Five driving tips from a former racecar driver- Sunday, March 31, 2013

As a former racecar driver turned writer for Yahoo! Autos, I’ve developed a deep knowledge base for driving fast. In fact, I started racing at just eight years old, making hustling a racecar feel more natural than buying a gallon of milk at Target. It’s also a lot more fun, too. You may think that driving in the Indianapolis 500 bears little relevance to cruising along highways, but the techniques used to drive a car at the limit on track apply to your everyday commute. It’s not about being faster; it’s about being safer.

Here are five tips I learned during my career as a racecar driver that will make you a better driver on the road:

• Look at least two seconds in front: In busy traffic, many drivers simply stare at the car immediately ahead of us; when their brake lights go on, we brake. You want to get into a habit of looking approximately two seconds in front of the leading car - or more. The vehicle you are trailing will be in your peripheral vision but your focus remains squarely on analyzing the road ahead, looking for any potential dangers that may occur. We do this in racing for the same reason, as well as to plan how best to attack the next set of bends. Like anything in life, the wise always plan ahead.

• Make your hands as smooth as silk: Many drivers on the road probably think they are smooth with the steering wheel; in most cases, that assessment would be wrong. Truly being smooth is something that must be practiced - especially when in an evasive maneuver. The smoother we are, the less we upset the car’s balance. Most vehicles’ suspension maintains a soft set up to absorb the bumps, but when it comes to aggressive cornering, excessive body roll can make you lose control. The trick to avoiding an accident is to have fast reactions, all the while ensuring your hand movements are smooth and precise. This prevents the car from bucking like a wild horse, increasing the odds of maintaining control. The same theory applies to racing, only for us, keeping the car’s platform stable allows for a better handling machine throughout the turn. Therefore we can drive faster.

• Brake with your left-foot: If you drive an automatic, and let's face it; most of us do, then you should practice braking with your left foot rather than your right. We do this in racing to minimize the amount of time spent transitioning from the gas pedal to the brake. By utilizing one foot on both pedals, the time saved can be close to half a second; that means we can brake later into a turn. How does this apply to the road? Well, instead of using the time gained to brake later, we can begin braking a half second earlier to avoid a potential incident. You want to hover your left foot over the pedal when traffic gets clustered - being careful not to touch the brake. That might not be particularly comfortable - with slight modifications you can make it work fine - but the benefits outweigh the negatives. When traffic dissipates, you can move your foot over to the dead pedal to relax. One thing to remember: take your time practicing before implementing this technique in heavy traffic. At first, it can feel difficult to modulate the brake pressure and the inexperienced driver may have a tendency to hit the gas instead of the brake. It will take time to break ingrained habits, but it's worth practicing. Left-foot braking is safer and more efficient once you get the hang of it.

• Learn to drive a stick: Why drive a stick when an automatic is far less complicated? Surely that’s more dangerous? Driving a stick is certainly more complicated, but that complication demands additional concentration. Simply put, you don’t have as much time for texting, tweeting, and putting on your lip-gloss (ladies, you know who you are). Driving a stick forces attentiveness, and that, of course, makes you a safer driver. Plus, and this is the best part, it makes the whole driving experience more engaging. Ask any enthusiast if they prefer an automatic or a stick. The verdict will be unanimous. Just don't try the left-foot braking technique when you have three pedals. After all, we only have two feet.

• Sit slightly closer to the wheel: If you ever watch on-board videos in NASCAR, you’ll notice the drivers sit exceptionally close to the steering wheel. This is not with an effort to impersonate their grandmother, rather it allows the ability to get “up on the wheel.” While NASCAR drivers take it to the extreme - I am only talking about an inch or two - having your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle enables you to catch a slide more easily. It ensures the muscles in your arms fire rapidly, providing reaction speeds akin to Puss-In-Boots. While you might think it looks cool to recline the seat back, put on some Dr. Dre and just chill, if the going gets hairy, you’ll be digging yourself out of the ditch. Being too close to the airbag is a valid safety concern (don't sit closer than 10.5 inches from the wheel) but being prepared as a driver may avoid the bag ever needing to be deployed.

As you can see, the techniques needed to drive a racecar at 230 mph apply to driving safer on the road. We use these techniques on track to allow for better control when our machine battles the edge of adhesion. No matter where you live, or where you drive, these tips are worth implementing in the name of safety. After all, only the most proficient drivers can truly master the road.

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Wet-weather driving tips- Sunday, March 31, 2013

Most people don’t particularly like driving in the rain and this can increase stress and anxiety. When it rains, we all need to take more care  to handle the bad road conditions.

An average of 24% of crashes happen in the rain, according to the RSA. Two types of drivers can cause these crashes – excessively timid drivers and reckless drivers.

To keep yourself, your passengers, and other road users safe when driving in wet weather, check out our Rainy Driving Tips below.

Rainy Driving Tips
Smart Motorist in the US advise that the most critical safety tip for  driving in wet weather is to make sure you can see and be seen, as in stormy conditions, it is more difficult to see other vehicles, road signs and the road itself. Here are some tips for staying safe:

  1. Slow down! – it takes longer to stop or adjust in wet weather.
  2. Maintain a safe distance from the car in front of you. This is normally three seconds behind, but in wet weather, you should increase this to a gap of 6 seconds between your car and the car in front of you (to calculate this, start counting when the car in front passes a certain landmark and keep counting until you pass that same landmark).
  3. Drive in the tracks of the car ahead of you but don’t follow too closely.
  4. Keep your distance behind large vehicles (e.g lorries or buses). The spray created by their large tires will reduce your vision. Take care when passing them as well; if you must pass, do so quickly and safely.
  5. Be more alert when driving in wet or slippery conditions. Avoid using your brakes; if possible, take your foot off the accelerator to slow down.
  6. Turn your headlights on, even in a light rain, Not only do they help you see the road, but they’ll help other drivers see you.
  7. Never drive beyond the limits of visibility. At night, rainy roads become especially treacherous. In rainy conditions pedestrians, livestock, and wildlife are extremely hard to spot and even harder to avoid.
  8. Never drive through moving water if you can’t see the ground through it.
  9. If possible, stay off the road during heavy rain.
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Small gas car beats hybrid on fuel, loan costs?- Sunday, March 31, 2013

It probably won’t come as a surprise that when gas prices go up, car buyers shift their purchases to more fuel-efficient cars. What might surprise you is that the cars they buy instead are smaller gasoline cars and not hybrid cars, according to a study from Experian Automotive released in February. That study found that for every $1 increase in gas prices, there is a 0.7 percent increase in small-car sales while sales of hybrids increase by just 0.2 percent.

It turns out consumers have the right idea. While buying a hybrid car will save more on gas, buying a smaller gasoline car will save more because those cars are less expensive. Bankrate ran the numbers and found that buying a gasoline-powered small car can save more than twice as much as buying a hybrid car.

For our calculations, we looked at the midsize Honda Accord sedan, one of the top-selling cars, and compared it to the Toyota Prius, the top-selling hybrid, and the Ford Focus, one of the hottest-selling small cars. For the purposes of our comparison, we chose the most fuel-efficient versions of each model with automatic transmissions and used the fuel-economy data from the Environmental Protection Agency and its calculator, using the data for the average American driver with the average gas prices at press time.

It was no surprise that the Honda Accord, the four-cylinder model with automatic transmission, cost the most in fuel at $1,850 average annually. The Ford Focus, the four-cylinder model with the special fuel-efficient package and automatic transmission, followed closely at $1,600 average annually. The Toyota Prius, which only comes with one powertrain and transmission, was a distant third, costing just $1,050 in gas on average annually.

Where things really get interesting is when you factor in the costs of the cars. For our calculations, we chose a five-year, new-car loan at 4.11 percent, the current national average at press time, according to Bankrate’s Interest Rate Roundup for auto loans for March 8 . Because the Prius costs $1,700 more than the Accord, much of the gas savings are eaten up by the additional cost in principal and interest on the car loan. On the other hand, the Ford Focus costs $3,295 less than the Accord, so a car buyer will save in principal and interest on the car loan, and in gas costs.

As a result, when you factor in the car costs, choosing a more fuel-efficient, gasoline-powered small car is a wiser financial choice over choosing a more fuel-efficient hybrid, even one that is priced very reasonably. Over five years, the Ford Focus will cost $4,900.77 less than the Honda Accord, while the Toyota Prius represents a $2,094.29 price difference — much smaller though still significant.

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If you have a car question, email it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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