The Ultimate Option

More and more consumers are singing the praises of subscription car services.

By Sarah Lee Marks

When my Uncle Sal returned from his annual six-month spring/summer break in Cape Cod, he called me with a five-word request: “I need a new car.” Having left his 2014 Subaru back in Massachusetts, he was anxious to pick up a new 2018-19 vehicle for his winter home in Las Vegas. We made a plan to test-drive some new luxury cars and SUV’s to see what struck his fancy. Our first stop was the local Cadillac dealership. As we pulled in to the lot, he asked, “What do you think of these subscription services?”

All right, Uncle Sal! Always surprising!

“How much do you know about these programs?” I asked.

“My friends are driving some sweet rides,” he shrugged. “They say they drop the car off at the dealer for all the services. The insurance and registration are covered in one payment. When they get ready to go back east, they turn it in, no penalty, and get something else in New York. Do they have that everywhere?”

“Every program is different and, between them, the variables can be quite confusing,” I said. “Let’s see what you like driving first.”

Vehicle subscription programs offer an annual contract for high-quality credit clients, starting at around $1,000.00 a month, depending on the model. Outside of major metropolitan areas, most of these plans are limited to luxury vehicles. At our first stop, we inquired about the Book by Cadillac plan, which was advertised as a “simpler, smarter way to drive.” Unfortunately, they were not accepting any new members at that time.

The car subscription model is trending, with as many variations as there are interstates. As Sal continued to test-drive cars at the Porsche, Jaguar, BMW and Mercedes dealerships, we found the amount of knowledge at the dealership level varied significantly. When pressed for particulars, all of the salespeople with whom we interacted suggested going online to their websites. It turns out that most of the manufacturer programs are designed to be handled online, over the phone and without competing with the franchised dealer’s base of business.

The sales manager at Volvo showed Sal their XC90 and S60, the only models currently offered under the Care by Volvo platform. “The entire deal is completed on the phone app,” our sales manager explained. “We meet the client, deliver the car, and hope they decide to buy or lease one after they try it.”

That sounded like a good fit. But Uncle Sal, who is not a technophile, wasn’t crazy about the phone app process, never mind the $1000-and-up monthly ticket.

“You do realize you could lease the same car for less money?” I offered.

“Yeah, but then it sits for months and I’m paying insurance and registration to not drive the car,” he said. “This way I get a new car whenever I want.”

“There are some other versions of the monthly subscription plan you might like better,” I pointed out. Indeed, individual dealership groups have now entered the subscription fray. It’s a way of retaining their customers, harvesting new clients and also turning used car inventory.

We added the local Ford dealership to our itinerary. Jeff, the customer concierge in charge of their subscription service, explained the Try & Buy program. My uncle immediately chafed at its phone app component, but changed his tune when he saw how easily he could order a car.

“You simply select the car you want from our available inventory, choose the number of miles you will drive, pick the number of months you will want it for, and hit submit,” he said. “Once the credit application and driving record are checked out, we bill you monthly. Furthermore, we deliver the car to you, pick it up when it needs service, or want to switch it out.”

“Hold up,” Sal said. “For $600.00 a month, all in, I drive a new 2019 Ford Edge?”

“Well sir,” Jeff replied, “It will have miles on it, and it may not be a 2019. But it won’t be older than a year or have more than 50,000 miles. That is our dealership policy. Every dealer can set their own standards.”

“What if I crash it?” Sal asked. (More likely totaled it, I thought…good question.)

The dealership has insurance, he answered, adding that it didn’t offer the program to people with bad driving records, poor credit or DUI’s. In addition, every family member who might drive the car has to supply a driver’s license and have their record checked.

“What about crashes where it’s not totaled or your client’s fault?” I jumped in. “Who gets sued for diminished value?”

“I believe we would go after the responsible party’s insurance, but I’ll have to check,” he replied.

“How many times can Sal switch cars on your plan?” I asked.

“Once in twelve months, on our one-year plan, which is less expensive than the six-month plan,” Jeff said. “But if you want to go month-to-month, the monthly fee is $100.00 more…but that gives you the maximum flexibility to try different models based on your needs. A four-wheel drive in winter, a truck for spring yardwork and a seven-passenger van for family vacations.”

The selection of makes and models in the Ford dealer’s subscription plan appealed to my uncle’s fondness for cars of all kinds, dating back to his high-school Dodge Duster. This is just a more exclusive form of car rental, I pointed out. There is a “plan for every seat,” as dealers like to say.

“I still don’t like the thing-y on my phone,” Sal complained over lunch. As a retired accountant, however, he was mostly focused on crunching the numbers and calculating the return on investment. “It’s the ‘time value’ of money I need to understand.”

That night, in preparation for round two of Car Search, I called my acquaintance, Janine, an early adopter of the subscription service model.

“I travel a lot,” she said, “so I need something to get around town when I’m home. I use Canvas.”

Canvas is a service built around used Fords. For $600 a month, Janine got 500 miles, insurance and registration on a 2018 Fusion, which had 20,000 miles when she started. Her only complaint was that Canvas did not have more makes and models from which to choose.

“I love the flexibility and it’s fun,” she said. “Everything is handled online, I don’t have to talk to anyone. They pick it up for service. I can add miles or extend my monthly plan from the phone app, anytime.”

Sal and I resumed our research on local subscription options the next day. He decided to rent until he got a firmer grasp of the possibilities. As we pulled into the Enterprise lot he said, “This Nissan Altima is costing me $600 for a month. My insurance covers me.”

“Well,” I said, “that gives you time to consider what car you really want. Then we can find a plan that lets you drive all the cars of your dreams…until there aren’t any left.”

“Now that sounds like a fun bucket list plan,” Sal smiled.


Sal did a little research on his own. He called his buddies in Miami, who use Revolve, a Florida-based company that does luxury subscriptions. Revolve specializes in Porsche, Maserati, Land Rover, Ferrari, Lamborghini and other exotics. They offer “all-inclusive” memberships starting at $1,000 a month. Unfortunately, their service was not available in Nevada or Massachusetts.

Editor’s Note: Sarah Lee Marks is a car concierge and automotive consumer advocate for all things car-related. Sarah lives in Henderson, Nevada with her husband, Norman. You can ask her car questions at her website:

Fully Loaded

Forget new car smell…new car safety features have become the industry’s most powerful selling tool.

by Sarah Lee Marks

As dinner-table proclamations go in our family, this was a huge one: “It’s time for a new car,” my 83-year-old mother said

“Why?” we all asked, in perfect unison.

“Your car has barely 21,000 miles, and it’s only four years old,” I pointed out.

“Six years old,” she corrected me, “and I want my last car to be fancy.”

I briefly considered demanding that she surrender her keys altogether…but then pictured my life as an official taxi driver. “Let me check my schedule for Tuesday,” I sighed.

I wanted some time to do my research before venturing onto a car lot. I started at the and websites for the latest recalls, updates, and consumer complaints. My next online stop was, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety website. The drop-down menu on the crash avoidance page allowed me to compare cars—by year, make and model—for safety features. Then off we went.

“I just want to be able to see over the steering wheel,” Mom informed me, as we pulled into our first dealership.

 “Agreed, but these new cars have some options that will accommodate your driving style,” I replied…and keep everyone else from getting hurt, I muttered to myself.

“Please show us your mid-size sedan with back-up camera,” I requested of Eddy, the salesman who greeted us at the door. Without asking our budget, credit score or what we might be trading, he led us to an electric blue four-door in the corner of the showroom, price tag fully loaded about $50,000. As Mom wedged herself into the driver’s seat, Eddy discreetly opened the door to a full 90- degree angle and raised the 8-way power driver seat. “This seat will tilt and support your lower back,” he informed her, adding that it had “a cushion extender for lower leg support on long drives.”

My shortlist of requirements included the aforementioned back-up camera—federally mandated in all new cars beginning 2018—as well as blind-spot alerts. However, it soon became evident that my request was a bit more complex. The nuances and names of the features on new cars are as diverse as the variety of makes and models. After a brief introduction to the car Mom had roosted in, Eddy led us to a car parked in a garage area off the showroom. “It is easier for me to demonstrate how well this car performs,” he said, as the garage door opened. “Let’s take a test drive.” 


Smooth move, Eddy. He took the wheel with Mom up front and me in the rear. As he reversed into a parking spot on the lot, he pointed to the 7” screen on the dash. “These green, yellow and red-colored lines move to help you align with the parking space markings.”

“I wouldn’t trust that,” Mom snapped. “You should still look over your shoulder and use your mirrors.”

 “This is an extra set of eyes,” Eddy responded, without missing a beat. Suddenly a beep sounded, getting louder and faster as he reversed toward the curb. “That’s the back-up camera working with the rear parking assist sensors.”

He touched the screen and the scene from the rear changed: “If you click on this square you get the 360- degree view, another angle shows below the bumper, which keeps your garage door from damaging it if you didn’t pull in far enough. This side shot will let you see someone approaching your car if you are parked in an isolated place.”

Eddy backed through the space, as if we were backing out of a spot. An SUV appeared on the dash screen several yards away. The beep started again. “Our car is going to stop rather abruptly in three, two, one,” he said, as it did. Not a jerking whiplash sensation, just a firm stop. “That is our Rear Cross-Traffic alert with emergency braking because you didn’t hit the brake.” 

“Wow, I didn’t see them,” Mom cooed.

She and Eddy swapped seats and the test drive continued. Soon, a different sound chirped. “That’s the Blind Spot Monitor,” Eddy said, pointing to the passenger side mirror. A tiny image of two cars was flashing as a car in the next lane came alongside us. “The car has sensors in the wheels, which detect a car coming into your blind spot.”

 “Can you turn off the noise, so it isn’t constantly beeping in heavy traffic?” I asked.

 “Our car allows the owner to set that choice of alert, but I don’t know about the competition,” he replied, and then directed Mom onto the freeway.

“I don’t like the big trucks and merging,” she protested.

 “You don’t have to be concerned anymore,” Eddy offered. “The Blind Spot warning will keep you safe when merging or changing lanes.”

 As she merged into traffic the car sounded off again.

“That is the Lane Departure alert telling you that you’ve changed lanes without using your directional,” he said. “Do you know how many people don’t use their signals when changing lanes?” 

“How does it know?” Mom asked.

“There is a camera facing outward from the front windshield,” Eddy explained, pointing behind the rearview mirror. “The camera reads the lane markings on the road as your travel. When your car edges over the line without using your signal, the car beeps and a picture of the car with a line on either side changes color from green to yellow. If you are about to cut someone off the color turns red and if you don’t correct yourself in seconds, the Lane Keeping Assistance pushes you back into your lane. Can you feel the steering wheel give a tug?”

 “Yes,” she replied, “and it feels like it is vibrating too.” 


“The car warns you when you are edging the lane, in case you are falling asleep or are distracted,” he said. “In our cars, it vibrates the seat cushion, pulsates the steering wheel, and will flash a signal on the dash. If you do not correct the car in three seconds, the Lane Keeping Assist kicks in for you. You can set the amount of time before it reacts. Not all brands give you all these safety features in one package like ours.”

 “Mom, I want to try the Automatic Emergency Braking if you’re okay with that?” I asked, smiling at Eddy. My mother and I switched seats.

“I’d like to show you how our Adaptive Cruise Control works before we head back,” Eddy offered. “With the adaptive cruise, you have to be going over 25 miles per hour to set the cruise control to the speed you want. Then you set the number of car lengths you want to maintain between you and the car in front of you. The set number of car lengths is also important when driving without cruise control—for the forward collision alert system and automatic braking.”

“Are you going let her demonstrate that too?” snickered Mom from the back seat.

“Remember the camera in front that reads the lanes?” Eddy said. “The car has a radar sensor mounted in the front grill facing forward. It is wired to the camera and car computer. When the sensor detects the car in front of you slowing down, the adaptive cruise slows the car by gently braking, to keep the number of car lengths consistent.” 

Sure enough, after I activated the cruise from the steering wheel at our travel speed, the car automatically slowed with the traffic, then picked up speed as the distance between cars widened—without my having to touch either the brake or accelerator.

“And if that car in front stops suddenly,” Eddy said, “this car will stop even if you don’t hit the brake.”

 “How?” Mom and I wondered aloud. 

“The camera and sensors detect the car in front slowing down or suddenly stopped,” he explained. “The warning sound beeps loudly while the word BRAKE flashes in yellow and then red. In other brands, you may only get the impending danger warning sound and display on the dash. They charge extra for automatic or crash-mitigation braking. We include it in our safety tech package.”

Eddy was homing in on the close.

“Oh, look it’s flashing,” Mom squealed as I watched traffic ahead start to back up. Before I could react, the car was stopped.

“Normally,” Eddy explained, “you get the warning first, have time to apply the brake yourself or steer away if it is safe and you are awake. But if you had an emergency medical condition and couldn’t slam the brake, the car would do it for you. Did you feel the seat belt tighten? Oh, and the brakes are readied to deploy, just in case, to protect you.”

“I’m exhausted already,” sighed Mom, “but that was very impressive.”

“Does this only work with the adaptive cruise control on?” I asked, calming myself with yoga breaths.

“As a matter of fact,” he smiled, “our car is one of a few that has this same technology for a speed of only 5 miles per hour. This is where Pedestrian Detection on our Automatic Emergency Braking really stands out.”

“Pedestrian what?” I asked. “Did you say the car detects jaywalkers with their faces in their phones?”

Eddy looked somewhat taken back by my comment, but in true professional fashion Eddy regrouped with a retort of his own, “and scooter-rockets too.”

I considered the errant toddler or loose animal darting across my path.

“Does this car give directions?” Mom inquired.

 It was a question I hadn’t thought to ask, given the navigation map splayed across the screen.

“As a matter of fact, that’s a great question,” Eddy smiled. “Our SOS-Concierge Response system will give you live turn-by-turn voice guidance to your desired destination, so you don’t have to type or voice-command if you don’t want to.”

“So, if I’m lost, they tell me where to go?” Mom continued. “My friend Sally has that, and it came in handy the other day.”

Before I could ask her for details, Eddy saw his opening and took it: “Mrs. B…if you were in an accident—not your fault, of course—but you couldn’t answer the 24/7 emergency operator, our trained operator would call 911 and dispatch a first responder.”

Eddy pointed to a red button on the rear-view mirror. “This blue one here is for the concierge service: directions, reservations, and mobile wi-fi hotspots. We use satellite technology to locate you, even in the desert.”

“Does this require an annual subscription?” I asked.

“It’s free as long as the car is under warranty.” Eddy smiled.

As we returned the car to the dealership, Mom gave Eddy a nod of approval. She looked at me and pointed towards the door. “Do you think you can get him down to $30,000.00 if we pay cash?” she whispered.

“A $20,000 discount is probably beyond my magic skills Mom,” I replied, “But let’s go home and talk about everything we saw today. Then we’ll decide what you really need.”

“Honey, this car’s got to get me to ninety-five,” she laughed, “I need everything.”

Crunch Time

I had no sooner delivered my mom and her new car home when I was the victim of unspeakable irony. Parked at a gas pump, wallet in hand, I noticed a minivan inching backward towards me.

“Stop! Stop! Stop!” I screamed, doing my worst imitation of a cheerleader.

Then Bang. 

The van crunched into the front of my car and stopped. A young woman’s face craned out the driver’s window of the offending vehicle.

“What were you doing?” I asked in my outside voice, pointing to our bumpers. “Didn’t you see me waving at you and screaming to stop? Your van has rear sensors and a back-up camera. How does this happen?”

“I was handing my daughter her drink,” she muttered, “This is my husband’s car, he must have the sensors turned off.”

“You were driving backwards, distracted?” I said in disbelief as she got out of the car to look at the damage.

“I’ll take care of the repairs,” she replied as she handed me her license and insurance.

“Great,” I said. “We’re both going to have bad CarFaxes now.”

“Huh?” she sniffed.

“When you have insurance fix your car from a crash, the repair shows up on CarFax as an accident,” I explained. “The bad CARFAX report lowers the resale value of your car. It’s called Diminished Value, and it requires a separate claim to your insurance, to recoup the loss in price at trade-in or sale time.” I took pictures of all her contact information, insurance and the scene where my car sat with a broad white stripe across the front.

“Oh, I’m really sorry,” she said, “I had a lot on my mind with school starting this week.”

“Well, consider this a teachable moment,” I sighed. At least I didn’t have to go shopping for a(nother) new car.

Editor’s Note: Sarah Lee Marks is a car concierge and automotive consumer advocate for all things car-related. Sarah lives in Henderson, Nevada with her husband, Norman. You can ask her car questions at her


Wheels of Fortune

New Jersey played a major role in the evolution of the car industry.

By Mark Stewart

Between 1900 and 1950, more than four dozen makes of automobiles were produced in New Jersey. During that time, the industry underwent enormous changes and car manufacturing in the Garden State changed with it. At the height of the automotive boom, car companies employed more than 15,000 people in the state. They assembled vehicles and made many of their components. Those vehicles literally went all over the world.

Depending on how you define “automobile,” the beginning of New Jersey’s history in car manufacturing could date all the way back to 1868. In that year, Oberlin Smith (right) of the Ferracute Machine Company in Bridgeton unveiled a steam-driven horseless carriage. More than 100 curious Bridgetonites gathered to watch Smith demonstrate his new machine. Unfortunately, the control lever came off in his hand and the vehicle careened all over Main Street, scattering the crowd. Smith built another horseless carriage six years later. This time it crashed into a pond.

The Garden State got back into the automotive race three decades later. Thomas Edison’s work in the area of power storage in the 1890s resulted in a car battery that could run a buggy 100 miles. Edison (above right, with Henry Ford) entered into negotiations with Studebaker to co-produce cars in 1902, but the deal fell through and the company began marketing gas-powered vehicles instead. Edison started his own company in Newark to make electric delivery wagons (aka trucks), but production was sporadic because it was reliant on the number of finished batteries that could be delivered from his West Orange lab, and that proved difficult to forecast. Edison sold the company in 1911 having turned out 1,750 vehicles.

Edison’s greatest contribution to automotive history may actually have been a conversation he had with a struggling young carmaker in Detroit. Recognizing the inherent limitations of battery-powered automobiles, Edison encouraged Henry Ford to keep working on his gas-powered, four-cylinder engine. Ford later recalled that, “No man up to that time had ever given me any encouragement.”

New Jersey’s dual status as a deep-water shipping port and the eastern terminus for the railroads made it a natural place for car manufacturing. Its lenient corporate tax structure in the early 1900s only added to its appeal. In the first decade of the 20th century, New Jersey saw a number of carmakers come and go, including Prescott Auto in Passaic, Walter Automobile in Trenton, Standard Motor in Bayonne, Vandewater & Co. in Elizabeth and Canda in Carteret. Motorcars were way out of reach of most Americans during this era, so these start-ups were fighting over shares in a very narrow market. A few carmakers did manage to survive by targeting the ultra high-end market: Mercer in Trenton, Crane in Bayonne and Simplex in New Brunswick. Mercers (named after their home, Mercer County) were on the road well into the 1920s, but all three companies eventually went under.

For a time, the high-end Duesenberg was built in a state-of-the-art facility in Elizabeth. The plant, which employed more than 1,000 workers, made the first car with a Chrysler nameplate and later produced Durants. Unfortunately the company was out of business by the end of the 1920s.

The ’20s did see a significant increase in car ownership among Americans. The economy was booming and efficiencies in production had lowered the pricing on many models, most famously Ford’s Model T. Model T’s were produced in great numbers in Ford’s two-story Kearny plant, which opened near the end of World War I and employed upwards of 8,000 workers. They churned out hundreds of cars daily. Kearny was strictly an assembly plant; nothing was “made” there. Components made elsewhere (mostly the Midwest) were shipped to New Jersey, where workers got them rolling off the line and onto trains and delivery barges. Automotive assembly, in fact, is where the Garden State ultimately made its greatest mark in the American car story.

The ubiquitous Model T was assembled in Kearny until the late-1920s, when the Model A (right) came online. Ford sold Kearny to Western Electric and opened a 35-acre plant in Edgewater (below), designed by Albert Kahn. It was famous as the first building in the U.S. to use structural “mushroom” columns. At its height, the 1,500-foot Edgewater assembly line could roll a finished Model A onto a transport barge at the end of the pier in 48 minutes, start to finish. In 1932, the Model B went into production, followed by the Ford Coupe in 1936, and the Deluxe Coupe Convertible and Ford Mercury in 1938. During World War II, the Edgewater plant was switched over to military production and contributed more than 100,000 Jeeps and light trucks to the war effort—many of which were delivered to the Soviet Army in 1943 and 1944.

During the 1940s and early 1950s, the Edgewater plant was the area’s largest employer, providing thousands of jobs. In 1955, the factory was sold and production moved north, to a plant in Mahwah. Mahwah operated until 1980 and was the largest auto plant in the country in the mid-1950s. At that time, Ford also had a plant in Metuchen, which made Lincoln and Mercury models. The plant later built some of the company’s most popular vehicles, including Mustangs and Rangers. The infamous Pinto was made in Metuchen, too.

General Motors, which incorporated in New Jersey in 1908, did not become a major player in the Garden State until the 1920s. The company owned a large tract of land in Bloomfield, which it used to stage overseas deliveries of its cars. However, GM did not build its first assembly plant in New Jersey until 1937, when it opened an enormous factory in Linden that produced Buicks, Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs. One year later, GM opened a plant in Ewing Township, just north of Trenton, which made parts for the Linden plant. Among New Jersey’s many “famous firsts” is the debut of an industrial robot in North America. That happened in 1961 at the GM plant in Ewing.

During World War II, the Ewing factory was switched over to the production of torpedo bombers. Linden, which was located next to a commercial airport, also contributed to the war effort, turning out fighter planes for the military, including the legendary Wildcat (left). Linden made cars until 2005, focusing on SUVs beginning in the 1990s.

Today, the automotive industry is alive and well in New Jersey, but cars are no longer made here. We are voracious consumers—a close second to California in terms of vehicles per capita. There are approximately four million cars registered in the state along with another two-and-a-half million other vehicles, mostly commercial. There are slightly more than seven million New Jersey residents of driving age, making our average a shade under one vehicle per driver.


Decades before the big auto plant opened in Elizabeth, the city laid claim to a couple of important developments in automotive technology. In 1889, J.F. and T.E. Connolly built a gas-powered engine to run streetcars. It didn’t occur to them to attach it to a buggy; six years later, the Duryea brothers of Springfield, MA made this leap and opened the first automobile company in America. Also in 1889, the Riker Electric Vehicle Company was founded in Elizabeth by Andrew Riker, who had been tinkering with electrically powered vehicles since 1884. Rikers won several important road and track races in the 1890s, before the company was sold in 1901.

To Waive or Not to Waive

If you’re renting a car…THAT is the question.

By Sarah Lee Marks

Renting a vehicle has never been quicker or easier. In many cases, everything can be done online or through an app, avoiding the line at the counter altogether. You’ve seen the commercial: No waiting…just pick the car you want and go. One aspect of the transaction, however, hasn’t changed. In fact, it may be even more complicated. It’s the dreaded Liability/Damage/Personal Injury Waiver—which no one wants to pay for or even think about…but some of us definitely should. 

The inclination for most is to decline this option. After all, between personal car insurance, credit card coverage and maybe even a homeowner’s umbrella policy, everything must be covered, right? Yes. Or no. Or maybe. In the end, it’s up to you to make that determination. And better to make it before something goes wrong than after.

Beth Hofgesang, an insurance agent with Arthur J. Gallagher in Whippany, suggests digging your auto policy out of whatever drawer or folder it’s in and reading it carefully before hitting the Decline button. Make sure you understand any exclusions as they relate to rental vehicles, as well as checking that your liability coverage actually extends to a rental. It’s time-consuming but well worth the effort. What if you just don’t feel like it?

“Then I usually recommend that my clients take the waivers and coverage offered by the car rental agency,” she says. “Their coverage includes loss of use, diminished value and allows you to walk in and get a replacement vehicle to continue your travel. Also, you avoid a claim against your own insurance, which will likely get you a premium hike over the next three-to-five years.”

If you do not own a car—or if your car is insured for less than the one you are renting—you should definitely take the rental car program, Hofgesang adds. “You can’t expect the insurance company covering your 1999 Jetta to pay a claim on your rented $150,000.00 Tesla.”

When you start reading the fine print on a waiver, you’ll likely notice that it is broken down into four types of coverage:

  1. Collision or Damage: The average cost for this coverage runs $10.00 a day for your rental vehicle. Your fault or not, paying for it at the counter keeps you off the hook for repairs. Agents often push you to buy this added coverage by explaining your Loss of Use exposure. Loss of Use is the daily rental fee the company isn’t getting while the car is in the body shop. Diminished Value should also be included in this coverage. Diminished Value is the reduction in vehicle value as a result of damage to the car while you were renting it. You may have this coverage on your car, but be aware that a claim to your insurance for a rental car crash affects your insurance premiums just the same. If you do not have Collision coverage on your personal car, consider purchasing a separate policy to cover your rental car.
  2. Liability Insurance Rental: agency liability coverage could cost as much as $18 a day for $1 million in coverage. If you have liability coverage on your own auto policy, skip this pitch.
  3. Personal Injury or Personal Medical Accident Insurance: For as little as $6 a day, you and your passengers’ medical bills from injuries resulting from a car crash are covered. Be aware that you may have personal health insurance or medical protection on your current auto policy. If so, ask the car company how much the top dollar value is on this policy and compare it to your own, before adding the cost to your rental bill.
  4. Stolen Property Coverage: Your homeowner’s policy covers items in your car, and by extension a rental car. Weigh the additional cost on your daily rental budget against the value of items that could go missing.

So what about credit card coverage? Yours may provide coverage for theft, collision, damage, tow and loss of use if you pay for the rental vehicle with your card. You may elect to take the rental company’s coverage if your trip extends beyond the coverage time limit of the card, or based on the type of car being rented. Check with your credit card supplier regarding limitations in the coverage before relying on the company to protect you. Ask if all drivers are covered, regardless of them being listed on the rental contract, or whether they are authorized users of the credit card. This is important information to know going into a rental if a spouse or relative or friend will also be driving and you’d like to avoid the “additional driver” fees. Rental car agencies want any driver using the vehicle to be listed on the agreement. If there is a crash with an unlisted driver, the damage waiver you purchase from the rental agency could be voided, leaving you with a fat bill or kicking it back to your own insurance.

What if you’re renting something other than a car for business or pleasure? This is a question few people ask. In most cases, moving trucks, trucks for hire from a place like Home Depot, and cars used for ridesharing or delivery services are not protected by the credit card company or your personal auto insurance policy. Also, coverage limitations are typical for exotic or luxury vehicles rented with your credit card, so know what they are.

If you’re that person who never rents a car, I’d like to congratulate you for getting this far in the story. And here’s your reward: If you are driving a loaner while your car is in the shop for repairs, you may be “renting“ without knowing it—at least from an insurance standpoint. You may be asked to sign a “borrowed car agreement” and the dealer will make a copy of your driver’s license and insurance card. Does that mean you are accepting the primary responsibility for insuring their vehicle in case of a collision, personal injury, loss of use and diminished value?

The answer is likely yes, unless you are specifically informed otherwise. Think about what might go wrong: Say they are tossing you the keys to a $30,000 loaner and you only have liability on your old car. You’ll be on the hook if there is a collision—even if it’s not your fault. Ask about the dealers’ policy before you sign anything. And if a crash isn’t your fault, be sure to collect all relevant information from the responsible party and obtain a copy of the police report. Failure to do so could land you with a huge repair bill and—even if your auto insurance covers the collision damage—you can expect a premium price hike after the claim. 

Renting Abroad

Leaving the country and thinking of renting? Start by applying for an international driver’s license well before your planned departure. Also, contact your insurance agent to determine what your existing policy covers. There are third-party carriers who can provide an international auto policy. These plans act as the primary insurer and are separate from your personal car policy.

Editor’s Note: Sarah Lee Marks is a car concierge and automotive consumer advocate for all things car-related. Sarah lives in Henderson, Nevada with her husband, Norman. You can ask her car questions at her website:



Driving Ambitions

New Jersey’s auto racing history is full of surprising twists and turns. Here are a dozen fun facts you need to know…

Courtesy of Martin Truex Jr.

Martin Truex Jr. (left), the 2017 NASCAR champion, grew up in South Jersey, where his father owned Sea Watch International, one of the country’s major seafood purveyors. Martin Sr. was called the “Clam King.”

Mark Donohue, winner of the 1972 Indianapolis 500, grew up in Summit and attended the Pingry School. He graduated from Brown University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

During the Great Depression, auto racing’s top builders, mechanics and drivers called “Gasoline Alley” in Paterson’s Fifth Ward home.

During the 1980s, the Meadowlands Sports Complex was home to the Meadowlands Grand Prix. It was held on a course laid out in the stadium parking lot and offered the second-highest purse in the sport, behind the Indy 500.

Indian Motorcycle

During the 1920s, New Jersey’s most famous racer was Orie Steele (left), who was nearly unbeatable in motorcycle Hillclimb events—a hugely popular spectator sport in the years between the two World Wars.

One of the country’s first auto racing tracks was a half-mile dirt oval at the Trenton Fairgrounds. It was enlarged, paved and renamed the Trenton Speedway in 1957, and was home to NASCAR’s Northern 300. Today it is the location of the Grounds for Sculpture.

In 1909, 22-year-old Alice Huyler Ramsey of Bergen County—accompanied by a 16-year-old friend and two older sisters-in-law—became the first woman to drive across the country. It took her 59 days.

Warner Bros.

The Ho-Ho-Kus Speedway (right) in Bergen County regularly drew crowds of 5,000 or more to its Saturday races in the 1920s and 30s. Director Howard Hawks filmed heart-pounding racing scenes there for the 1932 Jimmy Cagney film The Crowd Roars.

2012 NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown was born in Trenton and grew up in Chesterfield. He began racing dirt bikes on the family’s property at the age of 4.

Ray Evernham, the crew chief behind Jeff Gordon’s greatest successes, was born and raised in Monmouth County, where his father owned a service station. He began building and racing cars at the age of 14.

Tri-City Stadium, a midget car and motorcycle track, covered a mere fifth of a mile. Each time a rider completed a lap, he passed through slivers of Newark, Irvington and Union.

Raceway Park in Old Bridge, opened in 1965, became one of the nation’s top drag racing venues. In 2018, it ended its association with drag racing after more than a half-century, citing insurance and other costs.

Buying by the Letters

The word for car shoppers this fall is TECHNOLOGY. But it may not mean what you think.


By Sarah Lee Marks


In the brave new world of Internet shopping and home delivery, it has never been easier to purchase a car. Or trickier. Whether you are in the market for a new or pre-owned vehicle, doing your homework before hitting submit is critical—from finding the best deal to getting what you paid for, with no surprises in between. Here are some tips you’re unlikely to find elsewhere, in plain English, arranged to form a word with which we’re all familiar: TECHNOLOGY.


T is for Terminology • When choosing features, words matter. Understand the difference between an ALERT or WARNING feature—which indicates pending disaster—and the active KEEPING or ASSIST, which actually performs an action to avoid the wreck. For example, a LANE DEPARTURE alert warns you that your car’s tires are creeping over to the next lane. LANE KEEPING corrects this with a subtle nudge back into the lane. Keep your hands firmly on the wheel when testing this feature as drivers have complained the sensitivity in the steering wheel can “rip it out of your hands” if you aren’t paying attention.


E is for Emergency Braking • I think this is the best new feature available and here’s why: Sensors in the front grill monitor the traffic ahead to maintain a set distance between your car and the one in front of you. As traffic slows, if you don’t have your foot on the brake in two seconds or less, the vehicle will apply the brakes to slow or stop the car to avoid a front crash. The key to this feature is knowing which models have a feature that slows down the car and which one actually stops it. Neither feature works 100% on wet, leaf-covered or slushy roads, where skidding is only avoidable with defensive wheel maneuvering.


C is for Cash • Should you finance, lease or pay all cash for your next car? Cash is king everywhere but in a new car dealership. Did you know that dealers make a few extra bucks when you lease or finance a car? So if you’re buying new and expect a “cash discount,” fuhgeddaboudit.


H is for Help • Just because you are shopping online, it doesn’t mean you are alone. Honest, informative help is out there if you know where to look. Research web sites like and provide recall, star rankings and “crash avoidance comparison” tables by brand and model. Look for “make and model” forums online to learn what owners are saying about their car experience.,, and all offer car reviews with varying perspectives on the drive and functionality of new makes and models. This is a great place to find out if the model for 2020 is a complete redesign—and, if so, whether those amazing new features are adding a hefty price increase. Also, be aware that the pre-owned version of your dream car that is magically available with a killer discount could be a known lemon…or, on the other hand, a 2019 closeout with great rebates that may suit your needs perfectly. Speaking of rebates, watch out for “rebate stacking” on dealer websites. This tactic shows an artificially lower price by counting up rebates that you might not qualify to receive when you show up at the dealership. It’s a nasty trick to get you to the lot. Get a detailed price breakdown to be sure the incentives offered apply to you.


N–O means NO • The idea of buying a car completely online, in the middle of the night while dressed in your pajamas, may look fun and easy on TV, but be prepared to say No if something seems amiss. Check the dealership or sellers’ reviews on Google, Yelp and Reviews by previous customers can reveal chilling stories of dirty cars, missing maintenance or accessories upon arrival. A seven-day return policy is usually a return and replace option, not a 100% money-back guarantee. The online companies may offer little assistance or telephone support, and little to no instruction on how to use any of the features. Local dealers aren’t keen on offering free advice for a car you purchased online. So NO also means know who you are the six-year auto loan when searching for a lower payment. Leasing makes sense for those buyers with lease with a score in the 600s but the payment is unlikely to be as attractive as the one advertised on TV.


Inexpensive leases require a huge down payment, have very low mileage limitations and run longer than the typical 36-month term. Among the many advantages of a lease is the option to purchase your vehicle at the end of the contract; with a loan, the car is yours even if your transportation needs change. Also, car-leasing banks have figured out the sweet spot to make it easy for you to move from an old lease to a new one before the term is up. However, be alert for dealers who claim they can: 1)   “pull you out” of your lease with more than four months remaining, 2) lower your payment, and/or get you a newer, fancier ride. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


O is for OnStar • Concierge or SOS services are part of the Bluetooth integration between your cell phone and your new car. If your car has an emergency response system, sensors in the car will connect a satellite transmitter in your vehicle to an emergency operator. The operator will speak to you through the radio speakers to determine the seriousness of the situation. If you can’t speak, the operator will send Emergency responders to the coordinate location of your vehicle. You may also manually activate this process if you are in danger, lost or otherwise need assistance. These services are free during the warranty period of the car when purchased new. If you buy a used car, contact the brand to determine their SOS policy. Additional services you might want to explore include 1) a mobile hotspot, which enables you to utilize your computer while traveling, 2) concierge services, which make reservations at your favorite restaurant and

3) turn-by-turn navigation from a live person—all at a price, of course. Apple Car Play and Android Auto also offer integration for navigation and “SIRI/Hey Google” voice commands through the speaker system assuming you own a compatible phone. Test your phone sync before you buy.


G is for Gas • Don’t be timid about asking whether a car takes regular or premium gasoline. Over its life the difference in cost can add up. However, if you lean toward alternative fuels, be clear about what it is you are shopping for. A hybrid vehicle is gas-powered but uses an electric motor and lithium-ion battery to increase miles per gallon. In some cars, this process is assisted with regenerative braking. When you brake, the energy of the vehicle stopping sends additional energy back to the battery for use on demand. The Toyota Prius is the most well-known model on the road today using this type of hybrid system. The Chevrolet Volt, Audi eTron, Porsche Cayenne and Panamera are parallel hybrids. Parallel hybrids use electric power of various range before switching over to fuel. The combination system reduces “range anxiety”—the concern of running out of power far from a charging station.  The cost to your home electric bill is negligible. The Volt was discontinued in 2019, but if you find a deal on a new (or almost-new) one, don’t be afraid to buy it. Electric or EV models on the market include Tesla, Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf. They are 100% electric and differ in price largely based on range, which varies from 180 to 300-plus miles per charge. However, if the power goes out in your home, you are stalled until recharged. Tesla uses a unique charging coupler that requires an adapter when charging on non-Tesla charging stations. If you are in the market for an all-electric automobile, look into federal and state legislation involving tax credits and charges applied to EV owners. Not long ago EV purchasers enjoyed a huge tax credit—up to $7,500—but that has disappeared on most models. Many states are grappling with how to tax EV owners who enjoy the roads but pay no fuel tax to maintain them. Ask your accountant if there are any tax credits on the car you like, and monitor your legislature for activities which could cost you in the future.


Y means Why? • When you are test-driving, discussing prices or debating extended service contracts, the most important word you should use is Why? “Why do I need it? Will it keep me safer on the road? Will it save me on insurance costs?” If the answer makes sense to you, then act. If you don’t get a reasonable explanation, hit the brakes and do more research. 


Editor’s Note: Sarah Lee Marks is a car concierge and automotive consumer advocate for all things car-related. Sarah lives in Henderson, Nevada with her husband, Norman. You can ask her car questions at her website:


Decade Tech

“The world has changed over the last 10 years. Automotive technology has changed along with it.”

Jim Sawyer

How cool would it be to walk into a car dealership and see something truly revolutionary—an out-of-this-world technology so new that no one had even thought of it a year ago? Well, revolutions don’t happen overnight, at least not in the automotive industry. Improvements in in-car technology tend to be incremental. And thank goodness for that. We are consumers,  not crash-test dummies—we want all the kinks worked out of the new cars we buy before we drive them off the lot, and are willing to wait until they are more or less perfected.

Which is why great leaps forward are few and far between. However…if you take what I like to call the “Rip van Winkle” approach and assess improvements in performance, safety, and design in decade-long chunks, the last 10 years (2009 to 2019) have offered plenty to get excited about. Of course, being human, we now take most of them for granted, but they are well worth appreciating.

Just Around the Corner

Vehicle-to-vehicle networking.  Right now, if the car ahead of you senses an obstacle or impending accident, its sensors can give the driver an extra split-second to react. You, on the other hand—in the “third car”—are out of luck. The future of connectivity will give your car (and others in close proximity) the same warning at the same time.

“This is going to be a big deal,” predicts DCH Audi General Manager Al Kouri, adding that networking technology will also be a game-changer in the development of fully autonomous vehicles.

The fact is that 2009 was a big year for auto tech. Many of the now ”standard” features on 2019 vehicles were just finding their way into showrooms back then. Among the groundbreaking bells and whistles were rear-mounted radar that could detect oncoming traffic when a car shifted into reverse, as well as portable routers that turned vehicles into Wi-Fi hotspots. Live GPS vehicle tracking (for paranoid parents or vigilant business owners) also became widely available. And smaller, lighter turbocharged engines could be found in cars across the MSRP spectrum, boosting power and efficiency—a huge game-changer.

The 2010’s saw a number of other noteworthy changes and improvements, some of which are everywhere now, some which are not and, a few (like sophisticated back-up cameras) that became mandatory in all new cars. In 2010, for instance, Volvo introduced a crash- avoidance system that sensed pedestrians, cyclists and other urban hazards, which it dubbed City Safety. This technology, which has become more important in new cars as more and more people step off curbs while glued to their smartphones, will be a key part of making driverless cars a reality. An autonomous vehicle can do a lot of things, but can it ever replace a human driver who can read and react to what a cyclist or pedestrian or loose pet might do? We shall see.

“Pre-sensing technology has been the most significant improvement,” confirms Al Khouri, General Manager of DCH Millburn Audi in Maplewood. “Safety features used to be about protecting passengers in an accident. Vehicles now assist the driver in avoiding that accident. This has changed the conversations we have in the showroom. It used to be that people wanted to feel how a car drove and handled. Now they want to know all about safety technology. These questions were rarely asked a decade ago. Consumers have done their research and are well-informed.”

Given that car design and technology usually reflect trends in the wider world, it should come as no surprise that many of the game-changing technologies we’ve seen over the last decade are related to our love of electronics. Indeed, the headline news in the auto industry seemed to come from the Consumer Electronics Show every winter. Lasers, sensors, satellite receivers, display screens, sophisticated driver-assist functions, connectivity and more apps than can fit on a smartphone combined to enhance the in-car experience for drivers and passengers.

At the beginning of the decade, the automotive green revolution got important boosts from a couple of noteworthy cars: the Tesla Roadster and Ford Fusion Hybrid (pictured on the previous page). The Tesla was the first truly heart-pounding electric super-vehicle (in that it looked more like a sexy sports car than an appliance on wheels). The Fusion, which hit the road at about the same time, targeted a different segment of the market with the look of an everyday sedan but with the efficiency of a hybrid. Together, these two cars pushed other companies to up their games and convinced a lot of reluctant consumers to consider an environmentally friendlier option when it was time for their next new car.

Do they qualify as great leaps forward? That depends on your definition of great or, perhaps, your definition of leap. The term “Great Leap Forward” was famously adopted by the People’s  Republic of China in the late-1950s to describe an ambitious plan to move from an agrarian to an industrialized society. It turned out to be an economic demolition derby—it was an utter catastrophe. So how ironic that, when car industry experts look back at 2019 years from now, a legitimate great leap forward may have come from China’s neighbor, Taiwan. Last spring, engineering researchers at National Qinghua University announced that they had found a way to potentially double the efficiency of the alkaline fuel cells used to power electric vehicles while reducing manufacturing costs by as much as 90%.

That, my friends, would be a great leap forward!

Near Future

3-D Printed Cars. Not the whole car, of course,  just the parts that make people ooh and aah. Pick your engine and your options, and then go crazy designing the car of your dreams. The functional technology exists already, however, the cost is still prohibitive. But man, just think of the wild stuff we’ll be seeing on the road. The fringe benefit of this technology is that the same 3-D printers will also be able to create parts on demand, drastically reducing repair costs and doing the environment a solid.

Not So Distant Future

Fully autonomous driving should be a reality. Not only will all the kinks be worked out of the technology, but so will various legal issues and (hopefully) any unintended social or cultural consequences. What unintended consequences? Well, in a city like New York, where traffic is bad and parking hideously expensive, self-driving cars might potentially worsen congestion. Why park for $50 during a one-hour meeting or meal when you could “tell” your car to just circle the block? And if the city outlaws this practice, how do cops stop and ticket a driverless car? Interesting, right? Undoubtedly, technology will address this problem, but it won’t happen overnight, as we’ve been led to believe.

Not In Your Lifetime

Flying cars. Well, 1973 came and went, didn’t it? So here’s the deal: You might finally get that long-awaited personal jetpack, but automobiles will remain earthbound. Yes, it’s fun to imagine hovering over the potholes on Rte. 22 on your way to and from work, but no one wants to be in a Rte. 22 fender- bender “at altitude”—or, especially, be driving underneath one!