Exhaust Notes

Decision Guide

Study finds 31 percent increase in insurance claims for stolen tailgates; Texas tops list.

By Douglas Newcomb Sep 3, 2014 5:05AM

Photo by FordPickup truck sales are on the rise, and so are truck tailgate thefts. After analyzing insurance data for the past two years, the National Insurance Crime Bureau found that claims for stolen tailgates jumped from 831 in 2012 to 1,090 in 2013, a 31 percent increase.


The majority of claims (92 percent) involved personal vehicles, while only a fraction (8 percent) were attributed to commercial vehicles. But the NICB found that claims associated with commercial vehicles each involved the theft of multiple tailgates, indicating that the total number could be higher.


Three states, all in the southwestern part of the U.S., had the highest number of claims and accounted for 67 percent of all claims during the period. Texas topped the list with 752, followed by California with 334 and Arizona with 207.


Texas also had the top three cities with the most tailgate theft claims, and six total in the top ten.


Proprietary streaming music service in the CLA 250 provides a cool soundtrack of curated music, but with lots of lag.

By Douglas Newcomb Sep 2, 2014 12:53PM

Mercedes-Benz Radio in a 2014 CLA250Streaming audio has become a must-have infotainment feature, with the popular service Pandora Radio becoming a standard in many vehicles. A 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 I recently tested uses TuneIn instead of Pandora as part of an optional apps package for the subscription-based mbrace Plus telematics system.

It also features Mercedes-Benz Radio, a music channel that provides “a hand-picked selection of music, all day long, every day of the week, commercial‑free.” The music “is based on the curated style and genres of Mercedes‑Benz Mixed Tape” assembled by the Mercedes-Benz online magazine mb!, and it’s also available as a music stream on a computer or via a mobile device.

I really liked the music provided by Mercedes-Benz radio, and that someone was playing deejay for me. Mercedes-Benz Radio also had a cool feature I haven’t seen in other cars, but was frustratingly slow to respond.


Rapid advances in passive and active safety systems are leading to fewer crashes.

By Douglas Newcomb Sep 2, 2014 12:50PM

Photo by Nissan.Deaths from car crashes reached record lows in 2009, thanks to safer cars, and since then the number of highway fatalities has held steady at around 30,000 annually. Now imagine what it would take to get that number to zero.

While this may seem like an unobtainable objective, experts think that many highway fatalities can be avoided due to recent improvements in passive auto safety such as  airbags, and that car crashes could even be eliminated through active safety technologies like driver assistance systems that prevent accidents before they happen.

"It's a tall order," Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told CNBC. "But the goal is definitely feasible. We're already seeing this happen."

As proof, IIHS plans to release a new study next month that reveals no deaths occurred in a record number of vehicles from 2009 to 2012.


Study finds connecting devices to cars via Bluetooth is second biggest complaint among consumers.

By Douglas Newcomb Sep 2, 2014 8:24AM

As automakers add more connected features to their cars, using Bluetooth for making hands-free phone calls is by now a basic technology, and the connection for more advanced functions.

But according to a new study by J.D. Power and Associates, the second biggest complaint consumers have about the technology in their cars is simply getting their phones to connect with a car via Bluetooth.

Similar to J.D. Power’s much-watched Initial Quality Study, the 2014 Multimedia Quality and Satisfaction Study queried more than 85,000 new-vehicle buyers after their first 90 days of ownership on the quality, design and features of their audio, communication and navigation systems. Issues with Bluetooth followed only voice recognition as the most reported problem.

While owners reported fewer problems overall with Bluetooth compared with last year — 5.7 problems per 100 vehicles in 2014, down from 6.3 in 2013 — Mike VanNieuwkuyk, J.D. Power’s executive director, global automotive, told Automotive News that this still a “very high level problem.” Especially given the prevalence of Bluetooth in cars and that even the most basic feature, phone pairing, is giving consumers fits.


Elaborate eco meter lets you know which car features are affecting fuel economy.

By Douglas Newcomb Sep 2, 2014 8:07AM

While some sort of “eco meter” is now found on many vehicles, which allows drivers to instantaneously check how their driving style affects their fuel economy (and pocketbook), some of the displays are getting even more granular.

For example, a 2015 Audi A3 I recently tested had an “efficiency program” display as part of the driver information system in the instrument panel that, of course, shows current fuel economy. But it also displays how certain car features — such as air conditioning — influence mpg.

It uses distance traveled and consumption data from the trip computer to estimate fuel consumption from these auxiliary features and can be reset at any time. The display shows up to three items that could be affecting fuel economy. The feature using the most fuel is listed first.

Since I tested the A3 this summer, the air conditioning was listed first. And there was no reason to use the other two listed: rear window heater and right seat heating.


State would determine a household income threshold for current $2,500 rebate.

By Douglas Newcomb Aug 28, 2014 1:39PM

Tesla Model S. Photo by Tesla.The California legislature wants to phase out state tax incentives that go to wealthy electric vehicle owners -- particularly those who purchase the expensive and popular Tesla Model S.

A recent bill directs the state’s Air Resources Board to determine a household income threshold at which the current clean-vehicle rebate of $2,500 for an electric car would be eliminated.

The bill, SB 1275, sponsored by Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), is headed back to the California Senate to approve changes made by the Assembly before going to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has until the end of September to sign it into law. According to environmental groups backing the bill, it would make EVs more affordable to working families and help improve California’s air quality.


For the first time, the Mustang will be exported globally.

By AutoWeek Aug 28, 2014 7:25AM

Those of you waiting for a 2015 Ford Mustang are one step closer today as production begins at the Flat Rock, Mich., assembly plant. The new ponycar goes on sale this fall.

For the first time, the Mustang will be exported globally to more than 120 countries. A right-hand drive version will be sold in the U.K., Australia and South Africa. Ford has sold 9.2 million Mustangs in the model’s 50-year history.

The Flat Rock Plant underwent a $555-million investment in the last year, part of which went toward tooling up for the new car. It added a flexible body shop that allows multiple models to be produced on the same line, as well as new paint, dirt detection and laser brazing technologies.


Survey finds buyers are less satisfied with cars than with soft drinks, TVs.

By Douglas Newcomb Aug 28, 2014 6:08AM

Photo by Flikr user Stephen ClarksonWhile automakers have been selling more vehicles in the past few years, they’re not making more buyers happy, according to the results of a recent survey. The American Customer Satisfaction Index score for cars and light trucks has dropped for the second straight year.

The overall ACSI score for the industry is now 82 out of 100, a dip of one point from 2013. ACSI scores decreased for the majority (16 out of the 21) of auto brands included in the survey. Only two U.S. nameplates improved their scores: Chevrolet went up 4 percent with the largest gain and Buick increased by a modest 1 percent. The ACSI attempts to "quantify" opinions with a proprietary formula developed by the University of Michigan. As with any nonscientific poll, the ACSI is simply a relative measure of satisfaction (and since ACSI doesn't divulge how it arrives at such numbers, that's all it can be). 

Cadillac plunged 6 percent, while Acura landed at the bottom of the list and had the most drastic decline at 7 percent. But Cadillac and Acura weren’t the lone laggards in the luxury category. The ACSI scores for BMW and Lexus also fell. And although Mercedes-Benz topped the ACSI list with the highest score of any automaker (86), the brand experienced a 2 percent drop from last year.

"That didn't used to be the case, and it suggests that consumers now expect more for their money when they pay a premium price," Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder, said in a statement.



  • Cliff Atiyeh

    Clifford Atiyeh has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own. Raised in Volvos, he has grown to love fast, irresponsible vehicles of all kinds. He is the senior news editor at MSN Autos and also reports for Car and Driver, Road & Track, The Boston Globe and other publications.
    In the garage: 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (not his)

  • Doug Newcomb

    Doug Newcomb has covered car technology for over 20 years for outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to Edmunds.com. In 2008, he published his first book, "Car Audio for Dummies" (Wiley). He lives and drives in Hood River, Ore., with his wife and two kids, who share his passion for cars and technology.
    In the garage: 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS, two 1984 Chevrolet Blazers, 2008 Honda CR-V

  • James Tate

    James Tate learned to drive stick at age 13 in a 1988 Land Cruiser - in La Paz, Bolivia. He's since been a mechanic, on a pit crew and has wrenched on every car he's owned since his first 1989 Honda CRX Si (and won't stop until the car is a 1973 Porsche 911 RS). His work has appeared in Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics, Automobile and others.
    In the garage: 1995 Porsche 911 Carrera, 1988 BMW M5

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