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INTERESTING THINGS

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CARR BANNED FROM STATE GOVERNMENT NETWORKS

In August 2014, CARR received an email from subscriber who works for a particular state government, advising that the CARR website had been blocked from that state's government servers. I have edited the email and removed all references to the particular state and the gender of the whistleblower in order to prevent government authorities from ascertaining who it is. This is what this person wrote.

It is good to see that CARR has made enough impact on people that an entire state government feels threatened enough to go to the trouble of blocking its website from its servers and preventing public servants from accessing it at work. This is the sort of news that makes me realise that CARR is a very worthwhile venture. Thanks to the very brave public servant who sent me this news.


BUYING CARS

Advising people not to buy new cars is not what you'd probably expect. But here goes.

That's not an assertion or opinion. It's an incontestable fact. Here's the proof. Show me an investment that is all-but-guaranteed to leave you with less money (a lot less money) than you started with and I will show you a bad investment. Car salesmen often talk about the investment you're about to make. Well, I suppose for them it is. But for you? Not at all. The average new car loses 30-40% or more of its original cost price within five years of leaving the car showroom. How's that for an investment?

The reality is a car is an appliance, not an investment. There will be no return. You'll get to use and hopefully, enjoy it for a period of time, nothing more. The best you can do is minimise your losses. Side-stepping new car depreciation, which takes the biggest bite during those first five years from new, is the single biggest and smartest way to do that.

Probably the main reason most people buy a new car is because they like the idea of not having to worry, at least financially, about repair costs for the first few years of ownership while the vehicle is covered by the new car warranty. That's absolutely valid, reasonable and understandable. However, you are paying handsomely for that and not only for that.

When you buy a new car, there will be 10% GST in the purchase price. If you bought a $30,000 new car, $3000 GST is included and is something that you won't get back. Next, you will probably find out that your insurance bill has increased. Because insurance costs are based in part on the projected replacement cost of the vehicle insured and it will cost more to replace or repair a brand-new $30,000 car than it would to send you a cheque for the $6,500 book value of your current (not new) car if it gets totalled.

In the past, it would have cost less to cover a new car because of new car equipment such as ABS, stability control and so on, which were associated in the underwriter's mind with reduced likelihood of a wreck and thus a claim. But all new cars have all this stuff now, so the discounts aren't what they were. Meanwhile, new cars have more equipment, for example, six or more air bags versus the formerly typical one or two or even none. Replacement costs are enormous and this is reflected in the cost of insurance.

When you buy a new car, you are paranoid about getting any little mark or dent on it. You could drive your current car, complete with scratches and dents, through the bush and not care a damn if another dent appears. But you'll go crazy and get thoroughly stressed if the slightest mark appears on your brand new car.

Modern cars last and last and then last some more. It's commonplace for a late-model car - that's pretty much any car built since the mid-late 1990s - to go 10-15 years and more than 200,000 miles before it begins to become untrustworthy or a money pit. Over the past 20-odd years, manufacturing tolerances have tightened up, processes and materials are much better and production has to a great extent been automated in order to eliminate or at least reduce the quality control issues that used to arise from one shift to the next. As a result, the build quality, rustproofing and long-haul durability of the average late-model car is light-years better than it used to be.

That in turn means if you buy a four or five-year-old used car with say 50,000 miles on it, you can reasonably expect it to give you no major problems for another 100,000-plus miles and ten years. Of course, it's important to be careful and check over any prospect very carefully or have it checked out by someone with the necessary know-how. But as a rule, meaning unless you have the bad luck to land a lemon or choose a good car that had a bad owner who abused it, the odds are excellent that any late-model used car you buy will give you more life and more miles and less trouble than any brand-new car would have back in the 70s and even into the 80s.

This is the secret the car makers hope you'll never ever learn. Why? Because they need people to keep on buying new cars every six years or so, right around the time they finished paying off the loan on the last one.

If you like debt, if you don't mind losing 30-40% or more in depreciation on your so-called "investment" or if you've just got to have the latest thing or think that new car smell is worth it - and there's nothing wrong with any of that - then by all means, go ahead. Sign right up. But you won't find any car journalist doing that. And this ought to tell you something.


SOME DRIVING LAWS IN OTHER NATIONS

In Cyprus, eating or drinking, even water, while driving is illegal. Grabbing a snack at a drive-through and munching while driving with your knees will earn you an 85 ($130) fine. Don't even think about taking a sip of that soft drink. But is it illegal to shave while driving, or comb your hair? Probably not.

Also in Cyprus, drivers who unnecessarily raise a hand from the steering wheel for any reason, including sticking up their middle fingers at other offending motorists, can be fined. One cannot imagine these Cypriot drivers to be so self-disciplined that they would refrain from flipping the bird to a motorist who cut them off in the traffic.

In France, drivers are required to carry a breathalyser kit in their vehicle or motorcycle. Originally, drivers who didn't have one were required to pay a fine of $17, but enforcement has been delayed indefinitely. What about teetotallers? Do they have to carry a piece of equipment that is totally useless to them? The question needs to be asked - French drivers may have to carry a breathalyser, but are they required to actually use it, or will it collect dust in their gloveboxes?

In Russia, driving a dirty car can get you fined up to 2000 roubles (about $62). The police must have a field day booking Russians, as their roads, filthy weather and pollution in major cities literally makes every car dirty. It's surprising that this law has not been imposed by the rapacious state governments in Australia as a really good revenue-raiser.

Make sure you have enough fuel in your tank to get you from one end to the other on Germany's autobahns. It's illegal to stop unnecessarily on an autobahn, and running out of fuel is considered unnecessary, since it could have been avoided. This law also applies to pilots in every nation who stupidly run out of fuel in flight because they fail to check that they have enough flight and reserve fuel. It makes sense.

In Sweden, headlights are legally required to be on 24 hours a day, even in broad daylight. However, most new cars these days are fitted with daytime running lights for higher visibility in bad weather or at any time actually, so it sort of makes sense for cars without those daytime running lights to have their headlights switched on during the day. However back in the 1970s in China, people drove at night with their headlights off and only flashed them occasionally to see the road ahead, maybe thinking that they could prolong the life of their headlight bulbs. The night-time road fatality rate in China in those days was horrendous.

In Spain drivers who require vision correction must carry an extra pair of glasses in their cars while driving. In actual fact, this is exactly the same laws that govern pilots, who have to always carry a spare set of glasses if their licences show that they require vision correction. Mr Magoo need not apply.

In Japan, it is illegal to be in a car with an intoxicated driver. Of course if you are sober, why the hell would you ever get in a car that has a drunk driver behind the wheel? This sounds ridiculous, but even in Australia, plenty of people will get into a car where the driver is drunk and they are pulled over by cops every day. This law is not as silly as it sounds, certainly not as silly as fools who go driving with drunks behind the wheel.

Only in the USA, as they say. In the state of Alabama, it is illegal for people to drive while blindfolded. What kind of lunatic makes these laws? And how did this one come about? Did the cops catch some stupid Alabama trailer trash telling his passengers that he could find his way to his destination blindfolded and actually tried it? Well, if you've been to Alabama or any of the other redneck states, you would believe it.

In Costa Rica, you can drink an alcoholic beverage while driving, as long as you don't get drunk. Sipping a beer with one hand and navigating the windy and treacherous roads of Costa Rica with the other is completely legal. Driving with a blood-alcohol level of more than 0.75% will send you to jail. But most nations have similar limits on driving with a certain amount of blood alcohol. Sucking on a can of beer while driving is an Australian national pastime.