their doctor, their clergy, or a close family friend to speak with them.  Sometimes it’s easier for parents to accept advice from an outside source than it is for them to accept it from their children. AARP notes on their web site that, “As a last resort, you can contact the local Department of Motor Vehicles and report unsafe driving.  Most states will contact older adults and have them take a driving test, revoking their license if necessary.”

Avoid Sewer and Drain Damage to Your Basement

Millions of dollars are spent every year repairing damage to basements caused by sewer and drain backups.  There are some ways these problems can be avoided, instead of having to repair the mess from a sewer or drain backup.

Make sure your drainage systems are working properly.  The downspouts from your gutters should extend beyond the foundation of your home so that water is not left to trickle down basement walls.  Along those same lines, your yard should gradually slope away from the foundation, so surface water drains directly to the street.  Keep drain lines clear, especially if your gutters connect to storm sewers.

There are several types of anti-backflow devices that can help reduce the chance of basement flooding.  Check-valve devices allow water and sewage to flow away from the drain, preventing backup into the drain.  Gate-valve devices close and shut off the flow of water and sewage, preventing backup.  Anti-backflow devices are either manually or automatically operated.

Sump pumps are another option to consider.  Single and dual-level sump pump systems are available, and a battery or generator can be used to power the pump in case of a power failure.  Sump pump systems should be checked monthly.  Check local building codes or consult your plumber to ensure your sump pump is connected properly.  Sump pumps should not be connected to your home’s waste plumbing system.

Despite your best efforts, sometimes water will still get in your basement.  Keep storage items off the floor and keep furniture on casters or shims, away from floor drains.  If your basement is finished, ensure that you consult plumbing and building professionals to design a drainage system that will prevent damage to your finished space.

Despite the amount of damage backups can cause, many homeowners’ policies do not include coverage for sewer and drain losses.  Check with your agent to determine if an additional endorsement can protect you from this costly problem.

Protect Yourself When Taking on a Remodeling Project

Due to sustained record low interest rates, many homeowners have elected to take on major home remodeling projects.  According to the National Association of Home Builders, approximately 26 million Americans spend more than 180 billion annually on home improvements.   In many cases, however, homeowners are not updating their insurance at the same time, leaving themselves extremely vulnerable.

Making sure you are appropriately insured should begin at the very start of a project.   A contractor should not be hired if they cannot produce their certificate of insurance.   The contractor should provide you with a copy of their certificate, which shows the type and amount of their insurance coverage.  This should include general liability, workers’ compensation and auto coverage, and the policy must be current.

It is equally as important to make sure that any subcontractors that your contractor brings in to the job are similarly insured.  This is particularly important now, as insurance rates for the construction industry have recently risen significantly.  You want to make sure a member of your remodeling team didn’t choose a coverage lapse over a premium increase.

When you choose to take on a remodeling project yourself, you must review your own coverage for liability and property damage issues, particularly when bringing in subcontractors to help with the work.  As the homeowner, you may be liable if they are injured during the scope of your project.  Even if your current policy covers any injuries related to the renovation, we often recommend that homeowners carry umbrella liability coverage, which would cover a claim beyond normal limits.

In addition to liability issues, it is key to increase your homeowner’s coverage based on the added value to your home.  Kitchen and bathroom renovations are the most common and tend to be quite costly.   They also substantially increase the value of a home.

Homeowners should use caution not to over-insure themselves.  Don’t increase your insurance based on the cost of the remodel.  You should determine how much it would actually cost to rebuild your home with the added improvements.  This replacement cost is the amount that needs to be insured.  The cost to remodel also includes tearing out old materials.  Therefore, in some cases, the cost difference to rebuild the home may be less than the actual renovation cost itself.

The most important item to consider is to contact your insurance agent to increase your homeowner’s limits before, not after, a renovation project.  This will ensure that you are covered should any fire or damage occur during a renovation.

Insuring Your Vacation Rental Car: How to Prevent Being Over or Underinsured

While most people take the time before a vacation to research the best rates on rental cars, they generally forget to research insurance coverage for their rental car ahead of time. This can lead to costly mistakes either by being underinsured or by purchasing too much coverage.

To prevent either of these scenarios, car renters should spend a few minutes before a trip to make sure they are adequately insured.  Your insurance company will inform you as to what coverage on your own car applies to rental cars.  Generally when renting a car for pleasure, your personal auto coverage applies to the rental car.  However, if you don’t carry comprehensive or collision coverage, you will not be protected if your rental car is stolen or damaged in a collision and you should consider purchasing the rental company’s collision damage waiver.

When paying for the rental with your credit card, the company and/or bank which holds the credit card may also provide coverage.  Call the 800 number on the back of your card for more information.  Generally credit card insurance benefits are secondary to personal insurance policies and any insurance offered by the rental car company.  Be sure to ask for a written copy of the credit card company’s insurance coverage information.

Once this research has been conducted you should have a clear idea if you need additional coverage through the rental car company.  Costs and coverage varies from state to state, however, renters generally have the following products available to them:

Collision/Loss Damage Waiver
Costing between $9 and $19 per day, this “waives” financial responsibility for theft or damage to a rental vehicle other than for accidents involving such factors as speeding or driving while intoxicated.

Liability Insurance
While rental companies by law must provide a minimum of liability insurance; the coverage is usually so low that it does not provide enough protection.  Supplemental liability insurance costs between $7 and $14 a day for $1 million in liability coverage.

Personal Accident Insurance
For $1 to $5 per day, this offers you and your passengers coverage for medical bills resulting from a car crash. Your health insurance or auto policy personal injury protection may provide adequate coverage.

Personal Effects Coverage
For $1 to $4 per day, this insures against theft of items in the car.  Your home or renters insurance policy may also provide this protection.

Is Your Car a Thief Magnet?

Everybody loves driving a nice car; but not everybody is willing to pay for one.  It is possible that a potential thief may be coveting your car even as you read these words. However, you don’t have to be left vulnerable. The savvy car owner knows that taking a proactive approach can lessen the likelihood of a vehicle being stolen.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to fight insurance fraud and vehicle theft for the benefit of its member insurance companies, their policyholders, and the general public. As part of their public awareness campaign, they compile an annual list of the top ten most stolen cars. The list for 2003 by make, model, and model year included:

  1. 2000 Honda Civic
  2. 1989 Toyota Camry
  3. 1991 Honda Accord
  4. 1994 Chevrolet Full Size C/K 1500 Pickup
  5. 1994 Dodge Caravan
  6. 1997 Ford F150 Series
  7. 1986 Toyota Pickup
  8. 1995 Acura Integra
  9. 1987 Nissan Sentra
  10. 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass

The NCIB also discovered through its research that in 2003, 1,260,471 motor vehicles were reported stolen at an estimated value of over $8 billion. Since recovery rates are only about 65%, that means a tremendous number of vehicles are either cut up for parts, exported to other countries, or reappear as clones, the latest trend in an ever-growing list of fraudulent car schemes.

But the organization doesn’t stop at compiling statistics. It has formulated what it calls its “layered approach” to auto theft protection by putting together some suggestions to make vehicles less attractive to thieves. NICB’s four layers are:

  1. Use common senseand take advantage of what’s already available to youThe first line of defense is to use the anti-theft devices that are standard on all vehicles  – the locks. Always lock your car and take your keys.
  2. Having and using a visible or audible warning device is another item that can abort a potential robbery before it happens.
  3. “Kill” switches, fuel cut-offs, and smart keys are examples of how technology can be extremely effective in stopping a thief in his tracks. Chances are, if your car won’t start, it won’t get stolen.
  4. The more expensive high tech tracking devices can alert you and law enforcement the moment an unauthorized driver decides to take your vehicle. Using one of these items will ensure that the local police will apprehend the car thief.

One final thing to remember about auto theft is that it doesn’t always happen when your car is use. It can happen when you take it to the garage for repair. Always be sure that when your vehicle is damaged, that you take it to a reputable repair shop. It is an unfortunate fact of life that some less than ethical garage owners can see your car as supplemental income by having it “stolen” and cut up for parts.  It is important to know whom you are entrusting your car to so that you don’t end up in the market for a new automobile.

Power Up After the Storm with a Generator for Your Home

Ask any Floridian and they’ll tell you that an emergency generator is like gold after a hurricane. Almost all of us live in a geographic area susceptible to earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, or ice storms. In each of those disasters, a backup emergency generator can quickly become your most valuable possession.
Generators come in different sizes and types. The larger the generator the more items you can operate at once. You must balance your anticipated needs in an emergency with the cost of the generator.
Generally, there are two types of generators to choose from. The first type is the permanent standby generator. This generator is installed as part of the electrical system in your home or business and provides power directly to the building’s wiring. An automatic switch prevents the generator from “backfeeding” power to utility lines, as well as protecting the generator from damage once power is restored. Permanent standby generators must be installed by a licensed electrician and require inspection from your city or county building department.
The portable generator is probably more familiar to the homeowner. With a portable generator, you can physically move the generator to the location required, and hook up specific items directly to the generator. Most homes require a 5,000-watt generator, which cost between $500 and $3,000, depending on options and quality. You may also opt for a smaller unit, capable of running a few lights, fan, and a television. If you anticipate running a large appliance such as a full-size refrigerator, sump pump, or water-well pump, make sure your generator can start and maintain the item. You do not want to ruin the motor of your appliance because you tried to operate it with a small generator that could not provide the appliance with the proper electrical current.
Before shopping for a generator, evaluate what items you will need in an emergency and the amount of current they pull. Total the watts and look at generators that can operate the amount of wattage you require. If you are unsure, consult the item’s owner’s manual for information on how much wattage it uses. Also, keep in mind the type of emergency you anticipate. If you live in the northeast and expect blizzard conditions, a generator that will safely operate your furnace will prevent frozen pipes, as well as keep you warm. If you live in the coastal south and are planning for a hurricane, you will need a generator that can operate a cooling system, or at least a few fans, as well as your refrigerator. And any home that is supplied by well water will require the well pump to be on a generator if you want to flush the toilet.
As with any household appliance, there are some safety hazards associated with generators. As stated earlier, generators installed as part of your homes electrical system can backfeed current into your home, causing damage to equipment, or even cause a fire if not properly installed. Consult a qualified electrician to install this type of generator. Also, generators burn fuel and must be run outdoors. Generators should never be run in a garage or in any room that connects to the house. Cords to and from your generator should be properly sized to prevent overheating and damage to equipment. By following these straightforward guidelines, you can enjoy heating or cooling, unspoiled food, working bathrooms, and even a little entertainment during an otherwise disastrous situation.

Protect Your Possessions with an Electronic Home Inventory

Having a homeowner’s insurance policy is not enough to thoroughly protect all the possessions in your home.  Only by documenting your goods and updating the list on a regular basis, can you ensure you have enough insurance, settle claims faster and substantiate losses for income tax purposes.  The process of creating a home inventory may sound overwhelming, but technology has made it quite simple.

A traditional home inventory is a basic list of all belongings along with receipts to substantiate their value.  Camcorders and digital cameras have added much dimension to home inventories.  Video taped inventories are especially useful as you can narrate along with the video.

To create a video home inventory, walk through every room of your home and pan around the room with the camera.  Don’t forget to open drawers and closets to record and describe what items are there.  Whenever you can, note where you bought each item and its make and model.  Make sure to categorically include toys, music CDs and even clothing and linens, as the cost of replacing these items can be substantial.  Take particular note of expensive items including jewelry, furs and collectibles that may require additional insurance.

In addition to documenting your possessions electronically, make sure that you keep copies of supportive records including sales receipts, purchase contracts and appraisals.  Also, record the serial numbers for major appliances and electronic equipment.  Serial numbers usually can be found on the back or bottom of these items.

Follow the same steps when creating a digital photograph home inventory except make written notations about the items.  Whatever form your home inventory takes, take steps to ensure you store it properly.  Either print out the files or burn a CD.  Keep a copy in a safety deposit box or have a friend store it.   Keeping only one copy in your house will serve no purpose if your home is severely damaged by a fire or other widespread disaster.  The same is true if your sole electronic home inventory is wiped out through a computer hard drive crash.

In addition to annually updating your home inventory, it is important to update to include newly acquired items.  The Insurance Information Institute has created Home Inventory Software that is free to the homeowners and renters.  The “Know Your Stuff – Home Inventory Software” is available at  The software includes a customizable room-by-room list of possessions and can also store electronic images.