Hassle-Free Family Road Trips: 5 Must-Have Accessories

By Alex Perdikis

The best family road trips are fun and give you and your children a chance to create lasting memories. Road trips can also be stressful, particularly if you haven’t planned ahead.

Here are 5 great road trip accessories to take on your next family adventure. If you’re lucky, you won’t hear “Are we there yet?” Well, at least you won’t hear it as often.

1. Activity Cases

Activity cases are perfect for the younger set. Cases can be individually customized to hold each child’s interested, whether it’s puzzles, stickers or coloring. Use brightly colored carrying cases filled with coloring books, crayons or colored pencils, puzzle books and other age-appropriate items to customize your own cases. If creating your own activity box for your children is too time-consuming, ready-made activity cases are available for purchase.

An additional tip: Purchase new activity books and games exclusively for the family road trip. New goodies hold the children’s attention longer, which is a huge plus for you.

2. Travel Games

Remember the games you played in the car when you were a child? I Spy and License Plate games were big when you or your parents were young.

 

“You can find updated versions of many popular games from the “old” days that help keep the children busy and your stress level low.” — Alex Perdikis

 

Bingo, scavenger hunt and travel game packages are just a few of the options available.

3. Car Organizers

Organize your car and all the games, books, wipes, toys and other road trip essentials with pocket organizers that hang over the front seats. Organizers give your children easy access to their activity cases and ensure other essentials are within reach.

4. Install Seat Covers

Seat covers may sound like an odd road trip must-have but think about it. Your children are in the back seat with food, drinks and assorted other items. What could go wrong? A seat cover protects your seats from spills, crumbs and other messes, they’re washable, affordable, and many come with pockets for storage. After the trip, remove the seat covers for an easy clean up. You can put them back on for every day seat protection or save them for the next family trip.

5. Necessities

You don’t want to get on the road and suddenly realize you forgot the baby wipes. Make a list ahead of time of must-have necessities, so you don’t forget when it’s time to pack up the car.

Road trip necessities include:

  • Plastic bags for trash
  • Wet wipes for baby
  • Cleaning wipes for cleanup
  • Paper towels
  • Tissues
  • Toilet paper
  • Bottles of water
  • If you’re traveling with a baby, extra diapers, formula and other infant essentials
  • Medications
  • If you’re taking the family pet, remember food and bowls
  • Emergency contact list
  • Medical information, including current medications taken by each member of the family, allergies and emergency contact information
  • First-aid kit
  • Proof of car insurance and insurer contact information
  • Extra pillows and blankets
  • Towels
  • Sunscreen and bug spray
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Roadside car emergency kit
  • Spare set of car keys  

 

Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.

The Weird and Wacky Truth About Road Signs

By Alex Perdikis

If you think road signs are boring, take a step back and imagine driving your daily commute without them. That’s exactly what it was like when automobiles first came on the scene. Traffic wasn’t as heavy then, but cars shared the road with horse-drawn carriages, and often the result was less-than happy.

Road Signs Have an Ancient History

The first road signs didn’t come about, as you might suspect when motor cars hit the road. Long before that, the rulers in the ancient Roman Empire devised a system of signs to give travelers and traders information.

As the Roman Empire grew, it paved roads to facilitate trade. People walked or used animals and carts to move market products from one place to another. To give travelers who used some of the 62,000 miles of roads information about where they were and how far they had to go, Roman rulers devised a system of numbered milestones to help them on their way.

The milestones were an amazing construction made up of 4,400 pounds of stones. To this day, no one knows how these giant stone markers were delivered to locations along the roadside.

Early Road Signs in the U.S.

Accidents weren’t the only mishaps for early drivers. They also got lost. There were no mile markers or directional arrows to point them where they needed to go.

 

“The first road sign manufacturers were members of driving clubs. Club members volunteered their time and materials to make directional signs and place them in strategic areas along the road.” — Alex Perdikis

 

The first electric traffic signal appeared in Cleveland in 1914, one year before the first stop sign was erected in Detroit. Approximately five years later, the familiar 3-color traffic signal used today appeared.

The Shape’s the Thing

Road signs in the early 1920s were still confusing and difficult to read. Representatives from Minnesota, Indiana and Wisconsin got together to develop a uniform system of shapes that could easily be seen at night. They came up with the round means railroad crossing, octagon means stop and square means caution standardized set of shapes.

All signs were black and white at first. It wasn’t until 1954 that stops signs became the white-on-red octagon of modern times. Yellow for caution and orange for road work signs came later.

Time Marches On

From those humble beginnings came the road signs everyone uses now. Technological advances, such as electronic signs, smartphone alert systems and accessories for the disabled make roads safer for both drivers and pedestrians. Uniform signs, shapes, wording, colors and letters are required across the country to make it easier for drivers no matter where they are.

So, Road Signs of Today ARE Boring, Aren’t They?

All that uniformity doesn’t mean road signs these days are boring. In fact, there’s still some fun to be had on America’s roadways. The next time you hit the pavement, watch for one of these gems:

  • Suicidal Deer: Next 1 mile
  • Beware of Smartphone Zombies
  • Accidents Are Prohibited on this Road
  • Road Work: Next 8 Years
  • Sign Not in Use
  • $50 Fine for Failure to Read This Sign
  • Slow: This is NOT a %$&#@ Freeway
  • Absolutely Nothing: Next 22 Miles
  • Prison Area: Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers

 

Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.

Pickup Trucks and America: A Love Affair

By Alex Perdikis

Americans love their pickup trucks and have for over a century. Pickups symbolize hard working people who do it themselves, whether it’s on the job, the farm or DIY projects at home. Hauling supplies, tools and anything else that fits in the bed, the pickup is part of the country’s history. Here’s how it all began.

Adding a Cargo Box Wasn’t Enough

Henry Ford knew Americans needed a way to haul stuff around. In fact, creative owners modified their original Model Ts to add a cargo box. But, in 1917, Ford developed a Model TT with a chassis built to haul heavy loads.

The Model TT was manufactured with a sturdier frame to handle its one-ton rating. Still, if you wanted a bed on your Model TT, you had to build it yourself. That didn’t stop Americans, who by 1928, bought over 1.3 million of them.

Chevrolet Catches Up

Chevrolet’s first pickup arrived in 1918. Called the Model 490 because that’s how much money consumers needed to buy one, the Model 490 was a truck chassis. The earliest generation required the buyer to add a bed, cab and body. Chevrolet offered both half-ton and one-ton chassis options.

The Real Pickup Revolution Begins

The year was 1925. The pickup was Ford’s Model T Runabout. The Runabout was the first time Americans could buy a pickup built by the factory and ready to roll without modification.

 

“The Runabout was affordable at only $281, had heavy duty rear springs and a four-cylinder 40 horsepower engine.” — Alex Perdikis

 

Americans loved the Ford Model T Runabout with its pickup body to the tune of 33,800 pickups sold in its first year.

The Ford F-Series is Born

The  F-Series story began in 1948 when Ford introduced its brand-new line of pickups. The first in the series was designed to encompass both light- and heavy-duty needs to meet the requirements of everyone from farmers to construction companies. Early innovations included upgrades in the cab, rear window, hood, dashboard and fenders.

The F-Series is still going strong as Ford continues to introduce new features and upgrades each year.

Chevrolet Silverado Challenges the F-Series

Although Chevrolet had its share of pickup truck models over the years, it’s the Silverado that’s achieved legendary status. First released in 1999, the Silverado name originally described the trim work of its predecessor, the Chevrolet C/K pickup. The luxurious trim carried over into the new model and Silverado became its name.

Over the years, Chevrolet has introduced new features, and the latest generations of the Silverado have a fresh new look, and impressive luxury features you don’t think of when you hear the word “pickup.”

As American as a Pickup Truck

It could be the narrow roads and high fuel prices, but pickup trucks in Europe aren’t a common sight. In the U.S., pickup trucks are everywhere, representing hard-working people and a do-it-yourself attitude.

The pickup truck’s versatility makes it popular with everyone from workers on the site to suburban moms and dads. And with over 1 million sold the first half of this year alone, America’s love affair with the pickup hasn’t slowed down in the least.

Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.

Avoid the Nightmares: How to Find the Best Car Repair Shop

By Alex Perdikis

You’re driving along and all of a sudden you hear it — a clunking noise coming from under the hood. What was it? Maybe it was just a one-time thing. Nope. There it goes again. It isn’t stopping. It’s getting worse. Something’s wrong with your car. Visions of conman mechanics and seedy repair shops suddenly flash through your brain.

What can you do to avoid the nightmare and find a reputable mechanic in a sea of unknowns?  Follow these steps to find the right shop for the job.

Who Do You Know?

The old standby still serves — ask your family and friends for recommendations. Find out who they dealt with and ask about their experience.

Word-of-mouth can be a bit deceiving, however. Recommendations can help you narrow choices down, but it pays to do a bit more research. And there’s always the possibility that family and friends will have nothing but recommendations about who not to go to.

Move the Hunt Online

It’s so much easier to find reputable professionals now than it was in the days before internet searches and reviews. You have a host of resources available to you now.

With so many resources available, it’s hard to know where to start. Follow these steps to get a workable list of nearby repair shops to investigate:

  • Google first: Start with a general search that includes your town, county, region or ZIP code and the words “auto repair” or “car repair.” Now you have a list of possibilities within your area.
  • Read reviews: If Google reviews are available, you’ll see them right away. Read them. Don’t limit yourself to Google reviews, however. Yelp is considered the standard when it comes to reviews. Again, use specific regional search words to find reviews for repair shops closest to you.
  • Explore Angie’s List: This is another great resource for finding reputable repair shops. Angie’s List screens reviews to ensure authenticity, so you’re not likely to find fake reviews.
  • Google a different way: Enter the name of the shop you’re considering with the word “review” after it in Google and see what comes up. You’ll see additional reviews that aren’t on the main sites. It’s a good idea to check them out.
  • Get help from insurance company: If you’re looking for repair and body shops after an accident check with your insurance company. Insurers typically rely on an approved network of direct repair membership programs.

About Those Reviews…

Mistakes happen. Misunderstandings occur. Repair shops are run by people after all. In other words, expect to read a negative review or two. But don’t discount a shop because of one negative review.

What’s more important than a negative review is how the shop owner handled it. Did the owner respond and try to mitigate the problem? You can learn a lot, not by a mistake that was made, but by what the shop owner or manager did to try to fix things.

Check ‘Em Out

By this time, you should have a shortlist of car repair shops to consider. Before you go traipsing off to the nearest location, make sure it meets a couple of additional conditions.

Is the shop certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), the Automotive Service Association (ASA) and/or the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-Car)? It should have one or more industry certifications to be considered.

Also check the Better Business Bureau online listing. You can see what types of complaints were reported and if they’ve been resolved.

Testing, Testing

If you don’t have a major repair to worry about, take the time to give the shop a tryout with a minor repair or routine maintenance. You’ll get a feel for a shop’s efficiency, competency and customer service.

“Also take into account operating hours and location. If a shop is only open when you’re at work, even if it’s nearby, it may not work for you.” — Alex Perdikis

 

The “Before You Leave Your Car” Checklist

You think you’ve found the perfect shop. Use the following checklist before you leave your car for repairs:

  1. Warranty. What kind of guarantee does the shop offer on its work? How long does the warranty last? What is your recourse if something goes wrong? Get it in writing.
  2. Parts. Does the shop only use original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts or aftermarket parts? OEM parts are more expensive, but this should be your call. Expect to pay more if you require OEM replacement parts.
  3. Estimate. Get a detailed estimate before any work is done. Look the estimate over carefully and ask about anything that’s unclear. If the estimate itself or parts of it are not detailed enough for you, ask that any clarifications be done in writing.
  4. Extra Work. Don’t leave your car unless you have a written guarantee that you will be notified and must approve of additional work not on the estimate before the shop can continue.

Stay in contact with the shop during the repair phase. Treat staff with respect and remember, most shop owners and managers are looking to build an ongoing relationship with you and your car. If you’ve done your research and stay on top of it, you can find a shop you can use with confidence.

Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.

Save Money With These DIY Car Maintenance Tips

By Alex Perdikis

Let’s face it, cars aren’t cheap. They’re not cheap to buy, they’re not cheap to run and they’re not cheap to maintain. What if you could save money, though? You can save if you take care of routine maintenance yourself.

Follow these money-saving DIY car maintenance tips to keep your vehicle in top condition and more of that hard-earned money in your wallet.

A Little TLC, Please

Taking care of your car saves money, yes, but there are so many other benefits. Making sure your car is in top driving condition also improves safety, enhances performance and reliability, and keeps the air you breathe cleaner on top of saving you from costly repairs.

The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics estimates that the average annual cost to operate a vehicle after purchase is approximately $4,200. Failure to take care of routine maintenance can cost many thousands of dollars more and sometimes more than the car itself is worth.

Expensive repairs can often be avoided if you keep your car in top condition from the start.

Where’s The Owner’s Manual?

That’s right that little book you haven’t looked at since you bought your car is a treasure trove of maintenance information. You’ll find everything you need to know about your car’s needs, including the type of oil to use and when to change it, recommended tire pressure and the little things, such as which replacement signal and headlight bulbs to purchase.

If you bought a used vehicle and didn’t get a manual, search online for a downloadable version. If all else fails, contact the manufacturer and purchase a manual. Your car’s maintenance is too important to guess.

Now that you have the manufacturer’s recommendations, follow them.

“Automakers recommend timetables and specific products for a reason. Failure to follow those recommendations or skimping to get by often results in expensive consequences.” — Alex Perdikis

Get to Work

Some of what follows involves taking stock of your vehicle’s condition and some is more hands-on. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Inspect your car. Not only is a visual inspection great for discovering problems, but it also familiarizes you with the vehicle’s different parts and functions. If something looks different now than it did before, you’ll see it and address the issue, if necessary.
  2. Get to know your warning lights. Newer cars use a series of computerized warning and sensor systems to sound the alarm about problems. You need to learn what they mean. Again, your owner’s manual is a valuable resource, but here are some of the most common light indicators and what they mean:
  • Engine light: OK, you have a problem. But what is it? You’re not going to know unless you have a way to read the onboard diagnostic (OBD) codes. To do that, you’ll either need an OBD scanner tool or take it to a mechanic to read it for you. Scanner tools are affordable and if you really want to get into DIY maintenance, purchase one.
  • Service engine: Often this light signifies it’s time to change the oil or perform some other maintenance task. Check the manual for precise meaning.
  • Electrical fault: Oh-oh, something’s wrong here. If the light stays on, you could have an alternator issue or some other problem. See a mechanic.
  • ABS warning light: If this light comes on, do not mess around. Get to the repair shop. Finding and fixing an anti-lock brake system problem is not a job for amateurs. The safety of you and your family is at risk.
  • Oil warning: Stop the car as soon as it’s safe if this light comes on. Keep driving and you’re likely to do irreparable damage to your car’s motor. Again, this is a job for professionals.
  • Coolant warning: Your car is overheating. Pull over and open the hood. Don’t attempt to remove the radiator cap when the engine is still hot unless you want to end up in the hospital. Wait until the engine cools.
  1. It’s tire time. Tire pressure has an impact on the way your car drives and rides as well as its fuel efficiency. Check your owner’s manual for the proper tire pressure. Available for purchase tire pressure gadgets include those that simply check pressure or more expensive systems that monitor and send you a notification if one or more tires needs air. Check tire pressure weekly and maintain as required.

Check your treads. If you’ve purchased tires in recent years, you’ll most likely have integrated tread wear bars that indicate whether or not your treads are still deep enough for driving.

A quick and dirty way to check tread depth is the penny test. Stand Lincoln on his head within a groove. If you can see Lincoln’s head in its entirety, it’s time to buy new tires.

Also have your tires rotated and aligned professionally. Check your owner’s manual for how often you need to do this or, use the rule of thumb advice of every 5,000 miles.

  1. Check the fluids. Change the oil as recommended by the manufacturer. Check your coolant and brake fluid levels and replace as needed.
  2. Pay attention to your air filter. Yes, you should use your owner’s manual as a guide here, but when it comes to your car’s air filter, diligence is the better option. A clogged air filter substantially reduces gas mileage, reduces its power and, in the worst case, it causes engine misfires.

The way you drive and the roads you travel directly impact how much debris is caught in your air filter. If you drive dirt roads or in stop-and-go traffic every day, you’ll have to replace your air filter more often. Give yours a visual check and change it even if it’s not time according to the manual.

Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.

6 Tips for Starting Your Very Own Car Collection

By Alex Perdikis

If the sight of Jay Leno’s car collection makes you sigh and think, “What if?” then you probably think collecting cars is but a dream. But, you don’t need a ton of money to start collecting cars. Most people begin with one. And while a single car may not be a collection, two is.

Here’s the good news — you don’t have to be Jeno Leno or have his financial resources to start collecting cars yourself. You can do it on a limited budget if you follow these six tips to get started. Before you know it, you’ll proudly be able to say, “I am a car collector!”

  1. Answer This Question: Why?

Ask yourself why you want to collect cars. Is it simply because you love cars? Do you think of car collecting as an investment? Figure it out before you start buying.

  1. Narrow It Down

You can’t jump into collecting without narrowing down the choices. A lot of people already know where they want to start. They love muscle cars. Or, maybe it’s a brand they love, such as Chevy, Ford or Dodge. Maybe it’s a time period they’re interested in — cars from the 1960s or the 1930s perhaps.

If you know where to start, great. If not, narrow down your choices to one or two.

  1. What’s the Budget?

You can’t go into a hobby like car collecting without spending some money. Work the numbers and come up with a figure.

This is also the time to decide if you want to purchase an already restored car or a project. If you’re handy and want the experience of restoring the car yourself, you can certainly save money at the start. But, you’ll have to have the tools, the budget for parts and the workspace to restore your treasure.

Of course, restoring a car is a process. You won’t have to pay for all of the pieces you need upfront. That’s why a project car is the way most first-time collectors start.

Whatever you do, don’t borrow money to get started. Save and spend only when you have the cash in hand. Collecting cars is not worth the risk if you have to go into debt to do it.

  1. Where Ya Gonna Put It?

You need a place to put your car. Do you already have space? Will you also need a work area? Figure out the space you need and how to get it (if you don’t already have it).

  1. Research and Study

You know what you’re looking for and you have available space for your first purchase. Now it’s study time.

“Nothing prepares you better for that first purchase than knowing the market, particularly the market in your region.” — Alex Perdikis

One of the best ways to become familiar with the market is by joining local collector clubs.

A local collector club gives you access to knowledgeable people. They can help you learn about prices, where to get parts and with technical advice.

Look through want ads and the local shoppers to see what’s going on with the market. Attend estate and auctions. Talk with local collectors. Learn everything you can about what’s happening in the local car collecting marketplace.

  1. Ready to Buy? Look for Deals

Again, you’ll want to peruse want ads, attend auctions and estate sales, speak with other collectors and police auctions. But, you’ll want to think out of the box as well.

For example, writer Michael Mraz discovered a 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K in a South Central L.A. junkyard. The “Roadster Limousine” was a gift for European race car driver Rudi Caracciola and has resided in an unmarked salvage yard building for years. The car could be worth as much as $10 million if sold at auction.

And, that’s not all. The Mercedes-Benz 500K sits among other rare European car classics, such as an ISO Grifo Spyder, a Mercedes Gullwing and several Lamborghini Miuras. As of 2012, the massive vintage car collection still sits in a junkyard building.

Jay Leno advises collectors to be open to the “weird” stuff. He relates the story of how he received a letter from a woman in her 90s. She and her husband had married in a 1951 Hornet. It was the only car the couple ever owned.

After the woman’s husband died, the Hornet sat in the garage. Intrigued, Jay inspected the Hornet. He found the body in great shape, but the Hornet had 260,000 miles on it and was in poor shape mechanically. He bought it anyway because he loved the story behind it.  

Collectors have found hidden treasures in barns, fields and tucked away in garages. Keep your eyes, mind and options open for unexpected discoveries. You may not find the next multimillion dollar classic. But, if you find the collector car you love, it’s worth millions to you.

Don’t buy a car simply because it’s the right make and model. If the car is beyond restoring, don’t go for it no matter how tempting. Instead, talk to people and get the word out about what you’re looking for. Be patient and ready when the right car comes along.

Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.

Cars on Film: Legendary Superstars and Iconic Moments

By Alex Perdikis

America’s love affair with cars isn’t limited to road trips and car shows. It’s also part of its culture. Cars not only play pivotal roles in film and television, sometimes a car is the main character.

Here are some of the most famous cars on film, as well as a few scenes where automobiles played an essential role.

The Batmobile

The Batmobile first appeared in comic book form in 1939, but the 1960s TV series, “Batman” brought the futuristic ride into the homes of families everywhere. Adam West starred as Batman in the campy series which is fun to watch even now.

Adam West’s Batmobile was a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car. Models, feature and the overall look changed as high-budget Batman films became popular. In fact, in the “Dark Night” films, the vehicle is more of a cross between a tank and Lamborghini. Never called “Batmobile” in these later films, there’s no question that’s exactly what it is.

Don’t Ever Make a 1958 Plymouth Fury Mad!

If you are a film aficionado, you can’t help but feel a little bit of fear when you picture a blood red 1958 Plymouth Fury. It was the 1980s when the film “Christine,” based on a Stephen King novel was released.

Bullied teen Arnie finds a wrecked ’58 Fury, names it “Christine” and restores it to its former glory. Unbeknownst to Arnie, Christine has a mind of her own. And when Arnie seems to be falling for a classmate, Christine shows no mercy.

Will Ferrell, NASCAR & a 1969 Chevelle

“Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” stars Will Ferrell as No. 1 NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby. Of course, Ricky’s struggle to stay on top after a challenge from French Formula One driver Jean Girard is the comedic story here. But the ’69 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu steals the show.

Back to the Future and Back Again

Yes, Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are the human stars of the “Back to the Future” films. But, a DeLorean shares the limelight. The DeLorean DMC-12 boasted an automatic transmission, those cool wing doors and to top it off, it was also a time machine.

“The DeLorean was a hit in the film but not so much with the public. It’s motor didn’t fit the promise of the flashy exterior and it was more expensive than sports cars of the time.” — Alex Perdikis

Those challenges along with a sluggish economy spelled doom for the DeLorean as a car for the masses.

The DeLorean is making a modest comeback mostly due to a small but active cult following. A relatively new company, the DeLorean Motor Company specializes in repairs and restorations.

James Bond and Cool Rides

James Bond always has a cool ride, but two stand out from the rest. Sean Connery drove the 1964 Aston Martin DB5 in both “Goldfinger” and “Thunderball. To add to the Aston Martin’s already impressive features, the special effects team added machine guns, an injector seat, ram bumper, oil slick applicator and smoke screen.

Roger Moore’s ride in “The Spy Who Loved Me” was a ’76 Lotus Esprit Series I. What made this one a classic? It could be that moment when Moore’s Bond drives straight into the water and the car sprouts fins and props. After Bond arrives on the beach, the car turns back into, well, a car again.

Car Chases and Harrowing Moments on Film

Sometimes film magic isn’t just about a great looking car with bells and whistles you can only dream about, but how it impacts a scene. Remember these remarkable car chases and dramatic moments on film?

  • Steve McQueen’s “Bullitt” car chase is a classic that, even though it’s been surpassed several times over, deserves its place in history. It’s Mustang versus Charger on the streets of San Francisco.
  • Picture this  — Gene Hackman, an escaping hit man on an elevated train and a 1971 Pontiac LeMans. The chase scene in “The French Connection” is unforgettable.
  • The fast and furious Dodge Charger became an icon on the small screen in “The Dukes of Hazzard,” but it was “The Fast and Furious” film franchise that made the car legendary. The race at the end of the first film pitting the racing machine Charger and driver Vin Diesel against Paul Walker in a Supra is spectacular
  • Two women and a car drive into infamy. What starts out as a road trip for two best friends and a 1966 Ford Thunderbird turns into a tale of murder, a run from the law and self-discovery. The Thunderbird is almost as important as the two main characters and at the end of the film, shares its fate with them as well.
  • What could be more destructive than a Hummer on the streets of San Francisco? Sean Connery finds out in “The Rock,” co-starring Nicholas Cage. For what it’s worth, Cage driving a Ferrari wreaks nearly as much havoc as the Hummer.

There are also cars designed for the stars or stories they represent, such as the Monkeemobile, Munster Koach  and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. One thing’s sure: Cars have an important place in our culture and that won’t likely change.

Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.

Revealed: 4 True Untold Stories of Women and Cars

By Alex Perdikis

If you think about vehicle innovations and driving acumen, you probably picture a group of men. They may have gotten short shift, but women have also played a substantive role in designing, engineering and driving cars. Here are some of their stories.

Road Trip!

What does a wife do when she’s fed up with all the time her husband spends in the garage tinkering with his new invention? At a time when the only horseless carriages were experimental and driven in short spurts for testing, Bertha Benz decided she’d had enough with husband Karl and his vehicular experiment.

Bertha and her teenage sons stole into the garage, sneaked out with the Patent Motorwagen No. 3 and took the first recorded long-distance trip in a horseless carriage.

Bertha drove an astonishing 65 miles to Pforzheim, Germany, from Mannheim. The trip wasn’t without its annoyances. At one point the fuel line plugged. Resourceful Bertha used her hatpin to unclog the line. She also sacrificed a garter to insulate a wire. But, she and her boys made it.

The dawn-to-dusk trip made Bertha a legend. Her name now graces a roadway, the Bertha Benz Memorial Route, within the European Route of Industrial Heritage. A fitting tribute indeed.

Early Days Were Glory Days for Women

Georgine Clarsen’s book, “Eat My Dust,” published in 2008, covers much of the early history of women and their relationship with cars. According to Clarsen, women drove, owned auto-related businesses, such as taxi services and driving schools and trained as mechanics from the earliest days of the automobile. Even in those days of opportunity for women, however, there were challenges.

Clarsen’s book describes an incident where a pair of mechanically trained women in the 1920s decided to take a cross-country road trip.

“Vehicles were not known for reliability at the time and the Dodge roadster they drove was no exception. Unworried, the two were confident they could fix whatever went wrong.” — Alex Perdikis

Unfortunately, whenever the women had to make a necessary repair, they were overwhelmed with male “helpers” who took over. The women took to hiding off-road behind trees or whatever landscape they could find so they could work on the vehicle themselves. Apparently, even in the early days, women who knew their way around a car were considered rarities.  

On the Road With Alice Ramsey

In June 1909 Alice Ramsey and three cohorts embarked on a cross-country journey to prove they could do it. The Maxwell DA touring car they drove had two bench seats and removable roof. The dark green vehicle ran on four cylinders at 3-horsepower. But not many in the crowd were interested in the car as the group set off. It was Alice Ramsey the public came to see.

Alice was already an experienced driver and had made a name for herself in the driving world. Her husband bought her a car of her own years before after a frightening incident occurred one day when Alice was driving her horse and buggy. A “monster,” or car, came out of nowhere frightening the horse so badly it was a miracle no one was hurt.

Alice and driving seemed made for each other. She drove over 6,000 miles the first summer she owned a car. But it was Alice’s performance in a 200-mile endurance trip that commanded attention. A Maxwell-Briscoe Company representative was so impressed with her driving skills he came up with a plan.

It was genius, really: The company would pay for an all-expense paid cross-country trip with Alice at the wheel. Alice Ramsey would prove to the world that anyone, even a woman, could drive across the country.

Of course, the trip was not without its moments of drama. There were tire blowouts, damaged coils and at the radiator ran dry at least once. Not to worry, the resilient women used the tools on hand — small toothbrush and toiletry holders — to gather water from roadside ditches to fill the radiator. Determined women and sterling silver containers got the job done.

After traveling for 59 days and covering 3,800 miles, Alice Ramsey and her passengers made it across the transcontinental finish line and in to history.

These Inventors Weren’t Damsels in Distress

Women not only made history and spurred innovation by driving, they also made their mark with life-saving inventions and family-friendly designs.

Florence Lawrence was an actress and auto enthusiast. Florence was the first actor to be named publicly, this at a time when acting was considered a less than respectable career. She also invented the vehicle turn signal and brake light.

Here’s a bit of trivia to remember when you need it — Charlotte Bridgwood, who was the mother of Florence Lawrence, invented the windshield wiper. Unfortunately, neither woman pursued commercial production of their inventions.

Harley J. Earl, vice president of design at General Motors in the 1950s, realized something not a lot of other executives thought about. That something was the fact that the same women who joined the workforce during WWII had more confidence, buying power and training than women of previous generations.

Earl pulled together a team of women designers to design car interiors with an emphasis on comfort and appeal. But these women did so much more than choose fabrics and colors.

Dubbed “The Damsels of Design,” a title none of the women on the team liked, the team designed car interiors from the ground up doing exactly the same work as the male designers.

And they came up with safety features no one else had. The “Damsel” team came up with the first retractable seat belt. They developed the first glove compartments. They designed dashboard-controlled safety latches to protect children in the back seat.

These are just a few stories of inspiring women who invented, adventured and engineered their ways into automotive history.

Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.

How to Teach Your Teen to Drive Without Pulling Out All Your Hair

By Alex Perdikis

If the thought of teaching your teen to drive sends you into a tailspin, you’re not alone. Thousands of parents each year undergo the experience of supervising teen driving practice for the 40 hours or more of required by law. Few go into it without at least a slight shaking in their boots, though.

In the good old days, schools handled the teen “learning to drive” conundrum. But driver’s education fell by the wayside for most schools due to cost trimming and budget cuts. Times changed and now, as your teen’s parent, it’s up to you.

How can you prepare for the rough road ahead without losing your cool? Follow these practical tips.

You Can Do It But Should You?

Teens aged 16 to 19 commit the highest numbers of traffic violations of any age group. They’re also involved in the more wrecks than any other age group. That’s why most states require that teen drivers complete a state-approved driver’s education course. Check with your state for specific requirements and choose only an approved school.  

Driver’s education courses offer additional benefits as well.

“Many insurance companies offer a rate reduction for teens after they successfully complete an accredited course.” — Alex Perdikis

A driver’s ed course doesn’t involve risk to your own vehicle, is often a fast-track licensing path, and is a better overall educational experience than you alone can provide.

Driving course requirements aside, extra practice makes better drivers. That’s where you com in. You’re a good driver. You’ve been doing it for years. You know the laws. You’ve experienced the rough, tough and unexpected. You can do this! But, should you do it?

Great question. Everyone, including you, expects you to do it. But, did you know that may not be the best thing for you, your child and your relationship?

Here’s what you need to think about before you decide:

  • Your current relationship: Teens test boundaries. Teenagers rebel. Kids strain a parent’s patience. It’s their job at this age. Is sitting in a confined space while trying to go over the finer points of driving a good situation for either of you?
  • Your personalities: Are you a Type-A personality? Does your high-energy style mesh with your teen’s? Is your teen nervous? Does your child lack confidence? Honestly evaluate your differences and decide if you’re the best driving coach for your teen.
  • Your vehicle: Your car doesn’t have that brake on the passenger side. If your kid makes a mistake, your options to intervene are limited.

Take an objective look at yourself, your child and your circumstances. If you don’t feel comfortable sitting with your teen in practice sessions, don’t do it. Perhaps another experienced member of the family can step in.

Before You Go…

OK, you’ve thought and thought and think you can handle it. In fact, you’re looking forward to those precious bonding and teaching moments with your teen. Before you jump in that car, make sure you’re covered both legally and financially.

Check the laws in your state to see what your teen needs to do to practice driving legally. Each state is different. Look online for your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website and make sure your teen is legal before you both hop in the car for practice.

Check your insurance policy. Give your agent a call and make sure you’re covered. If you’re not, add coverage. Sure, it’s going to cost you, but if your practicing teen cause injuries or damages, you’re going to pay even more.

It’s time for a refresher course — not for your teen, but for you!  Laws change. Memories fail. Look at your state DMV website for information or visit your local office for a current Rules of the Road. How can you teach your child driving laws if you don’t know them yourself?

Be a great example. You should have been a great example all along. If your teen has seen you “almost” stop at a stop sign or observed you going over the speed limit, what do you think they’re going to do?

Buckle Up!

Your teen’s legal, covered and ready to go. Take a deep breath, get in the car and buckle up. Then do this:

  1. Sit and review: Go over how to use the dashboard features, seat adjusters, steering wheel and mirrors, headlights, wipers, lights, emergency brake, accelerator and brakes. Learn what the warning indicator lights mean. Make sure your teen knows where the car’s registration and insurance information is kept.
  2. Head to an empty parking lot:  After arrival, switch places. Give your teen time to adjust the seat and steering wheel and let them start the car. Let your teen practice accelerating, braking, driving straight and backing up. Add additional exercises, such as making turns and parking as your child gains mastery over each skill.
  3. Begin road driving in light-traffic areas: Practice staying in lanes, stopping at stop signs, anticipating cars exiting driveways and looking out for children and animals who might dash into the road.
  4. Up the ante as your child becomes skilled: To become a great driver, your teen needs to practice driving in all types of weather and road conditions. If possible, take practice drives in the rain, fog or snow; at night; and in heavy traffic.
  5. Advance to highway driving: Practice merging, passing, following at a safe distance, maintaining proper speed and behaving courteously.
  6. Practice, practice and practice: Practice in any and all conditions.

Before you know, your child is ready to take the test. And that’s when the real worries begin!

Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.

Yes, These Car Gadgets Really Do Exist

If the thought of adding a cool gadget to your car leaves you breathless, you’re not alone. Millions of vehicle gadgets and add-ons are sold in the U.S. every day. And look at the choices you have.

 

“You can find gadgets that make your car run better, make your commute easier and give your car a boost in the looks department.” — Alex Perdikis


And then there are gadgets that are just plain silly. Here are some of the car gadgets available in categories from the sublime to the “What were they thinking?”

Coffee, Please

OK, you’re running late. You forgot to set the coffee maker timer. No time to stop at the coffee shop. What can you do?

If you planned ahead, you have a coffee maker right in your car. Plug the unit into your cigarette lighter or 12-volt port and in no time you have that much needed caffeine boost. The more expensive brands let you use your own grounds. Most require their own branded coffee pods.

Eat, Drink, Spill

Accidents happen. People spend a lot of time in their cars. Eating and drinking lead to the inevitable spill from time-to-time. Add children to the equation and spills become even more common.

Sure, you can grab napkins, tissues or whatever else happens to be lying around. Or, you can use the handy-dandy instant cloth. The compact package is full of tiny tablets that, when splashed with a few drops of water, turn into a full-sized cleaning towel.

Pretty Me Up

It’s human nature to want to put your own stamp on your car. Maybe you have vanity plates. Of course, there are add-ons to purchase that make your car distinct and display your personality.

Many of these add-ons involve items designed to pretty a car up. Take for example the headlight eyelash add-on. With a little adhesive, your headlights can grow the longest set of eyelashes imaginable. You can also add crystal eyeliner for an added dash of flash.

Then there’s the Hello Kitty exhaust tailpipe. The faceless Hello Kitty shaped add-on has the icon’s famous bow and set of whiskers. No one would ever mistake who it is you love.

Boost Performance, Or Not

Many of the add-ons sold in the U.S. purport to boost a vehicle’s performance. Unfortunately, many do just the opposite. Others are simply useless.

Take the coffee can muffler. Many car enthusiasts love the sound of a high revving engine. It means power. But adding a coffee can muffler to a four-cylinder car is not only questionable but,  when narrow exhaust pipe meets a large diameter opening, it also saps performance.

And about those big wheels — the big wheel look appeals to some but the handling trade-offs are enormous. Larger wheels increase vehicle weight and have a negative effect on the way a car handles and rides. Parking becomes a test of wills. And hit a curb or pothole — it’s goodbye tire.

Smarter and Wiser

Up to now, you’re probably thinking most car gadgets and add-ons are either silly or, at the very least, unnecessary. But, there are some gadgets that are worth it.

Every car should have jumper cables in the trunk. But, jumper cables only work if another car is available to help. That’s where a self-powered jump starter comes in. If you frequently drive in secluded areas or want the added security of not having to rely on other vehicles for a jump, this is one gadget worth buying.

A  dashcam is another worthwhile gadget. On the lighter side, you can make panoramic videos of scenic drives you’ve taken. On the serious side, dashcam footage can capture events leading up to and during an accident.

Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.