Minivans, maximum value

(first published Jan. 30, 2014 in MoneySense magazine)

The minivans of yesteryear were boxy beasts that guzzled gas and had a penchant for breaking down. But the new breed of people movers is sleek, sexy and loaded with premium features that would make a German sedan envious. However, the thing that keeps minivans in vogue is their cavernous interiors. No other kind of vehicle can carry as many people or as much cargo, plus they sip less fuel than most full-size SUVs. Here, we ask our expert auto panel to find out which of the five minivans offered to Canadian consumers offers the best combination of value, safety and reliability.

2014 Honda Odyssey Touring EliteHonda Odyssey

($29,990 – $47,990)


Rarely the sales leader, but always the benchmark by which all other minivans are judged, the Odyssey is packed with technology to protect your little ones, keep them entertained and even clean up their messes. “It has a versatile, spacious interior with innovative features like a purse holder, a cold-beverage storage spot and in-vehicle vacuum cleaner—a world first in a minivan,” says auto writer Petrina Gentile. The Odyssey also burns less fuel than some competitors by shutting down some of its cylinders when idle or during highway cruising. One of the few critiques of Honda’s venerable van is its high price. Journalist Jil McIntosh suggests going without the top-of-the-line features and pocketing the difference. “All models are well-equipped and you can use some of the savings for a good Shop-Vac.”

MONY01_S_AUTO07Toyota Sienna

($29,120 – $50,620)

2nd place!

Similarly priced to the Odyssey, Toyota’s minivan is a great choice for families that don’t mind spending a little more to ensure reliability and a higher resale value. However, our experts were less impressed with the Sienna’s looks. “I absolutely hate the styling,” says automotive expert Dave Redinger. “It looks unfinished when viewed from the front, yet you can’t argue with the quality of the build and known reliability.” Jil McIntosh notes it’s the only vehicle in our group that can be ordered with all-wheel-drive.

MONY01_S_AUTO02Dodge Caravan

($19,895 – $32,495)

3rd  place!

The original minivan and still the top seller thanks to its combination of versatile seating and value. Every Caravan comes with “Stow ’n Go” third-row seats that can disappear into the floor. However, you have to move up in price a bit to get the second row of seats to perform the same magic trick. Only the top-tier models come close to the entry level cost of the Japanese models, but there’s a price to be paid for such a bargain. Gentile says the Caravan’s engine is “noisy when pushed” and “road and wind noise seep into the cabin often.”

MONY01_S_AUTO03Kia Sedona

($28,595 – $39,995)

4th place!

Just when GM and Ford bailed out of the minivan market, Hyundai and Kia stepped in with their own identical minivans. The Hyundai Entourage was dropped in 2007, but its twin carries on as the Kia Sedona. Ron Corbett of the Automobile Protection Association praises the Sedona for its smooth drivetrain and “nicely finished cabin with simple, logical controls.” Auto writer Nika Rolczewski laments the bland exterior, but says it gets the job done. “Like support hose, the Sedona doesn’t have to look pretty to do its job.”

MONY01_S_AUTO04Nissan Quest

(Pricing to be announced)

5th place!

The quirky-looking Quest may be the next minivan on the chopping block. Nissan no longer stocks them at its Canadian dealers because of waning demand. Instead, Nissan says Canadians will only be able to buy Quests on a “build-to-order basis.” Gentile says the Quest always drove well, but neither the second- nor third-row seats fold into the floor and the second row can’t be removed. Pricing has yet to be announced for the 2014 model, but the 2013 started at $29,998 and climbed to $46,998 for the premium version.

How we came up with the numbers

Scores listed are out of 10; the higher the number, the better. Cost of ownership data comes from the Automobile Protection Agency (APA) and includes purchase price, cost of ownership and resale value. Reliability and safety data comes from the APA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Driving experience is the average of scores provided by our expert panel. To determine our top car, we allocated 20% of the overall score to cost, 20% to reliability, 10% to safety and 50% to driving experience.

Expert Panel

Jil McIntosh: Auto writer with the Toronto Star and Metro

Dave Redinger: Automotive expert and radio host

Nika Rolczewski: Automotive columnist for the Toronto Star

Petrina Gentile: Producer of  CTV and BNN’s Car/Business


Top 10 discontinued cars: Which ones will you miss? posted a fun little story about the top 10 cars that headed for automotive trash heap in 2015. Are there any on the list that you think should stick around?

New and Used Car Reviews, Comparisons and News | Driving

It that time of year again when automakers clean out their showrooms for the new model year. So while you’ll see plenty of all-new 2015 cars and trucks arrive in Canada over the next few months, it’s time to say goodbye, au revoir, aufwiedersehen or sayonara to these 10 vehicles not coming back:

Acura TSX & TL

We'll miss ye, Acura TSX, and your slick-shifting six-speed manual. We’ll miss ye, Acura TSX, and your slick-shifting six-speed manual.

Honda’s luxury Acura brand has decided to trim its sports sedan offerings by merging its compact TSX and mid-sized TL into the new-for-2015 TLX. Debuting for 1996 as a replacement for the Vigor sedan, the front- and all-wheel-drive TL was a roomy alternative to more compact offerings like the BMW 3 Series. The smaller and front-drive-only TSX was first seen for 2004, and was sold in foreign markets as a Honda Accord.

Cadillac CTS Coupe and Sport Wagon

Cadillac CTS Coupe Cadillac CTS Coupe

View original post 714 more words

Volvo develops technology to avoid collisions with wild animals

(The following is a press release from Volvo)

Volvo Car Corporation is taking the next step in active safety by developing a system that alerts and automatically brakes for animals on the road. The new system will be launched on the market in a few years’ time.

The project to develop a safety system that reduces the risk of collisions with wild animals is part of Volvo Car Corporation’s vision for 2020 – that nobody should suffer serious injury in a new Volvo. The new system is based on technologies from the Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake, introduced in 2010.

Camera and infra-red light

“The system consists of two parts – a radar sensor and an infra-red camera that can register the traffic situation,” relates Andreas Eidehall, technical expert in the field of active safety systems at Volvo Car Corporation.
It is essential for the system to also function in the dark since most collisions with wild animals take place at dawn and dusk and during the dark winter months. The camera monitors the road ahead and if an animal is within range the system alerts the driver with an audible signal. If the driver does not react, the brakes are automatically applied.
“The goal is for the system to function at the normal rural highway speeds. In cases in which it cannot help the driver entirely avoid the collision, the system will slow down the car sufficiently to help reduce the force of impact and thus of serious injuries,” continues Andreas Eidehall.

Data interpretation
One challenge facing the engineers is to teach the system to recognise different animals. A development team from Volvo Car Corporation spent an evening at a safari park digitally logging film sequences of animals and their various behavioural patterns. On this particular evening the focus was on moose, red deer and fallow deer. By driving very slowly along a trail where fodder had been laid out to attract the animals, a lot of data was recorded and this will later be used to evaluate and develop the sensor system.
In the first stage, the system will respond to large animals that risk injuring the driver or passengers in an impact, such as moose, deer and reindeer.

Immense risks from collisions with wild animals
Many car drivers are highly concerned about the risk of collisions with wild animals. There is good reason for this concern. In Sweden alone, more than 40,000 accidents involving wild animals are reported every year. The greatest danger is from collisions with moose.
“In an impact with a moose there is a relatively high risk of personal injury since it is common for the animal to end up on or roll across the front of the car and its windscreen,” says Andreas Eidehall.

As regards the system and its various functions, Andreas cannot be more specific. The project has been under way for just over a year and a lot of work still remains to be done. Various technologies are currently being evaluated, software is being developed and while the system “learns” to recognise various animals, development is also under way on the necessary decision-making mechanisms, that is to say how and when the protective system is to respond.
“We can see in our accident statistics that this is an important area to prioritise. What is more, we know that there is considerable market interest in this type of safety system. During demonstrations of Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake, we were often asked about protection from accidents with wild animals. We will present a market-ready system within a few years,” concludes Andreas Eidehall.

Facts, road accidents with wild animals:

The number of road accidents involving wild animals, Sweden: in 2010 just over 47,000. Source: Swedish Advisory Council on Accidents Involving Wild Animals
Accidents with moose: About 7,000. Source: Swedish Advisory Council on Accidents Involving Wild Animals.
Statistics based on Volvo’s accident database reveal that collisions with moose involve a high risk of injury.
The US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has compiled statistics for the period 1993-2007. All told, 2,499 people died in road accidents involving animals during this period. The report also states that the number of road accidents involving wild animals increases by almost 30 percent in November. The largest insurance company in the USA, State Farm, reports that the number of compensation claims for road accidents involving wild animals rose by 14.9 percent between 2003 and 2008.

Toyota adding wrong-way driving alert to navigation systems

wrong way

photo by Kelly Goodman

(the following is a press release by Toyota Motor Corporation)

Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) will add a function to its onboard navigation systems that gives on-screen and voice alerts to wrong-way drivers. Jointly developed with Aisin AW Co., Ltd. and Denso Corporation, the function monitors vehicle direction on highways and selected toll roads, including at tollgates, service area ramps, turn-offs and junctions. It will be incorporated into navigation systems available as dealer-installed options in Japan from June 1.

The new function was made possible by advances in communications-based map-updating technology and in pinpoint position-recognition technology that uses information from GPS, gyro1, vehicle-speed and other sensors to determine accurate vehicle movement.

In recent years in Japan, approximately 1,000 wrong-way driving incidents are reported annually, with a higher percentage of senior drivers involved than in other kinds of traffic incidents2.

Going forward, TMC—striving to do its part in contributing to a society free of traffic accidents—remains committed to manufacturing people-friendly vehicles that improve the safety and peace of mind of drivers and pedestrians.

Will gas prices could soon tumble 23%?

We’re all outraged at the price of gas this week but there may be some hope on the horizon, sccording to the Toronto Star’s David Olive.

Olive said he expects the price per litre to tumble by 23 per cent starting as early as this week. That could lower the cost to between n $1.14 and $1.23 per litre. That will be welcome new if it happens, but it is still far higher than the 96 cents a litre we were paying at this time last year. And if the oil companies were still making a healthy profit at that price, imagine how much money they are raking in right now thanks to the oil speculators and our market-driven economy.

I know it runs counter to the trend right now with our Conservative majority in Canada and the rise of the Tea Party in the U.S., but gas prices is one area where we could use a little more government control. Our governments certainly have no qualms about taxing gasoline to death, so perhaps they should become a little more involved in stabilizing the price for consumers.

Why must hard-working Canadians be subject to the whims and fears of oil speculators who seize on every opportunity to take crude prices on a rollercoaster ride? Remember when gas prices shot up even before Hurricane Katrina battered the southern U.S.? Currently, the speculators are said to be concerned about the rising Mississippi River and pro-democratcy protests in the Middle East. Never mind that oil reserves are in good shape and production in the Middle East is ticking along quite nicely.

Of course, we should also mention that gas taxes are another big factor behind what we pay and one of the main reasons why our neighbours to the south pay far less than us right now. According the Star’s Olive, prices in America range from 89 cents a litre in Wyoming to $1.59 a litre in Hawaii. Of course, everything costs more if you live on an island and the majority of U.S. states are closer to the Wyoming price.

Another frustration for motorists here in Canada is the wide range of prices you can pay at the pumps. How is that I pay $1.40 a litre in a large urban centre like Toronto while drivers in Cobourg, Ontario pay 11 cents a litre less? Why are Winnipeg residents paying $1.23 while Vancouverites living in a port city pay $1.44? It just doesn’t make sense.

Gas prices need greater regulation in this country, not only because it will help average Canadians, but also because it will help our economy remain stable.

Gas pains will hit all of us this summer

Even if you drive very little or not at all, the rising cost of gas is bound to hit you this summer.

Just about everything we consume arrives in our home towns and cities with the help of fossil fuels, so unless you grow all your own food and buy nothing else, your wallet will be taking a beating shortly. This is bound to drive up inflation and seriously impact discretionary spending. And when our spending goes down, so too does the number of gainfully employed people.

The most aggravating part of the current record high price of gas here in Ontario is that it is entirely unwarranted, according to Dan McTeague, the former Liberal MP who runs the website

McTeague’s website notes that gas prices averaged about 96 cents a litre at this time last year. That’s a whopping difference of 43 cents a litre. That’s a bitter pill for average Canadians to swallow, never mind those who are already struggling to make ends meet.

McTeague blames the inflated price of gas on a lack of competition among the major refiners and increased market speculation. He notes that years ago Canada had many refineries and competition among them kept prices at reasonable levels. Today though he says there are only a few Canadian refineries left and very little competitive incentive among them.

Market speculators are the other part of this diabolical equation. Some experts predict the price of oil could be cut by 25% if the markets moved to curtail speculation just as has been done recently in some markets with silver speculation.

But what can we do as end users of the this polluting but necessary product? For one thing, we can all learn to use less of the stuff by combining errands and walking or cycling whenever possible. How many of us hop in the car to grab a few quick groceries when we could have easily used feet or pedal power?

Tailoring the way your drive can also save you some serious pain at the pumps. By coasting to stops and going easy on the gas and brakes you can reduce your gas consumption greatly. Idling is almost never necessary, and in fact, can be illegal in some municipalities like Toronto.

Keeping your car maintained and your tires properly inflated can also boost your mileage and your bottom line. Other gas saving tips include getting rid of unneeded weight in your vehicle. Mothers-in-laws don’t count, but if you have removable seats that are not in regular use then stow them in the garage.

Perhaps if we all manage to reduce the number of trips to the gas station, prices will once again return to reasonable levels. But even if they do, don’t return to your old wasteful ways. Let’s turn this outrage into a permanent effort to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Your wallet and the environment will thank you in the end.

Carblogger on CablePulse24 tonight at 8 p.m.

If you happen to read this in time and live in the right area, tune in to CablePulse24 tonight (Sunday, Oct. 19)  at 8 p.m. for my latest appearance on AutoShop.

The regular guest expert, Mohamed Bouchama of Car Help Canada, is away for a bit and I’ve been asked to return again. I’ve lost track, but I think this is the fifth or sixth time sitting in the guest chair. I’ll be joined tonight by Alan Gelman of Glennalan Motors in North York. He can handle the mechanical questions any viewers throw at him and together we’ll tackle any questions about new or used cars.

I always enjoy appearing on this show, not only for the chance to chat with and hopefully help viewers live, but also because my friend Hugh Burrill of Citytv is now the regular host. Hugh and now started at Citytv in Toronto around the same time as news writers many years ago. I moved on to produce shows like CityOnline and AutoShop, while he went on to become a sports reporter and anchor Hugh is a good guy all around and has a genuine interest in the automotive sector and he’s a huge fan of racing.

If you like what you hear or couldn’t get through on the phones, feel free to drop me a line at

In other news, I’m just about finished my article on hypermiling and using the Scangauge I purchased for that purpose. More on that still to come….

Installing a ScanGauge is a gas, gas, gas

My ScanGauge arrived today from Gifford Automotive in Ottawa (thanks Tom!) and the set up was really quite easy. If you didn’t read my last post, I’m preparing an article on “hypermiling” for MoneySense magazine.

In a nutshell, hypermiling is about modifying your driving habits to gain real fuel savings. The ScanGauge is a device that plugs into your vehicle’s nerve centre via the OBD2 port found under the dash on the driver’s side of most vehicles. Once hooked up, the gauge can monitor your fuel economy in real time and even calculate how much money your vehicle is burning as you drive.

Hypermilers love this little gadget, which is priced at $170 CDN, because it forces you to watch your money as it burns through the engine. There’s real motivation in seeing your actual fuel economy numbers and not the rosy Transport Canada or EPA numbers.

My plan is to use the ScanGauge to track my fuel economy is my fuel-thirsty Chevy Venture over a couple days of routine driving. After that, it’s off to the garage for an oil change into a synthetic blend, proper inflation of the tires and trying my hand at various hypermiling techniques to max out my fuel savings.

After just one day, I’m averaging about 12.4 litres/100 km, which is just a little heavier than the official fuel rating for my vehicle of 12.0 L/100 km. I’m doing my best to drive as if the ScanGauge isn’t telling how much fuel I’m wasting, but it’s hard not to notice those numbers climbing.

I’ll write more about my experiences and the features of the ScanGauge in my next post. Until then, happy motoring.

Can hypermiling really save on fuel costs?

In a couple days time I will be taking delivery of a Scangauge trip computer from a Canadian reseller of this U.S. device. My goal is to test the practice of hypermiling by tracking real-time fuel consumption in my 2004 Chevy Venture van. The results will be published in MoneySense magazine after a few thorough runs at normal driving and using various hypermiling tactics.

For anyone not familiar with hypermiling, it is a growing movement whereby drivers use a variety of tactics to reduce their fuel consumption. One U.S. resident claims to double his fuel economy by using such simple tricks as coasting, shutting off his engine at red lights and using his brakes as little as possible.

Some hypermiling tactics, however, can be dangerous and my article will also feature words of wisdom from safety experts and mechanics. But my hope is that I can find some middle ground where effective and safe use of hypermiling strategies will allow to boost fuel efficiency enough to blunt the pain at the pumps I’m currently experiencing.

If hypermiling can really deliver the gas savings it promises, then perhaps those of us who can’t spring for a new hybrid can still save money and feel better about our ecological footprint.

I’ll keep this blog updated as my experiment progresses. Stay tuned…



Are “certified” used cars worth the money?

Many people assume there is some tangible benefit to drinking certified organic coffee or talking with a certified financial planner, but can the same be said for buying a certified used car? Certainly, sales of Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) vehicles have been steadily rising in recent years, according to consumer researcher J.D. Power and Associates. But not all CPO programs are created equal and it takes more than a cursory tire kicking to discern the deals from the duds.

“With a certified used car you’re getting the manufacturer’s guarantee on the fitness of the vehicle, so you should be able to have greater peace of mind,” says Michael Turk, a lawyer and director for the Automobile Protection Association (APA). However, he notes that CPO programs can differ wildly in what they offer, with some providing lengthy extended warranties, while others promise little more than a thorough going-over. “You really have to do your homework,” says Turk. “If all you’re getting is a detailed inspection report, then why bother?”

Let’s take a look at exactly what’s being offered. Certified vehicles are backed by the original manufacturer and sold through its network of factory dealers. Typically, these are newer model, low-mileage cars that have passed through a rigourous inspection process. But each automaker has their own variation on the certified program, with the best ones offering additional guarantees, roadside assistance and other benefits normally associated only with new cars. But there is a premium to be paid for these perks and not everyone agrees the higher price is always justified.

“You should expect to spend at least $300-500 more for a certified used car, but the question is, is it worth it?” asks Phil Edmonston, author of the Lemon-Aid Used Car Guide. J.D. Power and Associates pegs the certified premium even higher at up to $1,600 over the price you would pay for the identical car at your neighbourhood, independent used car dealer.

What you get for that extra money depends largely on where you’re shopping. For instance, If you’re buying a certified pre-owned car from a Honda dealer, your used vehicle will come with an extension of the original powertrain warranty up to 6-years or 120,000 km, whichever comes first. In addition, you’ll have seven days or 1,000 km to exchange the vehicle for another one if it doesn’t live up to your expectations. And as a bonus, Honda dealers can also offer you financing rates as low as 0.9 per cent. A typical bank rate on good credit at an independent dealer is about 8 per cent. The APA’s Turk calls that a “huge advantage” for the majority of consumers who require financing over three to five years.

Toyota also offers a similar certified program, but some of the domestic automakers like Ford and Chrysler have watered down versions of the CPO system. Ford offers no extended warranty at all, but does give buyers a cooling off period with a money-back guarantee for the first 3-days or 500 km of ownership. Ford also throws in one year of free basic maintenance and roadside assistance. Chrysler, on the other hand, offers little more than a 3-day or 500 km exchange period.

Still, for consumers with a deep-rooted anxiety about buying used cars, the experts agree that the right certified vehicle can be a good choice. The key lies in doing your research and reading the fine print. With that in mind, here are the top five tips from Turk and Edmonston on how to find the best, certified pre-owned vehicle:

1/. Brand power: Many people prefer buying used cars over new because of the steep depreciation that goes along with that new car smell. But vehicles from Japanese automakers, like Honda and Toyota, tend to lose value at a more glacial pace, making them still quite pricey even after a year or two. However, domestic vehicles like Ford and General Motors products depreciate much faster and represent better used bargains.

2/. Second opinion: Although certified vehicles are subject to a detailed inspection, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also get a second opinion. A certified car is not the same as a new vehicle and that means brakes, tires and exhaust will all have some wear. An independent mechanic can take a look at these common maintenance items and make sure the dealer’s mechanic didn’t miss anything. Expect a labour charge of about $80-$100 for an independent inspection.

3/. Background check: While you’re getting your certified vehicle checked under the hood, it’s also a good idea to check out its life story. And because even dealers can get tricked, a vehicle history report from a web-based service like CarProof ( or CarFax ( is a great way to check for hidden accident claims, unpaid liens and odometer fraud. CarFax reports cost $25 for a single history or $30 for unlimited reports. CarProof charges $35 to $60 for each report, depending on the depth of information provideds.

4/. To the point: Most certified vehicles are put through a myriad of examinations during the certification process. Often, anywhere between 100 to 300 “points” must be checked off before they can join the elite ranks of used cars. Buyers should ask for the checklist and keep it on file so that if something does go wrong, they can check it against the initial inspection and see if it was something that was certified.

5/. Extended care: Peace of mind is paramount for many used car buyers and that’s why factory certified cars often come with extended warranty protection. But not all extended warranties are created equal, so buyers need to ask exactly what is covered and for how long. Some warranties are simply extensions of the original protection up to six years, while others start a new warranty period when you pick up the keys. And some manufacturers like Ford and Chrysler offer no extension beyond the remaining factory warranty. Also, make sure it’s the manufacturer and not a third-party company backing the warranty.

* First published in MoneySense magazine

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