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.

Little-Known Car Facts That Will Leave You Shaking Your Head

The world of cars is full of surprising twists and facts. But there are some little-known car facts you’ll have trouble believing. In fact, many of them prove the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction. Here are some of the strangest in the chronicles of vehicle history.

The Parrot in Paradise

New Zealand is the home of a magnificent alpine parrot call the kea. The 19-inch long olive-green bird with brilliantly colored orange underwings is the only alpine parrot in the world. People come from all over the globe to catch a glimpse of the unusual creature.


“Not satisfied with its highly unique status, the kea has at least one other claim to fame. It likes to eat cars.” — Alex Perdikis

Well, maybe not entire cars, but it’s infamous for landing on vehicles and pulling off antennas or anything else it can get its beak around and devouring the apparently tasty morsel.

A Gamers’ Delight

Anyone who plays video games knows the term “Easter egg.” An Easter egg in a game refers to hidden surprises that pop out if you happen to steer, click or otherwise act in a specific manner. Easter eggs have no purpose in a game other than to amuse the gamer. They’re fun to find but have no impact on the game whatsoever.

But, did you know that the Vauxhall/Opel has some Easter egg fun as well? For years the auto manufacturer has hidden small shark depictions in its models in various locations. A car might have as many as three sharks hidden within all waiting to be found.

Whatever Happened To…

The way people listen to music has changed radically. Music play went from LPs to 8-tracks to cassettes and on to CDs and MP3s. Who knows what the future holds? And, of course, music systems in new cars had to keep up.

Tape decks in cars were slow to retire. In fact the Ford Crown Vic still had an optional cassette tape player in 2011. And the Lexus SC430 included a tape deck as standard in 2010. Both models were designed with older drivers in mind who probably had huge collections of mixed tapes. Sadly for them, cassette players are no longer available as an option in any vehicle.

Welcome to the Table

Leave it to Honda to come up with ways to combine fun and economy. Honda’s compact SUV, the CRV, is a case in point. The first generation model not only included a picnic table that folded up neatly in the rear, but offered a shower kit option as well. Second generation models ditched the shower but kept the picnic table.

Porsche or Studebaker?

Silly question or what? Who would’ve guessed that Porsche and Studebaker had a clandestine meeting in the past? Porsche’s first sedan wasn’t the Panamera or its 1990s four-door sedan prototype. It was a Studebaker. Called Type 542, the 1952 design never went into production. No surprise there.

What’s That Smell?

The idea of using horse-drawn carriages seems like a charming bit of nostalgia now. But think about it. Horses leave a mess behind. And when the only way to get around has four-legs, eats and does what all living creatures do, you can imagine how smelly and dirty the roads were.

Early 20th-century car manufacturers had their work cut out for them if they wanted people to stop using horses to get around and buy cars instead. So they came up with a great selling point. They began advertising cars as a “green” alternative to horses. And, the rest is history.

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

Shop Smart: Tips for Buying Your First Car

If you’re getting ready to buy your first car, you’re probably feeling a lot of emotions. It’s an exciting time in your life but is also fraught with uncertainty. You’ve never done this before! What do you do? What do you need? How can you make sure you’ll find the best car for your budget?

Even if it’s not your first car, you may feel some of the same trepidation if it’s been a while. Either way, follow these tips for buying the best car for you and your budget.

1. Your Money — How Much Do You Have?

In a dream world, you find a fantastic car, plunk down the cash and drive into the sunset. Unfortunately, for most, it’s just not possible. Most people have to finance their car purchases and make monthly payments. Before you look at anything, figure out how much you have and how much you can afford to spend.

If you’ve done your homework up to now, you’ve managed to save money for a down payment and maintained a good credit rating. The larger your down payment, the lower your monthly payments will be. And, the better your credit rating, the lower your loan interest charge will be. Both save tremendous amounts of money in the long run.

Figure out how much you can spend on monthly payments. Typically, the highest amount you can spend on a car payment each month is 20 percent of your take-home pay. If you have other loans, a large mortgage payment or other monthly expenses, you’ll want to pay far less than 20 percent of your pay. Run the numbers. Once you have an amount, stick with it.

Check with your credit union or bank about finance options available as well. Many financial institutions offer car loan preapproval and, in most cases, interest rates will be better or at least comparable with those offered at the dealer.

2. But I’ve Always Wanted a Sports Car…

Now that your money situation is clear, determine what type of vehicle you need to get where you have to go. Will the car be your transportation on a long daily commute? Will you drive to school every day? Do your pets travel with you? Are you starting a family?

Sure, you’ve always wanted a sports car. Or maybe a pickup truck. But if your dream car doesn’t fit your current lifestyle save it for later.

3. Research and Compare

Car buying research has gotten much easier. Kelly Blue Book is now online where you can compare brands, models, reviews and prices. Price comparison tools give you an idea of how much a particular model should cost.

“Research the safety ratings and recall information for models you’re interested in as well. You’ll also want to research fuel efficiency.” — Alex Perdikis

Some cars cost more to maintain than others. Use one of the many online search and compare sites to compare specific models and get a clear picture.

Narrow your acceptable list down to three or four models.

4. Go Local

It’s your first car and with that comes a little hand-holding from the dealer. Local dealers who’ve been in business for a while stake their reputations on happy customers. Buying from a local dealer also makes it easier to deal with problems if they occur. Visit several dealerships if possible.

5. Don’t Forget to Drive

All the research in the world won’t help give you one thing you need to know before buying and that’s how a car drives. How does the car steer? Is it comfortable? Can you adjust it to fit your body size? Take a test drive and try out all the features. A car may look good on paper but if it doesn’t feel good when you’re in it, it’s not the car for you.

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

Alex Perdikis Asks: Is a Green Car in Your Future?

By Alex Perdikis

You’ve heard a lot about electric and hybrid vehicles, but though you like the idea of driving an environmentally friendly car, you haven’t take the plunge. You’re not alone. Green car sales in the U.S. fell off last year. But hybrid sales picked up by the end of the year and 2017 is poised to continue the upward trend. Could a green car be in your future?

Hybrids and Plug-Ins – A Not So New Idea

Believe it or not, the first gas/electric hybrid was produced in 1899. Ferdinand Porsche designed and produced the Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid from 1900-1905. The horseless carriage was a convertible and available in a 2-seat or 4-seat model. The motor had two motors fueled by an electric battery as well as gas. Obviously, the idea of a hybrid vehicle has been around for some time.

Electric cars have a long history as well. In fact, electric cars, the Jeantaud Duc and La Jamais Contente, held the land speed record until 1902 when steam vehicle Gardner-Serpollet took the prize. Electric cars fell out of favor with the driving public due to lack of speed, short battery range and competition from the much faster internal combustible engine. However, electric powered trains and other vehicles are still in use.

Modern Day Green Car Development

The motive behind developing hybrid and electric cars is different now than it was for those early developers. Ferdinand Porsche, and other inventors like him, were busy developing ways to push the public forward, away from horses and into a world of motorized vehicle travel.

“Now, concern for the environment and federal mandates geared toward fuel efficiency and cleaner consumption are the driving factors.” – Alex Perdikis

Reducing greenhouse gasses, less dependency on fossil fuels and reducing reliance on foreign fuel suppliers all drive the market and challenge manufacturers to create more fuel-efficient and cleaner options. Those early pioneers laid the groundwork for today’s green cars.

Honda introduced the Insight, the first hybrid available in the U.S., in 1999. It had a limited distribution. The big splash came in 2000 when Toyota unveiled its Prius gas/electric hybrid. Other major manufacturers, including Ford and Chevrolet, quickly followed suit. Now green car buyers have a host of options to choose from.

The innovations keep on coming. Automakers are experimenting with technologies and innovative ideas that may or may not reach production stage, some of which are highly entertaining. For example, Mercedes is working on an electric concept that, in addition to the usual fuel-efficient options, has what the company calls “multi-voltaic” paint. According to company officials, the paint doubles as a solar and wind power source to gather electricity.

Another clever idea developers are working on is changing the structure of the battery. Batteries can be cumbersome, are often heavy and worst of all, have a low-energy density. How can innovators turn the battery problem around? How about turning the entire car body into a super capacitor?

Developers are working on car panels that are not only attractive, but carbon capacitors as well. The polymer carbon fiber blend charges and stores more energy quicker than conventional batteries. When hood, roof and trunk panels were replaced with carbon capacitor panels, one experimental model dropped 15 percent of battery weight and extended its range 80 miles. These and other exciting possibilities are the future. But, what if you’re ready to buy now?

How to Buy Green

Do you know the difference between a conventional hybrid and a plug-in hybrid? If you’re ready to buy now or in the near future, there are a few things you need to know. Here are some tips and points to think about:

  • Conventional versus plug-in: The conventional hybrid uses electricity as a supplemental energy source. Electricity is not meant to power the car alone except for short distances. The plug-in uses a rechargeable electronic battery pack. Plug-ins can run solely on electricity until the battery runs out of electricity. Distance varies from model to model. Current distances range from 25 to 50 miles per charged battery. After the battery runs down, the gasoline engine automatically takes over.
  • You’ll pay a higher price:  At least for the time being, expect to pay a higher price than you would for a non-hybrid. You might be eligible for a government subsidy when you purchase a green car, however. Check with your dealer.
  • Look at used hybrids: You might be able to find a used hybrid that’s more affordable. Most manufacturers warranty components for a long time. If the used hybrid you’re looking at is still under warranty and the warranty transfers, you could save thousands.
  • Test drive a lot of different models: Hybrids are not only manufactured differently, they drive differently. The driving experience varies. Test drive as many different models as you can before you buy.

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