Archive | March 2014

Insurance & Taxes with Nannies & Caregivers

nanniesWith more and more families every year having both parents work full time, there has been an increasing need for help around the house with childcare and chores like cleaning, laundry and running errands. If you’re hiring household help it’s important to understand how having domestic workers (including nannies, housekeepers, caretakers, etc.) around your home can impact not only your insurance coverage- both your auto and your homeowners- but also how it could have tax implications for you. If you don’t understand these issues, the result could be something quite atrocious.

Who’s The Boss?

No, not Tony, not Angela and not even Mona. You are the boss. Yes, that’s right- though you may not immediately think of it in those terms, if you hire a full time nanny or house keeper they will most likely be considered your employee. The IRS has criteria to help you determine who is and isn’t an employee, which can be found on their website. If your housekeeper or nanny is your employee, you are responsible for verifying their employment eligibility and paying employment taxes (notably, failure to do this has prematurely ended the careers of several politicians in the past few years). It’s important that when hiring help around the house that you determine these things up front so that you can comply with the law and avoid having to pay penalties or fines down the road. Just like you have an Insurance Agent to help you with your insurance, you should contact a tax professional with questions on the tax implications of hiring household help.

Do I need to provide my household employee with Worker’s Compensation Coverage?

It really depends on what state you live in, but most states exempt household employees from the worker’s compensation laws. However, you may have more peace of mind if you choose to provide this type of coverage voluntarily. In most cases, your homeowner’s insurance policy would provide household employees with some medical payments if they were injured during the course of their work, but it may not be adequate depending on the injury. Unless prohibited by your states worker’s compensation laws, you can voluntarily purchase a worker’s compensation policy to cover your household employees, which could provide you with some immunity from having your employee take action against you under most states worker’s compensation laws. Some states though will not allow you to enter the worker’s compensation system while at the same time exempting you from the worker’s compensation laws, in which case there is additional coverage you can add to your homeowner’s policy. This additional coverage is called the “Voluntary Compensation and Employers Liability Coverage for Resident Employees Endorsement.” Because these scenarios will vary from state to state, it’s best that you review your situation with your Trusted Choice agent, who can help you decide the best way to provide coverage for your household employees.

Are household employees covered by my auto insurance?

Whether it’s a housekeeper running to the store for more cleaning supplies or a nanny picking your kids up from school, chances are that at some point a household employee will use a car that you own. The good news is that coverage follows the vehicle, and so your auto policy would provide coverage if your employee was found liable for an accident in your vehicle. There would also be coverage if your employee was injured- unless you have worker’s compensation for them, in which case that would be the policy that would provide them with coverage.

If your household employee is driving their own vehicle they would have coverage under their own auto policy, but more importantly, so would you if they were found liable for negligent actions in the course of driving their own car while performing employment related duties. With the potential that you might be held liable for the actions of your employee, it’s critical that you know what kind of insurance coverage they have. If your employee is providing child care, you also want to make sure that their auto policy has appropriate amounts of coverage for your children in the event they are injured in an accident while in the nanny’s car. If they’ll be driving their own car, strongly consider requiring that as a condition of their employment that they have enough coverage that you feel comfortable with. An insurance agent can help obtain coverage that works for both you and your employee.

Are household employees covered by my homeowners insurance?

Some of that depends on whether the employee lives with you in your home. If you furnish a nanny or housekeeper with living quarters, contents that you own and provide to them to use, such as furniture, would be covered. As long as they’re staying in your home as part of their employment (and don’t have a separate rental agreement with you) your policy would also provide some coverage for any personal items that they bring with them, but the policy will only provide coverage up to a certain amount, so for valuable items, such as jewelry or electronics, you want to make sure any live-in employees also carry their own insurance for their possessions.

If your household employee does not live with you, there are still other parts of your homeowner’s policy that could be impacted by their status as your employee. In several lawsuits across the country household employees have sued their employers for invasion of privacy for the use of so-called “nanny cams,” which are hidden cameras in the house to record the employee’s behavior. Many homeowner/employers see the use of these cameras as a way to monitor potential abuse of trust on the part of an employee. Because a standard homeowner’s policy only provides liability coverage for property damage and bodily injury, you should make sure that you ask your Trusted Choice agent about adding a “Personal Injury Endorsement” to your homeowner’s policy to give you additional protection from this type of action.

A standard homeowner’s policy may not provide coverage to your household employee though if they were sued while working for you except in very limited circumstances. Therefore it’s important that both you and your employee understand that they may want to have their own liability insurance – either a commercial liability policy or business owners policy. Their own personal homeowners or renters insurance wouldn’t apply since they preclude business activities.

The Magic of an Umbrella

Finally, having what’s known as a personal umbrella policy can help sooth some of the anxiety of household employees. Like the name implies, umbrella policies offer additional coverage above what is typically in a homeowner’s or auto policy. While personal umbrella policies are not uniform from one insurance company to another, they’re worth looking into for the additional coverage for you and your employees.

Families that hire household help should be aware of the implications of having someone working for them in their home. Having an Insurance Agent to help you understand these issues could be just the spoonful of sugar you need to help the medicine go down.


Is It Better to Buy or Lease a Car?

Leasing a new car or truck is an attractive option for many motorists. About 20 percent of all drivers lease their vehicles. When it comes to luxury cars, more than half of their drivers choose to lease. However, leasing isn’t right for everyone or every car. The vast majority of consumers still choose to buy their car. Which option is right for you? Here’s a list of pros and cons for leasing and buying a car that can help you decide what to do.

Pros of Leasing a Car

One of the biggest “pros” about leasing a car is that it is always under warranty, and you save on big mechanics’ bills because newer vehicles break down less often than older ones.

The other principle benefit that lessees enjoy is being able to drive a nicer vehicle than they otherwise would be able to afford had they purchased the car. A monthly payment on a lease agreement is often much lower than a monthly auto loan payment. People who lease their car or truck also do not have to pay those high interest rates and avoid absorbing the depreciation of the value of the car.

If you are a self-employed person or a business owner, you may be able to use the lease as a tax deduction. This is an attractive feature for the businessperson on the go.

Terry Berg, a veteran sales representative for an independent dealer that offers Ford, Dodge, Chrysler, Kia and Jeep models, said leasing has never been better.

“The manufacturers are putting big incentives on leasing right now,” Berg said. “By far, the biggest advantage is you’re able to drive a brand new car, but with payments as if it were a used vehicle.”

Just the other day, Berg leased a $46,000 vehicle to a customer who put $3,000 down; his payments are $314 a month.

“There really isn’t a down side to leasing right now,” Berg said.

Leasing isn’t always the best option, however.

Cons of Leasing a Car

It’s important to consider the possible downsides of leasing. Dealerships limit the number of miles you can drive your leased vehicle. They usually restrict your travel to between 9,000 and 15,000 miles each year. If your travels exceed these limits, you will pay a costly fee – generally around 25 cents per extra mile, which can add up quickly.

Leasing a car is just like renting it. It is much like renting an apartment: You aren’t able to benefit from the improvements you make, and when your lease is up, you do not keep any of the equity you put into the vehicle.

If you are hard on vehicles, leasing may be a risky option. When you return the car or truck to the dealership at the end of the lease, they inspect it carefully for any wear and tear and charge you accordingly. They also charge you if you altered the vehicle in any significant way.

Pros of Buying a Car

When you buy your car with financing or cash, you do not have any mileage restrictions and you can make any alterations you wish to the vehicle. One benefit that sets buying apart from leasing is that, once the vehicle is paid, you no longer have those monthly payments. Lessees pay every month for the term of the lease and then must decide whether to opt for another lease or to purchase their next vehicle, which will require future monthly payments as well. If you plan to drive your car until the wheels fall off, buying is probably the better choice for you.

Cons of Buying a Car

When you purchase a new car, you take the depreciation hit. Car enthusiasts, like diesel mechanic Nathaniel Benoit, joke about the “$5,000 drive out of the dealership parking lot,” which describes how quickly a new car loses value. “If you’re going to buy, buy used,” Benoit advises.

Most dealers require 10 to 20 percent down when you buy a new car or truck. On a $30,000 car, that’s $3,000 to $6,000 up front. If you don’t have that kind of cash to put down, leasing may be a better option if you still want that nice, new vehicle.

Also, the monthly auto loan payments of consumers who buy their car are often much higher than a lease payment.

So You’ve Decided the Pros Outweigh the Cons – How to Lease a Car

If you have read the pros and cons to leasing and buying and have decided that leasing is the better option, there are several things you should know about the process.

Your monthly lease payment is determined by the difference between the vehicle’s transaction price (its “capitalized cost”) and what it’s estimated to be worth at the end of the lease term (the “residual value”). You then finance this difference at a particular rate of interest, usually termed a “lease rate.”

The biggest factor that influences your lease payment is your credit. Television commercials featuring attractive lease rates and low down payments target those with pristine credit scores – a fraction of the population. Most people will have to put more money down and pay higher monthly payments than those mentioned in the ads. Lessors will most likely deny the option to lease to those with a poor or insufficient credit history.

Many lease agreements will give you the option to buy the car once the lease is up. You may really like the car, but you will end up paying far more through this process than if you had bought it initially. You can always find the same make, model and year for purchase should you fall in love with a particular vehicle.

Berg said it’s important to find out what car you’d like to lease, but don’t be afraid to ask the dealer for help.

“Some cars lease better than others,” Berg said. “Independent dealers work with multiple manufacturers and can find you which cars or trucks have the best leasing options.”

Choose Your Lease Agreement Carefully

It’s just as important to compare prices and options for a lease agreement as it is to shop around for the best price to buy a new car. One dealer may require a large down payment while the dealer down the street will wave this cost in order to secure your business.

The final price of a lease agreement is just as flexible as the selling price a dealer may ask for a particular vehicle. Don’t be afraid to negotiate the final cost and options on your lease.

Once again, ask yourself, “Should I buy or lease a car.” If you still answered “lease,” then proceed carefully. Be sure to read your lease agreement thoroughly before you sign it. Find out what the early termination fee would be should you choose to end your lease before the determined date. This fee could be substantial. Also, take note of any additional charges spelled out in the agreement, including any excess mileage fees; wear and tear charges; and whether the dealer offers gap insurance to cover you in the event someone steals or vandalizes your leased vehicle. When it comes to the insurance coverage you need, it’s strongly recommended that you get advice from a professional agent. Independent agents can give you unbiased information that can help you save and keep you safe no matter what challenges you face as the lessor.

Loss Assessments: Home or Condo

If you live in a home in a developed area or subdivision, there’s a reasonable chance that you are a member of a homeowner’s association. The same is true if your pad is a condominium.

Association membership has its benefits. In return, members of the association are sometimes asked to contribute funds to help maintain the integrity/value of the common elements. Those common elements—a garage or clubhouse, for example—are those items of property commonly owned by all members. “Asked” may be too soft a word—such contributions usually are collected through mandatory assessments.

What are some things for which you as an association member can receive an assessment? Good question. The answer is typically found in association bylaws. In some states, laws will have something to say about the extent an assessment can be charged and for what it can be charged. However, such statutes do not exist everywhere.

Here’s another question: If you receive an assessment from your home or condo association, will your home or condo insurance policy help you pay for it?

The answer, well, depends.

Most home and condo insurance policies have very similar language in how they address coverage for loss assessment. There are a few things you will need to know before coverage can be determined.

What Caused the Assessment?

The home or condo policy only will kick in to pay an assessment that is charged to you for a reason that would be covered by your insurance. For example, if the assessment were charged to help cover the cost of damage to the clubhouse caused by a fire, your policy would pay due to the fact that fire is a covered loss under your policy. However, if earth movement damaged the same building, your policy would not pay if earth movement is not a covered loss under your policy.

If an assessment is charged to cover the cost of painting the exterior of the clubhouse simply because the association decided it was time to paint, your coverage would not kick in due to the fact that there has been no covered loss.

Assessments are not only charged to cover claims of damage to common elements. Members also may be assessed for claims of bodily injury or property damage against the association’s master policy. For example:

A guest suffers a permanent head injury after slipping on a damaged walkway. The bodily injury claim against the association is $1.5 million. The association’s policy will cover the injury up to its policy limit of $1 million. The association assesses its members to cover the remaining $500,000.

In this example, your insurance policy would kick in to help pay the assessment. Why? Bodily injury is covered by your policy.

Which Policy Covers the Assessment?

Your home/condo policy says that it will only pay the cost of assessments that are charged during the policy period. This is important to note because it’s possible that the actual assessment may not be charged until months after the loss causing the damage occurred. For example, say the hurricane happens in August, when Company X insures you. In September, you switch your coverage to Company Y. The assessment for the portion of the hurricane damage that isn’t covered by the association’s master policy arrives in October. Company Y’s policy would kick in as it was in effect when the assessment was charged.

How Much Will My Home or Condo Policy Pay?

Most policies are issued with a limit of $1,000 to cover loss assessments. This limit is the most your policy will pay for a single loss, regardless of how many assessments are charged for it. For example, if the clubhouse is damaged by a hurricane, it’s possible that members may be assessed first to cover the cost of the association master policy’s deductible—and again to cover the cost of the repair that exceeds that policy’s limit of insurance. Since both assessments are charged due to the same hurricane, the total paid by your insurance would not exceed $1,000.

That $1,000 Seems Too Low. Can I Increase My Assessment Coverage?

Yes. Most home and condo insurance companies offer you the opportunity to add more coverage for loss assessments. It’s important to know that while the dollar amount may be increased, the terms of the policy still apply (i.e. you will still need the assessment to be charged due to a covered loss).

If you choose to purchase additional assessment coverage, proceed with caution. Most loss assessment endorsements will still only allow you a maximum limit of $1,000 if the purpose of the assessment is to cover the master policy’s deductible.

Final Note

Loss assessments can be expensive. Having the right home or condo insurance policy to help cover some of the cost could save you big bucks. For more information, call us today.

What You Need to Know About Shady Contractors

shady contractorAh, springtime, and the living is easy. Perfect for sitting in the shade out back with a cold drink. You may even decide this is the perfect time to finally add that deck, enlarge the patio for cookouts, or put in that new landscaping with a couple of strategically placed trees perfect for a comfortable hammock.

But then the nightmare stories of friends and neighbors intrude. Those landscaping contractors who proved trees weren’t the only things shady. The day laborer whose total disregard for the safety of himself or others became a liability nightmare. And the friend who forever replaced Tim of “Home Improvement” as the perfect reason not to become a “do-it-yourself” by rolling that rented backhoe over on himself.

Let’s assume neither a lack of time nor expertise has you bypassing the do-it-yourself option for using a contractor. You could wade into that home improvement project only to find work left undone, safety precautions nonexistent, and an “insured and bonded” contractor actually means he’s a part-time notary with a car insurance policy. Thus, here are a few risk management tips courtesy of the Better Business Bureau and Tower Insurance Agencies:

  • Estimates, estimates, estimates. Consider at least three contractors and get estimates in writing. Be certain all estimates clearly comply with job specifications, quality of materials, labor and time needed for project completion. Be clear on pricing and never assume the lowest estimate is necessarily the best.
  • References, references, references. Ask for them, call them, go by and see the work.
  • Research, research, research. Check with the Better Business Bureau for business and complaint history, contractor licensing offices to verify licensing and permits, and their insurance agency to verify coverage.
  • Contract, contract, contract. Never work purely with oral agreements. A contract will establish firm requirements for a proper job, completion benchmarks, lien filings and/or release, payment schedules (never pay full price in advance) and what constitutes proper completion of work (inspections and a local building ordinance compliance visit).
  • Certificates, certificates, certificates. Always obtain a current certificate of insurance for the contractor verifying the existence of the coverages required by the work (such as general liability, workers compensation and auto insurance).

Talk with your agent about how your current homeowners insurance will respond for damage to your property, injury to the contractor or worker, or liability to others such as neighborhood children who see a construction site as the coolest playground ever.

What is Umbrella Insurance?

Umbrella Insurance Policies Provide Extra Protection

March is National Umbrella Month. A rain umbrella protects you from getting wet, but doesn’t stop the raindrops from falling. Umbrella liability insurance is similar in that it cannot prevent accidents or mishaps, but can make those things less devastating financially.

Your primary insurance coverage, like your homeowners and auto policies, includes liability coverage up to a certain limit. Liability is your legal responsibility to pay for damage to a person or to a person’s property. An umbrella policy increases your liability coverage substantially—more types of claims are covered and at a higher limit.

Who Can Benefit from Umbrella Insurance?

  • Anyone with assets to protect
  • Everyone who drives a vehicle, including a car, motorcycle, boat or ATV
  • Everyone who owns or rents a home

In our litigious society, we must protect our assets from lawsuits. The primary reason for carrying umbrella insurance is that you never know what you may be responsible for. Accidents happen, and when they do, you may be held legally responsible for resulting bodily injury and property damage as well as legal fees, all of which can quickly escalate to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If you cause an accident, the legal system makes a judgment that, between you and the injured person, you should be the one to shoulder the financial repercussions. The person who suffered damage is then entitled to collect what is owed by claiming insurance proceeds. If the money provided by the insurance company is inadequate, a claim may be made on your income, assets and savings.

Adequate liability insurance protects you from these financial consequences. Pain and suffering, lost wages, medical bills and property damage are some of the items you may be sued for that are covered by umbrella liability insurance.

What Does Umbrella Insurance Cover?

A personal umbrella insurance policy provides additional protection by increasing coverage for liability in two ways:

  • Increases the dollar limit of liability coverage for primary policies
    Example: Assume the coverage limit on the liability portion of your auto insurance totals $300,000. If you purchase an umbrella policy of $1 million, and you cause an accident that exceeds your the $300,000 limit on your auto policy, your umbrella insurance can cover the remainder, up to $1 million dollars (a total of $1.3 million total liability coverage, in this case)
  • Covers claims excluded by primary policies
    Example: Typical liability policies may not cover damage claims resulting from false arrest, libel, slander, or defamation of character. If you are held liable for damages caused by these types of claims, the umbrella policy can help you cover costs.

The $300,000 liability limit in the prior examples may seem like a lot of coverage in the abstract, but can easily be exceeded in serious accidents.

How Much Umbrella Insurance Do You Need?

The right amount of liability insurance for any individual, family or business depends upon a number of factors. These include the risks you face and the assets you want to protect. For example, if you have a passion for speed boating, you have an increased risk over someone who only takes a dinghy out on the occasional fishing excursion. And if you have a high income, you are more likely to be sued in the event that you are at fault for injury to others.

Some professionals recommend that you add up all of your assets and then double that figure to determine the amount of liability coverage needed. Others look to the costs of medical payments and legal fees, which can vary considerably by region.

To figure out the right amount of liability insurance for you, talk to a knowledgeable agent. We will discuss what kind and amount of liability coverage you should purchase. We work with multiple insurance companies and they advocate for you, the consumer, not any one company. We can compare rates and options on your behalf.

Umbrella Liability Claim Examples:

  • Accident: Despite your careful driving and best intentions, you cause a serious accident. Your umbrella policy kicks in when the property damage exceeds the $300,000 liability coverage limit on your auto policy.
  • Dog Bites: Your dog escapes the yard and attacks a neighbor, resulting in extensive medical costs. The umbrella policy covers the excess costs of hospitalization, care and rehabilitation after your homeowners liability coverage is used up.
  • Trampoline: Your son’s school buddies are playing on the trampoline in your yard and one of the boys flies off, suffering a spinal cord injury. Your umbrella liability manages the excess costs after you you exceed the limits on your homeowners or renters liability policy.

You hope these situations never occur, but statistically they sometimes do. You can limit the consequences with an umbrella insurance policy.

Do You Need More Liability Coverage?

You may want to give special consideration to an investment in umbrella insurance in the following circumstances:

  • You are at greater risk for liability if you own a pool or trampoline or ride a powerful motorcycle. Statistics indicate that these activities and others are more likely to lead to expensive liability claims.
  • If you have assets at risk, including retirement savings, business income, college funds, and other assets with total values that exceed the liability maximum on your home or auto policy.
  • One of the best reasons to own an umbrella policy is the attractive price for peace of mind. The premium you pay for the maximum claim payout tends to be low. In other words, relative to the protection afforded, umbrella insurance can be a great deal.

Get a free quote  and get all of your questions answered. We can give you information on the kinds of liability risks and costs associated with your particular situation.

What is A Flood Zone?


People love to be near the water. Whether it’s a river, lake, or the sea, a body of water makes for a beautiful landscape and many fun activities. Unfortunately, these bodies of water can also cause flooding. Flooding can happen at any time no matter where you live, so it is important to get educated about floods and flood zones. It’s Flood Zone Awareness Week; read on to learn more about these natural disasters and your risk.

Flooding Statistics
  • Floods are the #1 natural disaster in the United States, causing more deaths and damage than tornadoes and hurricanes.
  • The average annual cost of damage due to flooding in the United States is over $2 billion.
  • The most flood insurance claims in 2012 were received from Louisiana residents.
  • Texas is the state with the most flood related deaths in the last 36 years.
  • Flash floods are the most dangerous type of flooding.
  • Most flood-related deaths are due to people trying to drive in flooded areas.
  • Causes of flooding include heavy rainfall, melting snow, and building or structure collapse.

What Is the Definition of a Flood Zone?

A flood zone is an area designated on a Flood Hazard Boundary Map. These geographical areas are given a specific rating depending on the estimated flood risk. A flood zone will determine how much flood insurance will cost, and whether or not it is mandatory to carry flood insurance.

  • A: Flood zones that start with A are considered to be at high-risk for flooding. These areas are usually along ponds, rivers, and streams.
  • B or shaded X: These flood zones are considered to be moderate risk areas.
  • C or un-shaded X: These areas are considered to be at low risk for floods.
  • V: These areas have not been evaluated for flood risks.

The designation V is used for high-risk coastal areas, which may receive damage due to flooding and strong waves in storms.

More Flood Terminology

Coastal Barrier Resource System (CBRS): These are areas of restricted development along coastlines. These designated areas provide essential barrier protection against flood damage to inland areas.

Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM): A map that shows the flood zones and floodplain boundaries for your community. These maps are regularly updated, so talk with an insurance agent to get the most updates FIRM for your area.

National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP): The NFIP is a standardized insurance program, established by FEMA and offered through insurance agents. As property insurance does not cover flooding, purchasing NFIP flood insurance is the only way to protect yourself financially in the event of flood damage. There is a 30-day waiting period for flood insurance to take effect. This means you cannot buy flood insurance the day before flooding is predicted and expect to receive coverage.

Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA): Also known as floodplains, these are areas of land that are designated by FEMA to be at a high risk for flooding.

How Do I Find Out My Flood Zone Designation?

There are a few different ways to find out your flood zone designation and risk. One way is to ask a local insurance agent, as these agents have access to the latest Flood Insurance Rate Maps. If you are looking to buy a new house, be sure to talk with your agent and your realtor about the flood zone risk of the property before you move in. If you own a home or other property, the flood zone might be listed on the title. If these methods won’t work for you, you can always go online to find flood maps. Many state or city websites will have flood maps of local areas for residents to view. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, also has flood maps available through their website.

For a more personalized assessment, you can hire a surveyor to assess your home for flooding risk. A surveyor will use many different factors to assess your individual risk, including your proximity to bodies of water, your home’s foundation, and the age of your home.

Do I Have To Carry Flood Insurance?

Depending on where you live, flood insurance may be mandatory. In an A or V flood zone, flood insurance is required. These are typically areas that are coastal, directly on the waterfront, or near a river. It could also be an area that receives a high amount of rain throughout the year. Moderate and low risk areas may not require you to carry flood insurance, but depending on the weather and the proximity of the area to bodies of water, it might be a good idea to carry flood insurance anyway.

Flood insurance covers rising waters and flood damage, as well as flooding from hurricanes. Homeowners insurance, condo insurance and mobile home insurance do not typically cover flood damage.

Can I Protect My Business with Flood Insurance?

In addition to residential flood insurance, commercial flood insurance is available. This insurance protects businesses in case of a flood. Flooding damage can quickly cause over $75,000 of damage to a commercial business. Many businesses are unable to reopen after a severe flood if they don’t have flood insurance to cover the expenses for cleanup, repairs, and replacement of damaged business collateral, equipment and furniture. If you own a business or commercial property, adding this insurance is smart, especially if you are in an area known to be a flood zone.

Do Flood Zones Change?

Knowing your current flood zone is one thing, but you need to stay updated on any changes in your risk of floods. Environmental changes, new construction, or recurring weather patterns can change your flood zone rating. Changes to your flood zone can lead to higher insurance premium costs. It’s important to reexamine your flood zone risks from time to time to avoid any surprises.

Flooding can happen in any area, from a coastal seaside home to a business in the middle of the desert. While the chances of flooding in certain areas may be low, a “no risk” flood zone simply does not exist. Keep yourself informed about flood zones and your insurance options to get the most protection from this type of natural disaster.

Is Warming Up Your Car Really Necessary?

Is it necessary to warm up your car? Conventional wisdom says that warming up your car is a must, especially on frigid days. Unfortunately for many American cars, this is one instance when conventional wisdom is just plain wrong.

Unless you live in a region that reaches sub-zero temperatures at night, there are very few reasons to waste gas by letting your car idle for five or ten minutes each morning. In fact, you could be doing more harm than good.
What’s Wrong with Warming Up Your Car?

1. Your car is designed to handle cold temperatures.

Richard Backus, editor-in-chief of Gas Engine says, “When your car’s engine is cold, the computer tells the fuel injectors to stay open longer, allowing more fuel into the engine to help it run cold.” If your car was built in the last twenty years, you almost certainly have electronic fuel injection. So, as long as it starts normally, you can confidently put it in gear and go, without warming it up, even in winter.

2. You can kill your catalytic converter.

This is a device located in your exhaust system. It works to burn off unburned hydrocarbons from the engine, to help the car run cleanly. To do this, it needs high temperatures in the exhaust. That’s why idling in the cold is like a perfect storm for catalytic converter failure. You’ve got extra gas being injected into the system, which means extra unburned hydrocarbons, along with a stock-still, cold exhaust, for minutes and minutes on end. “Repeat several hundred times, and you can end up with what’s called a ‘plugged’ converter,” says Backus. When the catalytic converter stops working, your car becomes an air pollution machine, and you have very little chance of passing a state emissions test.

3. You spend a fortune on gas.

Those fuel injectors are wide open and spilling gas into the engine rapidly. Meanwhile, you are going nowhere. Ten minutes of this each winter morning, over the life of your car, can add up to thousands of dollars in fuel wasted.

4. You could get fined.

Some cities and states have taken steps to stop the pollution and fuel waste of winter warm-ups by writing tickets to drivers who leave their cars to idle unattended in the morning. For example, Section 1210 of the NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law says it is “illegal for a driver to leave a vehicle without stopping the engine, locking the ignition and removing the key from the car.”

This also works to prevent theft and accidents. One of the most notorious idling accidents occurred in Chinatown, NYC, when an unattended delivery van backed over several toddlers from a nearby preschool. If you do need to idle your vehicle, remain in the driver’s seat at all times.

5. You can damage your classic car.

If you own an older vehicle, with an old-fashioned carburetor instead of a fuel-injection engine, you may need to give it a minute or two of idling, to let the oil thin out, but no more than that. According to Tom Magliozzi from NPR’s Car Talk, “Extended warm-up can actually cause damage to the engine by diluting the oil with excess fuel. So it’s even worse if you have a really old heap.”

What If It’s Really, Really, Really Cold?

Richard Backus advises, “If it’s below zero [Fahrenheit] outside, it would be a good idea to give the engine five minutes, or a little less, before you drive off into the frozen wilderness.” If it’s around ten or twenty degrees Fahrenheit, just a minute or two is plenty of time to let the oil circulate, and then you can safely hit the road.

But remember, no matter how cold it is, warming up your car in the garage is a bad idea. The Daily Green reports, “Idling a car in a garage, even with the door open, is dangerous and exposes the driver to carbon monoxide and other noxious gases. If the garage is attached, those fumes can also enter the house.” If you feel it’s necessary to spend a few minutes warming up the car, pull safely out of the garage first.

How to Warm Up the Car on Cold (Not Arctic) Mornings

If it’s above twenty degrees, Ray Magliozzi from Car Talk says, “The proper procedure is to start the car. If it starts and keeps running, put it in Drive and go.”

The first few minutes of your drive are your warm-up time, so be gentle. Csaba Csere, former editor-in-chief of Car and Driver, says to “drive moderately until the engine is approaching operating temperature,” and then proceed as usual.

“Modern engines warm up more quickly when they’re driven. And the sooner they warm up, the sooner they reach maximum efficiency and deliver the best fuel economy and performance,” according to MSN Auto. So onward, winter warriors. Put the key in the ignition. Start the car. Drive gently. You’ll be just fine.