What to Know About the Emissions Test

Thirty states in the US require an emissions test, safety inspection, or both for privately owned vehicles. There are some important considerations when getting your car ready for inspection. Here’s some general information you need to know to continue to be an educated car owner.

State Requirements

Although things can vary around the country there are few helpful tips to keep in mind. Emissions tests are required periodically or in certain special situations, for example, when a vehicle is sold or brought in a different state. Due to the effects of air pollution, or smog, emissions testing is required more often in urban areas and in states with high populations densities and large cities. Some states require emissions tests only in urban areas, simply because metropolitan areas can be more susceptible to carbon emissions than rural ones. An example of this is in Illinois, where emissions tests are required biennially, every two years, in the Chicago area. Vehicle owners who live in rural areas are often exempt and some rural states do not require emissions tests at all.

Purpose of Emissions Tests

Simply put, an emissions test checks the cleanliness of your vehicle. The tests aim to ensure vehicles are in compliance with the requirements set by the federal Clean Air Act. It’s important that a given vehicle’s emissions controls are working. Components like the catalytic converter are tested under various modes of operation to make sure that they’re doing their job and keeping exhaust emissions to mandated levels.

Costs of Test and Cost of Failure

The cost of a test also varies from state to state. In some areas, there is no charge, while others may charge up to $60. The fee is often increased if the emissions test is combined with a required safety inspection.

If a car fails the test, the owner is sent to a shop to see if the issue at hand can be fixed before trying again. As in any situation where older vehicles are more at risk to fail, or if this happens more than once, it might be more cost effective to replace the old car with a newer one. Always consider how much the cost of repairs will cost versus the total value of the car.

In order to pass the emissions test, as well as other inspections throughout the year, it’s important to keep your car in tip-top shape with regular and routine maintenance.

How to Budget for Car Problems

We all know when it comes to paying for a car, the monthly payments are only one part of the cost. You’ll also have insurance payments, fuel costs, and parking. And that’s still not all. Car problems can crop up, too. Here are best practices for budgeting beyond your car payments.

Save for a Rainy Day

Setting aside money for car repairs is the most important part of budgeting beyond your monthly payments. The amount to save varies based on whether you’ve bought a new or used vehicle. On average, $50–$100 per month is a good amount for covering both maintenance and unexpected repairs. If you drive an older vehicle or one that already needs work, you may want to increase that amount to $100–$200. Talk to a trusted mechanic who knows your make and model, or browse owner’s forums on the Internet to gain as much knowledge as possible.

Typical Repair Costs

So what will car problems cost you? Well, that depends. Oil changes can run anywhere from $20–$80, depending on the shop, available discounts, and whether your vehicle uses synthetic oil or not. Other types of maintenance, like fluid flushes, run between $100–$300. A set of tires will cost between $200–$1,000, depending on quality and type, while brake jobs can range from $100 to $300 per axle. Many repairs cost a few hundred dollars, but some major repairs, such as replacing a cylinder-head gasket, can cost up to $1,000. Parts and labor are the main factors in any repair cost, and while costs vary depending on the part and whether the equipment is original or aftermarket, labor costs are a bit more standard, running from about $75–$150 an hour.

Even New Cars Need Work

Not all maintenance or repair work is covered by warranties. General maintenance and routine services, like oil changes, aren’t typically covered, with two notable exceptions. The first is pre-paid maintenance plans, in which you pay for maintenance in advance, either upfront, at the time of purchase, or monthly. Should you purchase one of these, it’ll require some extra consideration as there are a variety of pros and cons. There can be discounts involved but also longer intervals of time before you can receive service.

The other exception is when an automaker offers free maintenance for a certain time period after purchase. While these plans don’t require customers to pay for service work, there’s a good chance that the sticker price and monthly car payment will be higher to cover the cost.

It’s also worth noting that wear and tear repairs won’t be covered by warranty. It’s a good idea to set aside some extra cash in case your brakes or tires wear out, whether your car is still in the warranty period or not.

Extended Warranties

It’s up to you to determine if an extended warranty purchase is worth it. You may save some money on repairs on an older vehicle, however, be prepared to pay a deductible and realize that a warranty might not cover everything.

Remember, the cost of owning a vehicle isn’t just about car payments, fuel, and insurance. No matter how new your car is, it’ll need maintenance, and it might need repairs once the warranty period has passed. Setting aside some money each month means you’ll have a nice rainy day fund to turn to should you need it.

Family Road Trips to Make Your Preteen Smile

The art of pinpointing engaging destinations for middle-school aged kids can be difficult but can ultimately make road trips more enjoyable for everyone. When mapping your journey, make sure it amps the excitement for those nestled in the back seat. One of these destinations is sure to accommodates your brood.

Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park

Lush canopies of oak and beech draped with Spanish moss surround Wakulla Springs Lodge, a late-1930s art deco hotel nearly frozen in time. The same goes for the grounds at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. Steps away from the lodge you’ll find a beach lining the edge of the Wakulla River. Climb the twenty-two-foot dive tower and plunge into the clear drink. Take a boat tour for an eyeful of untouched scenery and wildlife including gators, manatees, turtles, and a variety of birds. A road trip just under four hours from Macon, Georgia, this is one even your tween will enjoy.

Nashville, Tennessee

Approximately four hours from Atlanta, Music City beats to a drum that appeals to all ages. Action aplenty takes place on Lower Broadway, a hub for honky tonks. Take advantage of all-ages access at many venues during the day and into the early evening with live music and more. Explore the art of the letterpress at Hatch Show Print, a concert poster purveyor since 1879. Step inside Ernest Tubb Record Shop for an old-school country music retail experience. Get a lesson in country music history at the Country Music Hall of Fame. There are even special programs to participate in including the Musical Petting Zoo, which allows kids to play instruments.

Lost Sea Adventure

A neon yellow tunnel helps guests descend into Craighead Caverns for a mix of history and adventure. Keep an eye peeled for amazing rock formations and wall markings chiseled by Civil War soldiers. The trail leads to an underground lake. Hop aboard a glass bottom boat for a cruise atop the four and-a-half acre body of water while albino rainbow trout swim below. Challenge your kids to try to spot the thirty-ton rock that plopped into the lake approximately 2,000 years ago. Hop in the car and head to The Lost Sea a place your kids will want to visit.

Chattooga River

Step into the unspoiled world of majestic mountains, dense greenery, impressive rock formations, and a roaring river for a whitewater rafting trip. Just three hours from Columbia, South Carolina, visitors make a splash throughout this wild watery ride down Chattooga River with guides from Wildwater Chattooga leading the way. You’ll gasp when the raft takes a seven-foot plunge. Depending on the level of intensity, some trips can be experienced by those ages eight and older, while others allow ages thirteen and up.

Asheville, North Carolina

Just over four hours from Charleston, South Carolina, Asheville thrives with its free-spirited blend of culture, history, and fun. Downtown Asheville ushers tourists into contemporary cool with a variety of imaginative retailers, attractions, and eateries. Lights flash and buzzers buzz during all-you-can-play games at the Asheville Pinball Museum. Movie fans indulge at the Merrimon Avenue location of Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co. While some nosh, others catch a movie in the in-house theater. Take a short drive to the Western Carolina Nature Center to get up close and personal with Southern Appalachian critters such as red foxes, wolves, black bears, and more.

Next time your gearing up for some quality time with the kids, follow this guide to great family road trips taken from Georgia and South Carolina to help you map out maximum fun.

Used Car Dealerships: What You Need to Know

Buy here pay here dealerships offer an alternative path to automobile ownership to anyone who may have run into a financing roadblock at the bank or with other lenders. Simply put, these types of car dealers handle all of their own financing, which means that they are capable of greater flexibility when it comes to arranging a loan for the vehicle you are trying to buy. So when it feels like you’ve run out of options, this may be an avenue for you to explore.

More Lenient Credit, But Not Free

While certainly capable and creative when it comes to providing individuals with loans, even if their credit scores disqualify them from bank lending, there’s one thing to note regarding the service you get at buy here pay here dealerships. It comes in the form of an interest rate that’s higher than what you would find elsewhere. You’ll pay more interest for this type of loan because the risk to the lender is judged to be higher, but it’s this policy that allows these dealers to offer second, third, and fourth-chance credit to buyers.

Shop the Car, Not the Loan

Buy here pay here dealerships present a somewhat different shopping process to potential customers, in that clients are often pre-qualified for a certain amount of financing before even selecting the car they want to buy. This can lead to a situation where the actual number of vehicles offered to you by the dealer is smaller than what’s on the lot, or where you are only able to purchase specific models associated with your loan. Try to make it clear what car, truck, or SUV you’re looking for prior to discussing the financing details.

Read the Fine Print

Never make any assumptions about your loan. Always ask for clarification regarding what penalties are associated with missing a payment and how you have to pay. Some dealers will require that you actually show up and physically present them with a cash or check each month, while others might require bi-weekly or weekly payments. In any situation, it’s important to know what you’re agreeing to before you sign on the dotted line.

If you find yourself in a tough spot financially, buy here pay here dealerships can help get you into a new car when other avenues have been fruitless. Head to the lot with these tips in mind, and you should be able to drive home with a deal that works best for you.

Tire Patch or Tire Plug: Fix Your Flat

Flat tires can happen at any time and can make you feel helpless. But if you are armed with some information and quick fixes, you should be back on the road quickly.

If you notice that your tire is flat but still has some air in it, you might be able to fix it with a tire patch as long as the hole is not in the sidewall. You should never drive on a tire that is more than ten pounds low on air. If the leak allows the rest of the air out, you could end up driving on the rim, which will cause damage. So what should you do when it seems like your tire is low?

Find the Leak

Jack the vehicle up using the jack points closest to the tire. Slowly rotate the tire to find the problem. If you don’t see an object sticking out of the tire or a hole, there’s a trick to discovering the leak. Make a mixture of liquid soap and water. As you brush the water on the tire, the mixture will create bubbles where the hole is located. If you mark the hole with chalk or white shoe polish you can easily find it again.

Plug the Hole

If the hole was caused by a nail or screw and is small, you can plug the tire, but larger holes will need to be patched. A tire plug kit contains two T handles: One has a point and a rough shaft and the other has an “eye” at the end of it.

Air the tire up to about five pounds over the recommended pressure. Next, thread a plug through the eye on the smooth-shafted T handle. Insert the T handle without the eye into the hole in the tire. Push it in and pull it out three or four times. Remove the T handle and then push the plug-loaded T handle into the hole in the tire so that the plug is all the way inside the tire. Pull the T handle out. The plug will stay in the tire and will be visible.

Patch the Tire

While you can patch a tire yourself, it may be better to bring your car to a tire shop. You must first remove the tire to install the tire patch and then remove the tire from the rim. While it’s possible to do this yourself, it can get pretty complicated.

If the hole is too big to plug, you shouldn’t try to drive. A hole that’s big enough for a patch will leak quickly. The easiest and best thing to do to avoid damaging your rim is bring the tire to a tire repair center.

If you must drive the vehicle, remove the damaged tire and wheel, and install the spare. If you have another mode of transportation, remove the tire and wheel, and bring it to a tire repair center so it can be repaired safely.

Driving on a Patch or Plug

You can drive for many miles on a plug or patch, however, if you notice another leak it may be time to head to a service center. If you need a second tire patch, the tire is ready to be replaced.

Safety is always the number one priority. A tire patch can help with a small leak, but if more than one is needed, it’s time for a replacement.

V6 Engine: The Go-To Engine for Power

Many popular vehicles come with a V6 engine, including sedans, SUVs, and minivans. Here’s why the V6 is the go-to engine for powerful cars and why you might want to consider engine power when you’re searching for your next vehicle.

The V6 Lowdown

The V6 engine gives you more power than a four-cylinder and doesn’t use as much gas as a V8 engine. The V6 features six cylinders with three cylinders on each bank and usually have overhead cams. If the engine has single overhead cams, each head has one camshaft. Engines with double overhead cams feature two camshafts for each head.

Any type of fuel injection can be used with a V6 engine and that depends on the manufacturer. Horsepower and torque also varies depending on the manufacturer. When purchasing a vehicle, check to see what kind of engine it has and how much horsepower and torque as well. A nice feature of the V6 is that it allows you to take off from a stop with more power than most four-cylinder engines, unless the four-cylinder is turbocharged.

Vehicles with V6 Engines

Some of the more popular vehicles with V6 engines include the Chevrolet Impala, the Dodge Charger, and the Hyundai Santa Fe SUV. The Impala’s 3.6-liter V6 makes 305 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque, and it gets twenty-nine miles per gallon (mpg) on the highway. The Charger’s 3.6-Liter V6 makes 292 horsepower, 260 pound-feet of torque, and gets twenty-seven mpg on the highway. The Santa Fe’s 3.3-liter V6 makes 290 horsepower, 252 pound-feet of torque, and gets twenty five mpg on the highway.

In these examples, the engines are close in size when you compare cubic centimeters or cubic inches, but they make various horsepower and torque, with the Chevy making more horsepower per cubic inch than the Dodge and the Hyundai. However, when an engine makes more horsepower, it uses more gas. Gas mileage from a V6 engine will be better than a V8, but less than an inline four-cylindar engine. A V6 is a good compromise between gas mileage and horsepower.

Why Manufacturers Use V6 Engines

Many people don’t want a vehicle that uses a lot of gas, but they need something more powerful than a four-cylinder engine. The V6 engine fills that gap, giving the consumer enough horsepower and torque to tow lighter loads, yet it still gets good gas mileage, so it’s not expensive to drive.

When looking to purchase, carefully compare vehicles. If you’re mostly concerned with power and gas mileage, you’ll get better bang for your buck if you go with higher horsepower and just a tad lower fuel economy.

How to Create an Effective Budget Plan

Those who try to get on top of their finances without a plan will eventually realize that it can’t be done without creating a budget. While the idea of living on a budget plan might conjure up thoughts of penny pinching, coupon cutting, and sacrificing the things you enjoy, that doesn’t have to be the case.

By identifying where your money goes you can be more strategic about your spending and ultimately fund the things that are most important to you while still reaching your financial goals. Here’s how to formulate a customized budget plan that works for you.

List Your Needs

There are certain things in life that you must pay for. Things like shelter, food, utilities, and any debt obligations you may have (like student or auto loans). While you have some control over how much these bills will cost—for instance, you can find ways to reduce your electric bill or spend less on groceries—these expenses are essentially non-negotiable. Write down all your these monthly needs on a piece of paper or keep track of them in a digital document.

Determine Your Wants

Things like your gym membership, cable and streaming services, morning coffee, and lunches out might be part of your regular monthly spending, but they aren’t necessities. Look for ways to scale back, at least temporarily. For instance, you might cancel your cable service or limit eating at restaurants to one day per week. That’s not to say that you must give everything up. Look carefully at these luxuries and decide which ones you can live without and which ones are must-haves. Add the must-haves to your paper or digital document.

Account for Extras

Things sometimes go awry with budgets, and it usually has to do with unexpected or less frequent expenses that come up. Things like vehicle repairs, home maintenance, medical bills, or birthday gifts for relatives aren’t usually line items in a budget, but they need to be considered. Think about the average amount you spend on these types of extra expenses per month and allow for an amount in your budget that will cover these costs.

While you’re at it, regularly put money into an emergency fund, even if you can only afford $10 per paycheck to start. Your first goal could be to accrue $500, but ultimately, keep going until you’ve put away 3–6 months of living expenses.

Next Steps

After you add your monthly expenses together, subtract that total from your net monthly income. Any leftover money can be put to good use you depending on your goals. If you’re carrying high-interest credit card debt, for example, try to knock that down as much as possible. If you’re debt free, perhaps you want to put aside money for a vacation, a new car, or invest more toward your retirement.

If you’re barely breaking even, decide what tweaks you can make to increase your income or decrease your spending. Consider taking on some extra work or looking for ways to lower your bills.

While everyone’s budget plan will look slightly different depending on individual incomes, expenses, and lifestyles, having one in place can eventually improve your financial health.

Unexpected Expenses Dragging You Down? Eight Ways to Build an Emergency Fund

Staying ahead of your finances is extremely tough when you’re living paycheck to paycheck. Unforeseen expenses are always popping up, whether it’s a broken washing machine or an unexpected trip to the emergency room when your 5-year-old breaks his arm. Those few extra bucks you saved are gone in a flash, or even worse, you have to rely on a credit card.

Fortunately, escaping this cycle is easier than you think, though it does take some effort. The goal is to set yourself up with some funds to use for those inevitable surprise expenses.

Here are eight ways to make sure you are prepared, even if money is tight.

1. Automate Savings

Set up a weekly, or every payday, automatic transfer into a savings account. You can increase the amount slowly over a few months, and will be saving without even realizing it. Consider setting up a non-ATM-accessible account so you’re not tempted to dip in. It may seem small, but saving just $10 a week will add up to $520 at the end of a year.

2. Reduce Bills

Track your spending and create a budget to take charge of your money. Notice what you spend the most on and look for ways to trim monthly expenses. Evaluate any nonessentials, such as cable service or a gym membership, to see if you can live with scaling it down, even if only for a few months.

3. Earn More

It’s easier said than done, but evaluate if you have time to take on an additional source of income. Try to find a side gig that allow you to make money on your own time, such as driving for UBER or Lyft, or ask your boss if overtime hours are available at your current job. Make it a goal to bump up your income and use those extra funds to fast track your savings growth.

4. Spend Less

No one really wants to delay gratification, but you should make smart use of discretionary spending in order to be prepared for unexpected expenses. Consider everything from waiting longer between haircuts to swapping clothing with friends to driving a more fuel-efficient car.

5. Investigate Large Purchases

Look into repairing an appliance instead of simply replacing it. When something breaks, first find out if it’s under warranty. In the meantime, look for temporary solutions while you do research. For example, if your washing machine stops working, you can go to a laundromat for a few weeks.

6. Become a DIYer

Troubleshooting minor plumbing issues, cleaning your home’s gutters, or repurposing a household item are clever ways to maximize your savings. Whether you watch videos on YouTube or take a free class to learn the necessary skills, you’d be surprised at what you’re capable of—and what you can save money on.

7. Make Rules about Extra Cash

Every once in a while, you may come into some money, whether it’s a bonus at work, a tax refund, or birthday gifts from relatives. If you tend to spend windfalls right away, change your mindset. You can still treat yourself, but set aside a certain percentage of the extra money for your emergency stash.

8. Replace What You Use

Your rainy day fund will likely go up and down over time, and that’s okay, because that’s what it’s there for. Just be sure to build it back up when you take money out, for example, to replace the brakes on your car.

Making sacrifices is difficult, but the peace of mind that comes from knowing money is set aside is worth it. You can even reward yourself when you reach goals. Start small, keep at it, and before you know it, you’ll have accumulated an amount that will keep you safe from financial turmoil.

Georgia Barbecue Smokes With Serious Acclaim

Texas, Tennessee, and Missouri continue to be among the states figuratively dueling with their grill tongs over the title of best barbecue in the country. Amid all that hickory smoke hubbub, it might be easy to forget Georgia barbecue. With a host of critical accolades—not to mention devout fans—the Peach State’s barbecue purveyors keep the proverbial fire burning. Sink your teeth into a few of our favorites.

Southern Soul Barbecue

When it comes to dining on St. Simons Island, some obviously expect seafood to logically float to the top. Southern Soul BBQ is an acclaimed joint that gives the local captain’s platters a run for their money with lines regularly snaking out the door. Bring a hearty appetite when tackling the Southern Soul sandwich, a massive affair bulging with pulled pork. Beef brisket, ribs, fried green beans, and chicken wings all make for smart picks. Wash it all down with freshly made Kool-Aid or some frosty hops and barley.

Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q

Around the corner from Little Five Points, Atlanta’s answer to Haight-Ashbury, sits Fox Bros., a Georgia barbecue cathedral where a never-ending flow of devoted noshers consistently congregate. Once inside, indulge in one or several of their delicacies, from ample racks of ribs and pulled pork to Frito pie and brisket chili. The smoked chicken wings cluck with perfection. Specialty sammies, complete with a sack of Zapps on the side, ensure you don’t go hungry. This goes for the Big Tex with its heaping helping of sliced brisket and Texas toast bookends.

Joe’s BBQ

Extreme North Georgia may not sound like a barbecue mecca, but Joe’s BBQ in Blue Ridge has found its rightful place in the saucy spotlight. Ranked as the best barbecue in the country by TripAdvisor in 2015, Joe’s attempts to stay in step with its serious rep. Throngs pile in for famed treats including pulled pork, whole chicken, ribs, and copious sides such as baked beans, cinnamon apples, and mac and cheese. The staff even stuffs the baked potatoes with Joe’s prestigious pork. Really hungry? Give Joe’s 24 hours notice, and they’ll smoke an entire pork butt just for you.

Sconyers Bar-B-Que

Since 1956, the Sconyers family has been rolling out barbecue in Augusta. That’s arguably long enough to warrant the crew a closet full of green jackets. Known for its ribs, pork tenderloin, and sides of signature hash, Sconyers holds the distinction of having its barbecue served in the White House. Those with low-fat diets can gorge in peace. Both its tenderloin and smoked turkey are 96- and 97-percent fat free, respectively.

Try to hit all four establishments and find your new favorite barbecue spot in Georgia!

Best Family Cars: Which One Is Right for You?

The best family cars are the ones you can keep for many years. With so many options, the most difficult part is narrowing down your search and making the right decision.

To get the most for your money, your car should have all of your desired features, and your family should have plenty of room to grow.

SUVs and Crossovers

Small SUVs and crossovers are a popular and great choice for a new family car. They offer room for everyone, great features, and the much-needed cargo space to haul your family’s gear. Full-size SUVs are some of the best family vehicles if you aren’t worried about gas mileage and size.

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly vehicle, a Hyundai Tucson is a great place to start your search. It offers five seats, up to thirty-three miles per gallon (mpg), and is under $30,000 brand new. The Ford Escape, Jeep Liberty, Dodge Nitro, Dodge Journey, and Honda CR-V are comparable in pricing and gas mileage.

Although slightly higher in price, if you want something a bit larger with more included features, check out the Kia Sorento or the Jeep Cherokee. The Hyundai Santa Fe should be added to the list as an option if you need up to seven seats.

The Chevrolet Suburban, Ford Explorer, and Honda Pilot are good choices in the full-size category. These vehicles seat up to eight passengers and have plenty of cargo room. They also can’t be beat if you’re in need of the capability to pull a trailer.

Minivans and Wagons

Safe, with lots of seating and storage room, as well as features like automatic sliding doors and captain’s chairs make the minivan a time-tested vehicle for growing families. The Dodge Grand Caravan and the Chrysler Town and Country are great family-friendly vehicles that have been popular for many years.

Wagons, on the other hand, fall somewhere between a crossover and a sedan. You get the shorter height, but more storage space than your average sedan. The Scion XB is a boxy-shaped wagon popular with the younger crowd because of its modern look, while the Hyundai Elantra Touring is also a great choice if you are looking for a slightly smaller wagon.

The only downside is that most wagons don’t seat more than five passengers. If you have a large family or you prefer to have an extra seat or two for carpooling, a wagon may not be the best choice.

Key Considerations

To get the most use out of your vehicle, look for models with low mileage. That way you are setting yourself up to get as many years out of your car as possible. If your budget isn’t too flexible, a vehicle with slightly higher mileage may be the way to go, as the price can come down significantly.

No matter how many little ones you have or what type of vehicle you prefer, there are plenty of choices out there for you with the space and capabilities that are the right fit for your family.