Rambling News: Insights/Opinions/Tips/Tricks in Today's World

Monday, January 29, 2007

How To (Cars): Washing Your Car Part II (Interior)

I know I promised from my last blog on how to wash your car exterior, that I would write about how to clean your interior. Sorry for the delay, but here it is:

Microfiber cloth
Leather cleaner/conditioner (if your car has leather)
Meguiar's Quik Interior Detailer Wipes (or similar products)

1. First and foremost, take out EVERYTHING that is in your car (except for things in compartments). That means on the floor, seats, dash, behind and above your rear seats, etc.

2. Take out all your car mats (if you have them) and pound the outside to get rid of dirt, dust, twigs, etc. Set them on the side where they won't collect more dust or dirt.

3. Vacuum the interior starting with the seats. This way, you don't vacuum your floor first, which is probably more dirty, and then place the vacuum on your seats. Recline the front seats all the way back so you can get all the dirt and dust stuck between the cushions.

4. Next vacuum the floor. Make sure you vacuum up all the little rocks, pebbles, twigs, dirt, etc. If you can, try to vacuum under the front two seats.

5. If you have leather, read on. If not, skip to step 6. I normally use Meguiar's Gold Class Rich Leather Spray. The spray not only cleans your leather areas, but also conditions them to protect them against wear and tear, and from the harmful rays due to the sun. Some people don't like the Meguiar's spray because it leaves somewhat of an oily residue (which is what conditions your leather), and when it gets onto some plastics of your car, they look like oily spots. This is easily removable by taking a damp paper towel or microfiber cloth and wiping it away.

I like the Meguiar's spray because it is quick (it sprays a large surface area) and it has a nice aroma. Plus, Meguiar's products are normally great. You can also try the paste, but that usually takes more work since you have to work the paste into the leather. Do what you feel more comfortable doing.

For smaller areas such as leather wrapped steering wheels, shift knob, etc., spray onto your cloth and then apply the cloth onto the small area. This prevents overspray onto your plastics or other things not leather. Don't worry if you do spray on other things than leather...it won't hurt the part...it'll just make it oily. You can always wipe it off later with a damp cloth.

6. Next, use a slightly damp microfiber cloth to wipe the interior of your windows. Sounds foolish, but it really makes a difference in the clarity of your windows. Over time, your windows build up a haze which people usually never clean. You will notice the difference when you wipe it down. If you used a really damp cloth, just dry it off with a microfiber cloth. Be more easy on tinted windows, since it's possible to scuff or scratch your tint. DO NOT use any type of chemicals on the inside of your windows if you have tint. This will also destroy your tint.

7. Next, wipe down your dash, plastic moldings (side door panels, cup holder, etc), vinyls, etc. If you normally keep your car relatively clean, you can just use a damp microfiber cloth and wipe everything down. It is still good to use detailer wipes to keep the sun from doing damage to your dash. A good one to use is Meguiar's Quik Interior Detailer Wipes.

I like the Meguiar's wipes because they don't leave a really shiny residue on your dash and plastic panels. I think shiny residues not only look tacky, but when they become reflective during daytime driving, they can actually hinder your ability to drive. And like the leather spray, the wipes also have a nice aroma.

8. Vacuum the car mats you took out and place them back into your car. If you have mat protectants, use them (usually a thin piece of plastic with grips that cover the top of your car mats). You'd be surprised how much dirt gets on them. Also, they are easier to pull right out and clean rather than your car mat which is carpet. You can pick up the mat protectants at any Walmart, Costco, Target, etc.

9. Pop open your trunk and vacuum the interior. Make sure your spare tire is also properly inflated in case you get a flat.

There is a reason why I clean my interior in a particular order. By vacuuming first, you get rid of all the dust and dirt, but dust can still rise up onto your dash, the inside of your windows, and seats. This is why you wipe down the inside of your windows, your dash, and seats after. This way, you'll wipe away all the dust and dirt that may have floated onto other interior parts of your car.

A way to keep your interior clean is to keep it as empty as possible. I know most people like to live out of their car by putting clothes, shoes, boxes, etc. in the back seat and floor. The less clutter you have, the less dust will collect on your clutter, and ultimately, the cleaner your interior.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

How To (Money): Update on the Individual Housing Account

About 2 months ago, I wrote an article on Individual Housing Accounts. Well, the time has come to give an update on how much I actually saved by putting in $5000 into my IHA.

But before that, let me tell you a quick story. I was telling a friend of mine about the IHA and that he should open one since he is in the market to purchase a new home. At first he was very open to it, but when he found out that it was a state refund instead of a federal refund, he didn't think he would earn much from it. To top it off, the 2.75% interest rate that I got from the account also seemed too low for him, so he thought the payoff from the interest and the tax refund would be negligible. He didn't end up opening one.

Since he does work in accounting, I was somewhat concerned, but knew that at worst I would be getting some sort of refund including interest (large or not)...and at the same time, saving for my first home instead of spending that money elsewhere (a good way to budget your money).

Anyhow, I did my taxes recently and found that I received $408 BACK due to the IHA ALONE. The amount may vary depending on how much you make and how much you put in the IHA account (I maxed mine out at $5000), so $408 is a lot to get back for putting in $5000. Not only did I get taxed off a smaller income, but I received interest as well. I also did my brother's taxes and found that he received about $350 back by putting $5000 into his IHA.

Moral of this story: if you live in Hawaii (if you live elsewhere, check your state to see if an IHA or similar account is available) open one up and try to put the maximum of $5000 into your IHA. If you can't max it out, at least put as much as you can. It'll benefit you in many ways.

I'll be sure to max it out for 2007. You should too.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Random Tips: The Truth on Gas

As if living in Hawaii isn't expensive enough, not only did our general excise tax increase, but our gas increased 11 cents on the start of the new year. You can read more at Aloha Update, another blog I write for on the increase of gas prices.

Anyway, I recently had an opportunity to talk to a big time engineer who works at one of the large gas companies, and decided to tap into his head about the truth on gasoline. As you already know, I like to save gas particularly because with a few pointers, you can actually save a lot of money. I've already wrote two articles on saving gas, which can be found at this link, and this link. Anyhow, here is what he had to say.

Grades of Gasoline
So I asked him what's the benefit of having midgrade, or 89 octane, gasoline? No cars ask that the minimum octane level should be 89...most say the car needs a minimum of 87 or 91 octane. He reported two reasons.

1. Psychologically, people think 89 is better than 87 because it has a higher octane number. Partially true, but not quite. People think 89 is better because they think it is a cleaner gas and/or will help your car engine run cleaner and smoother. All is false, except the last point, which is semi-true. A higher octane gas does not clean your engine better...the cleaning agents are due to the additives, which is normally added in all grades. If you car only requires 87 gas, putting in 89 won't make your engine cleaner. For the most part, it won't even make your car run smoother, unless you have a very old car. This leads to the 2nd point.

2. He added that the ONLY time you ever need to use grade 89 gasoline is if you have a really old car, and the car starts knocking. The engine may need a higher octane to reduce the knocking due to the compression ratio. If 89 doesn't get rid of the engine knocking, you will be forced to use 91 octane and above. Most cars these days have knock sensors that prevent knocking if a lower octane is used, so you shouldn't experience knocking at all. Since that is the case, using 89 octane will not help your car at all. Only two octanes are needed, 87 and 91.

I wrote about additives in my previous article Tips to Save Gas in point number 1. I wanted to know how important these additives are, and if they really do what they are supposed to do, which is keep your engine clean. This is what he had to say.

The additives are important because they really do clean your engine. Examples are Chevron's Techron and Shell's V-Power. BUT, it is NOT NEEDED EVERYTIME. This means, you DON'T have to put in gas with these cleaning additives everytime you fill up. It won't hurt your car if you do, but also isn't necessary to put it in so frequently. He told me that you only need to use these types of gas every once in a while. For example, you can put in gas from Costco or other gas stations, then every month or two, put in gas from the big companies such as 76, Shell, Chevron, etc. This will ensure that your car engine will stay clean, AND you will save big bucks by not using big gas companies which usually charge more than others.

1. Use the type of gasoline your car manual asks for. If it's 87, only put in 87. If it's 91, put in 91 (or higher...some places have 92). There is no sense putting in 89, unless your car engine starts knocking...but the chances of that are very slim due to knock sensors. Putting in 89 octane normally is a waste of money.

2. Octane levels do nothing more than prevent your car from knocking. Cars with higher compression ratios need higher octanes...these are usually high end sport cars or luxury cars...all of which normally have really high horsepower. Then again, a Corvette only takes 87 octane gas. That Honda Civic you drive definitely won't need 91 octane gas. Octane level does not correlate to a cleaner running engine. Instead, putting in the correct octane will save you money if your car only requires 87 octane gas.

3. Additives do clean your engine, but you do not need to fuel your car with expensive fuel everytime. This means you can fill your car at Arco for the most part, then every month or two, depending on how often you drive, fill in gas from 76, Shell, or Chevron. This will save you money by purchasing cheaper gas for the most part, but keeping your engine clean every month or two.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

How To (Cars): Washing Your Car Part I (Exterior)

I will be writing a series on how to wash your car. The only reason I am doing this is because people always come to me for advice on how to keep their car clean (I'm pretty notorious for driving a showroom clean car), so I figured that if I write out a how to list, they can just read up on it on my page.

My way of washing a car is to keep it simple, but includes all the necessary steps to keep it showroom clean. It takes a little more effort than just rinsing, soaping, and waxing, but in the end, you will be proud of your efforts.

2 Buckets
Hose with running water
Car wash shampoo (NOT dishwashing detergent)
Clay bar kit
Car wax
Wax applicator
Chamois or simliar item
Tire dressing with applicator
Microfiber cloth

1. Put car wash shampoo into one bucket (usually two capfuls) and fill with water until the water suds up. Do not use dishwashing detergent, since the chemicals are so strong, they will cut through previous wax, polishes, etc.

2. Fill up the other bucket with water only. This bucket is for rinsing. I'll explain later.

3. Rinse down your car with a hose in a shaded area, or at least when the sun isn't blaring onto your car. If you wash your car in the sun, the sun can bake the water onto your car causing water marks, which are not only unappealing, but difficult to take off. Rinsing down the car washes off all the loose dirt, which will prevent you from scratching your car when using the sponge.

4. Dip your sponge into your bucket with car wash shampoo, and start wiping your car down. The suds from the shampoo should pick up the dirt away from your car, and break up grease and other road grime. Work your car from the top down. Each time you wipe down the car with your sponge and need more suds, rinse the sponge off in the OTHER bucket with just water, then return your sponge to the bucket with shampoo. The reason for this is so you rinse off the dirt from the sponge before you get more suds. If you rinse off the dirt in the shampoo bucket, you could potentially be wiping dirt back on to your car, which could ultimately scratch your car. And on top of that, the soap won't be as effective because the soap water will get dirty.

5. Wash your rims last. Rims consist of brake dust, dirt, and small rocks from the roads, all of which will get your sponge extremely dirty. You will want to use the rest of your shampoo on your rims, constantly rinsing out your sponge as well. If the shampoo doesn't wash off all the grime, you can use an all wheel cleaner. I've had good experience with the Meguiar's Hot Rims All Wheel Cleaner. And the best part, is when you use an all wheel cleaner, you usually just have to spray it on, wait for a few seconds, then rinse it off. Then you don't have to scrub your rims to get off all the dirt.

6. Rinse off your car with the hose. The best way to use the hose isn't a high pressured nozzle. You want to be gentle to your car, so allow the water to flow from the house (without the nozzle) and let the water sheet off the car. If you want, you can use the high pressured nozzle on the rims to wash off all the dirt.

7. Use a chamois or simliar item that soaks up water (I use the Absorber, and LOVE IT). Instead of wiping the car down in swirling motions, just lay the chamois over sections of the car and allow the water to soak up. Wring out the chamois and continue drying the rest of the car. Gently wipe down the areas that aren't completely dry.

8. The next step is to clay your car. This should be done maybe every 3-6 months. To see if you need to clay your car, run your hand over any portion of your car. If you feel some imperfections, such as little bumps, a "sandy" feel over your paint, there are contaminants on your car. Contaminants are what tree sap, bug droppings, bird droppings, etc., leave behind, even after you wash them off. When all the contaminants are stripped off, your car paint will feel as smooth as glass.

Basically, you take the piece of clay, spray the car with a lubricator, and using the clay bar, wipe down the car. I've had much success with the Meguiar's Quik Clay Detailing System, but Mothers is also a good choice. Clay all painted areas of your car, and wipe off the excess lubricant with a microfiber cloth.

9. Now it's time to wax your car. The most quick and easy type of wax is Meguiar's Cleaner Wax. I also like to use the liquid form rather than the paste, since it's easier to apply and remove. The reason why I use a cleaner wax instead of just wax, is because the cleaner wax also removes swirl marks, stains, grease, and everything else the car wash shampoo couldn't. On top of cleaning the car, it also polishes, waxes, and protects your car paint. The wax also comes off very easily, and provides a deep shine. ALWAYS wax your car after you clay bar your car. This allows the wax to provide a coat over your clayed car, giving you the deepest shine and smoothest surface.

Place some wax on your wax applicator or microfiber cloth, and using a swirling motion, apply the wax onto your vehicle. Work one section at a time, and allow the wax to haze. I usually double coat the hood, roof, and trunk of my car, since those are the areas that get the most sun, rain, and environmental factors. Buff off the wax with a clean microfiber cloth.

10. How about them tires? Having a really shiny car with dirty tires is like dressing in Gucci but wearing tattered dirty shoes. Using a tire dressing applicator, apply some tire dressing onto the curved applicator. Using one swooping motion, apply the dressing onto your tire. It will not only make your tire cleaner, but it will also be somewhat shiny to very shiny (depending on which tire dressing you purchase). Other alternatives are tire sprays, where you spray the tires and walk away. The foam will break through the dirt, and as the foam starts to melt away, the tire is left clean and shiny. I find that tire dressing lasts longer than tire sprays. Use whatever suits you best.

11. Lastly, take care of your windows. Remember those water spots? The longer you keep that on there, the harder it will be to take off. Remember driving in the rain and finding that the wipers don't really help all the much? The solution is to coat your windows to make them slick, so the water just beads and flies off. I personally use Rain-X, and don't want to use any other product since Rain-X just works great. You can drive 30 mph and watch the rain fly off.

Put some Rain-X on a paper towel or cotton cloth, and with a firm swirling motion, wipe down your windows. Make sure to cover all sections of the window. Allow the Rain-X to haze. Re-apply if necessary. I usually double coat my front and rear windshield because they get the most rain of all. Next, sprinkle some water onto the window and buff off the Rain-X using a clean paper towel or cotton cloth. This is the hardest part, since you have to rub pretty hard to buff off the Rain-X. If you don't, you'll see a slight haze on your window. Also, make sure you don't get Rain-X on your car paint...if you do, just quickly wipe it off with some water.

If you have more time, you can also clean off your black trim that are on some cars, such as the side mirrors, trim on your bumper, door handles, etc. I use Meguiar's Trim Detailer. Just apply some trim detailer onto a cotton cloth and gently rub it onto the trim. This is particularly good for trim that has wax on them, since it takes off all the wax and brings it back to a nice deep black. It also works for faded trim, and brings back the deep black in most cases.

Hope these pointers help with washing your car. Next time, I'll be talking about cleaning your interior. In the mean time, show off your newly cleaned car!

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Random Tips: Keeping Your Living Costs Down

Here are a few tips I use to keep my living costs down. This could potentially save you a few hundred dollars a year, maybe more, depending on how you want to live. If you can give up a few luxuries, you'll be on your way to saving lots of money.

  • Cancel your phone service if you have a cell phone. Your cell phone should suffice. If you don't have enough minutes, increase your cell phone plan...an extra $10 a month is still cheaper than $30 a month to keep your phone line.
  • Unless you need high speed internet, downgrade to either DSL or dial-up. Downgrading to DSL might save you $10 a month, but if you choose dial-up, you can save up to $40 a month.
  • Scrap the digital cable television and order basic cable. Do you NEED 400 channels?
  • Turn on your lights when you need to and make sure to turn it off when you don't need it. Sounds simple, but you'd be surprised with how often you leave the light on when you don't need it.
  • If you have an air conditioner, set the temperature to 75-79 degrees. Anything lower will keep the a/c running which will run your electricity bill out the roof.
  • If you have an air conditioner, consider using fans or a ceiling fan. They take much less electricity than an a/c unit.
  • Use hot water only when you need to. Getting your water hot, depending on what you use, can increase your gas or electricity bill.
  • Get solar panels. With tax breaks as an added bonus, solar panels will save you money immediately (not recommended for those who live in Seattle).
  • Buy fluorescent light bulbs. They might cost more compared to regular light bulbs, but they last longer and use less electricity.
  • If you need to use your computer everyday, put it on standby. If you don't plan to use your computer for a day or two, turn it off.
  • Buy food in bulk, but only foods that you will completely consume or foods that will last a long time. Buying foods in bulk and having to throw them away is not only wasteful, but it will also waste your money.
  • Bring lunch to work. Eating out everyday costs a lot. Calculate it out for yourself...you'll be surprised how much you spend on just lunch if you eat out.
  • Make your own coffee at home. This may cost you $50 for a coffee maker, but that's the price of 10-15 cups of coffee from Starbucks (depending on what size you get). You'll pay that off in about a week.
  • Buy generic products. Name brand things cost more because of only one thing...their name. Next time, compare a brand name product to their generic counterpart...you'd be surprised to find that they are exactly the same thing for the most part.
  • Reduce the number of credit cards you own. This way, you won't keep spending when you don't have enough.
  • Don't carry too much cash. The more you have in your wallet, the more you will use. I tend to have $40 in my wallet.
  • Restrict your spending limit to a reasonable amount every month. I tend not to spend more than $100 in cash, and only spend it on the things I need.
  • Keep your car tuned up so you don't end up spending enormous amounts when things really get bad.
  • If you don't get newspaper, buy the Sunday newspaper to see all the sales and cut out the coupons.
  • Shop at Ross, Nordstrom Rack, etc., for cheaper products that are brand names (if you only want brand name items).
  • Drive smart to save gas. You can read about how to save gas from my Tips to Save Gas and More Ways to Save Gas articles.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Random Tips: Purchasing a Cell Phone at Costco

As most you of know, cell phones tend to break or malfunction after a few years...sometimes not even that long. If we're unlucky, we probably end up like most poeple, purchasing a new phone. Being an existing customer also doesn't allow us to get much of a rebate on the phones...which strikes me as odd, since we are the ones loyal to them, and the new customers get the great deals on the phones. Some people go for the equipment protection plan. This is pretty decent as long as you pay your service provider monthly, which usually allows you to get your phone repaired or replaced either with the same phone or the most simliar phone (if your phone is discontinued). But there's a better way...Costco!

First, let me show you what the equipment protection plan is for the 4 major cell phone providers:

So you're basically looking at $60-72 additionally every year in insurance for your phone. Keeping this in mind, let's talk about purchasing a phone from Costco.

Basically, there is a vendor who sells cells phones and plans at Costco. In the past, Costco only carried Sprint phones. Now, they carry Sprint, T-mobile, and Verizon. They offer the same prices and promotions, but tend to be a few dollars cheaper...on the average of $5-10. At worst, the price of the cell phone is the same as if you bought it at the respective store. Not a biggie. So why would buying a cell phone at Costco be better?

1. Not only is the phone cheaper by a few bucks, but they throw in the accessories for FREE. That usually includes a case, car charger, and a headset. That's probably around $40-60.

2. And the most important reason. The unconditional return policy. Yes, you can return your phone as long as there is something wrong with it (it doesn't have to be a major problem...my problem for my old phone was that the menu button only worked if you pressed it hard enough, but it wasn't a major problem). For how much you ask? The exact price that your purchased your phone for. It can be 6 months old or 2 years old...it doesn't matter. Costco does not buy back at the depreciated price...they give you back exactly what you pay them. So what does this mean? You can basically upgrade your phone every year by returning your phone for its full price and purchasing another phone. If the newer phone costs more, you just pay the difference. If it costs less, you get money back. But the kicker here is that you basically only have to purchase a phone ONCE at Costco, and you can change your phones as many times as you like.

This also means you don't have to pay for the additional equipment protection plan, because Costco offers this to you for free with their unconditional return policy. That saves you $60-72 annually. The only benefit the equpiment protection plan has over purchasing a phone at Costco is that the plan offers, usually with a non-refundable deductible (usually $50), coverage for lost phones. Although you have to pay $50, it is still cheaper than buying a brand new phone. Besides that, purchasing a cell phone at Costco is a much better deal. Here's a summary:

- You can always return your phone
- You get back what you paid for it, no matter how long you had your phone (no depreciation)
- Free accessories
- You save $60-72 per year because you don't need to purchase the equipment protection plan
- You can get phones from the 3 largest cell providers...Sprint, Verizon, and T-mobile

- Unconditional warranty does not cover lost phones


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

How To (Cars): More Ways to Save Gas (Part II)

Since my last post on Tips to Save Gas, I came across Shell's website on how to save gas as well. Of my seven tips, 4 of them were the same tips as Shell. Below are the other 6 tips that Shell has provided with my opinions on them.

1. Use higher gears. This only works if you have a manual transmission or one of those "manual-matic" gear shifters (automatic transmission that can be changed to allow the driver to change gears to a certain extent). It is true that the higher gear your car is in, the lower your engine speed will be (you can observe this when you upshift...your rpms will drop down), which means your engine spins less ultimately using less gas. My experience is that my gas mileage doesn't change that much when I upshift using my maunal-matic in my vehicle. I tried doing this for about a month, upshifting when I can and almost never revving over 2000rpms, but my fuel economy may have increased about 1 mpg, and sometimes no increase at all. To me, 1 mpg is not worth shifting so often. Also, when you force the car to upshift, you can feel the gears change with a little bump compared to the automatic shifter that smooths out the bump a little better. For this tip, use it if you have a manual transmission vehicle. If you have an automatic transmission vehicle, just drive smoothly, without over-revving your vehicle, and if you can, maintain the rpms under 2000.

2. Tune and service your engine. I know this is true, but I forgot to put this in my last post. A tuned engine can definitely keep your car running well, but the most important part is to continue to upkeep your car, not just sparingly. Shell has noted that repairing a problem can increase your fuel economy by 4%. I know we don't want to pay the costs of getting your engine tuned and checked out, but I'm sure those costs won't add up to what it would cost when the engine actually gives out.

3. Take the roof rack off. This just deals with aerodynamics. The less aerodynamic your car, the more drag your car has to face, the harder the engine has to work, the more gas you have to use. Shell reports a roof rack can reduce your fuel economy up to 5%.

4. Use the correct oil. This is important not only to save gas, but also to keep your engine running at it's highest efficiency. If you don't take care of your car at all, the one thing you should always do is change your oil, but make sure you do it at the recommended miles and/or time. The oil change schedule should be in your vehicle's manual.

5. Use cruise control. This is just so you can cruise at a constant speed without constantly revving your engine to pick up the speed whenver you slow down. In Hawaii, you can almost never use cruise control because of the short rides, but my tip is just to keep your foot on the pedal to maintain a constant speed, and ease off to slow down. Never step on the gas pedal hard to increase the speed, then let go and let it coast until you need to speed up again. This causes the engine to work harder.

6. Avoid idling. Idling definitely wastes gas, because you are using gas and not moving anywhere...for a grand total of 0 mpg. It's hard to avoid idling especially if you are in traffic, and if you are in that position, there is nothing you can do. But like I posted on my previous tips to save gas, on step 6, turning on your engine uses as much gas as idling for 1 minute. Just idle wisely when you are waiting for someone.

I also want to add one more tip of my own:

Change your air filter. Usually, you should change your air filters every 15,000 miles, but if you live in a very dusty environment, consider changing it after 10,000 miles. A dirty air filter and affect your fuel economy, and it only takes literally 1 minute to change. They usually cost about $7-10, so make sure you do it yourself.

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