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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How to tell if your body shop did the job correctly
Article thanks to Links provided:

As seen on  – by Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor
Published: 04/18/2011

Inspect Before You Pay the Bill
When you last saw your car, it was a twisted mess being towed away from the scene of the accident. Now it’s weeks later and the car is parked in the driveway of a body shop. All you have to do is write a check and the car is yours again. But how do you know that everything under the surface has really been fixed correctly?
One key to getting your car fixed right is choosing a reliable shop in the first place. But you should still inspect the work performed before you drive away. To better understand what to look for, here are some insider tips from several knowledgeable veterans of the body shop business.
Have a Clear Understanding Up Front
The process of having your car fixed right starts when you drop it off, says Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists. Be clear on what the shop is going to fix and how it will do the repair. Get everything in writing. Ask about the shop’s warranty on its work. When you return, review the paperwork to confirm that the shop did the repairs correctly.
“A reputable repair facility will go through everything with you, walk you through all the steps they took,” Schulenburg says. “Good shops will even touch up bolts under the hood that have been scratched while being repaired.”

Clean Car is a Must
Appearances matter. When you pick up your car, it should have been washed, cleaned and vacuumed, says John Mallette, owner of Burke Auto Body and Paint, in Long Beach, California. There should be no dirt or dust in the truck and definitely no old parts in the trunk. Mallette says he even tries to wash down the engine compartment before he hands over the keys.
It can be a challenge to return a clean car to a customer, says Mike O’Connell, owner of Golden Hammer Auto Body in Los Angeles. With all the dust from sanding, he says, “body shops are the dirtiest places on earth.” He says his workers take precautions to keep the cars clean by using paper and masking tape to protect different areas. And then they carefully wash the car before the customer comes to pick it up.
Closer Inspection
If the pickup’s general appearance passes muster, take a close look at the area that was repaired. Mallette recommends looking for gaps between body panels first. If the gaps are obviously uneven, that’s a telltale sign of panels not being aligned correctly. Schulenburg says owners should make sure the doors open and close properly with good alignment.
If there was extensive front-end damage to the car, it can be difficult for a body shop to repair perfectly, Mallette says. One way to spot a problem is to look at the distance between the tire and fender. If it is wide on one side and narrow on the other, something wasn’t fixed properly. Another test is to turn on the headlights to ensure that the light beams are aligned.
When a car is hit in the front, the frame may have been bent and required straightening on what the body shop calls “the rack.” The shop workers use it to pull the frame rails until the frame is straight. Mallette says he can look under a car and see “butcher marks” from poor repair jobs.
But visual inspections might be difficult for the average consumer, Schulenburg explains. He says owners should take a look at the automated printout of the frame specifications. A good body shop will measure the damaged area of the car and then measure the frame again after it does the repair. The frame specs should be the same post-repair as they were before the accident. The frame spec printout is a good reference document to make sure the job has been done right.
If you are concerned that a major repair wasn’t done correctly and want someone other than the original body shop to size it up, you can get a second opinion. O’Connell tells us that many people bring cars to him for just this kind of assessment, and he can immediately spot problems that the ordinary consumer can’t.

Paint Jobs: Matching Colors and Consistency
One of the most challenging jobs in a body shop is paint matching. “Punching in the factory paint codes gets you 95 percent of the way to matching the color,” O’Connell says. But the remaining five percent has to be done by people who really know what they’re doing. “If we didn’t do this extra step there would always be a little variance,” he explains. “That’s why you see cars on the road that look like they are three different colors.”
Most factory paint jobs have an “orange peel” texture to the finish to a greater or lesser degree. Whether you like that effect or not, most factory paint jobs have this texture, and it can be tricky for body shops to duplicate. Mallette advises that you arrange to pick up a car from the body shop during the day. If possible, look at the car in the sunlight to make sure that the new paint matches the car’s original shade and finish. Also, if the shop repainted several panels, sight along the side of the car to look for color consistency. And finally, examine the paint for runs or imperfections such as hair or specks of dirt trapped in the finish.
When It Isn’t Fixed Right
In some cases, a problem with the repair develops months later. A common scenario is that you notice the car’s front tires are wearing unevenly. This could be a sign that the front suspension hasn’t been straightened and repaired correctly. Find your paperwork and receipt, bring the car back and show the manager the tire’s wear pattern. The shop should fix the problem under the warranty, Mallette says.
Schulenburg agrees that improper tire wear on a car is a bad sign. “Take it back to the body shop,” he says. “There are a whole lot of things that can lead to tire wear. Let them assess what is causing it.”
Many body shops are “fly-by-night,” O’Connell notes, and if you’re dealing with one of them, it can be tough to get satisfaction if the job wasn’t done right. A legitimate shop should stand by its work. He recommends that you make sure you are within the warranty period, which is usually one year or 12,000 miles. Then, with your paperwork in hand, ask to speak with an owner or manager.
“And be courteous, not demanding,” O’Connell says. “If you start making accusations, things can go downhill fast.”

Article via’s newsletter.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Perfect Pair To Keep Outdoor Worker’s Feet Warm
Article thanks to Bruce Smith and Links provided:

Keen’s insulated Milwaukee work boots and Dura-Zone socks keep feet warm and toasty

Dec, 2015  Long, cold days call for the Milwaukee. With KEEN.Warm insulation, a thermal heat shield footbed for underfoot warmth and asymmetrical steel toes, these boots are made for tough work in all weather conditions.
he Milwaukee was built to last, constructed with the patent-pending KEEN.Welt, enhancing flexibility and performance, drastically reducing outsole cracking or delamination from repeated bending and flexing.
Feet stay dry and warm all day with a KEEN.Dry waterproof, breathable membrane and hydrophobic/hydrophilic 2-zone comfort technology.
For that extra layer of warmth, don’t forget KEEN Utility’s Dura-Zone socks. Crafted from breathable Merino Wool, these socks are constructed with superior fit for all-day comfort. 
The Dura-Zone socks feature a unique, high-tenacity blend of Dyneema fibers which weight for weight are 15 times stronger than steel. These fibers blended into the heel and toe areas provide superior comfort and durability. 
The KEEN patented Wunderseam™ also provides a seamless toe in the flex zone to avoid bunching and discomfort.
Armed with a lifetime guarantee, the American Built Dura-Zone socks are poised to outperform even the longest days on the job site.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Have Obamacare? You May Need It to Navigate Tax-Filing Headache
Article thanks to, and Richard Rubin of Bloomburg. Links provided:

Jan, 2015  (Bloomberg) Obamacare is about to collide with the U.S. tax-filing season, adding frustration for millions of taxpayers trying to figure out how to comply and how much they will owe the government.
Tax filing for 2014 opens Jan. 20. The biggest change for most taxpayers is on Line 61 of Form 1040: a box to check if you have health insurance and a tax to pay if you don’t. Millions who received insurance through Obamacare’s exchanges will have a more complicated set of calculations to complete.
“There’s going to be tons of questions and confusion and uncertainty and complexity,” said Kathy Pickering, executive director of the Tax Institute, the research and analysis division of H&R Block Inc. “We still have a lot of questions.”
The added strain on taxpayers will increase burdens on the Internal Revenue Service at its busiest time of the year. The IRS is already warning that about half the people who call its toll-free phone lines won’t be able to get through.
“Because it’s never happened before, it’s a learning experience for everybody,” said Roberton Williams of the Tax Policy Center, a Washington research group. “This will be the hard year. Next year will be easier. Five years down the road, nobody will remember this was anything strange.”
The tax agency also says it will complete fewer audits this year because of a smaller enforcement staff.
Insurance Requirement
Congress passed Obamacare in 2010 to expand health- insurance coverage, and the law relies on the tax system for two important functions.
First, the IRS polices the requirement that individuals have health insurance, which can be satisfied with an employer- provided plan, a government program such as Medicaid or insurance purchased on the exchanges established under the law.
Failure to have health insurance in 2014 generates a penalty of $95 per person or 1 percent of household income, whichever is greater. Those thresholds will increase to $325 and 2 percent for 2015.
The second major intersection between Obamacare and the tax system applies to about 8 million people who purchased policies through the exchanges. About 85 percent of the people who initially enrolled received subsidies, which went directly to insurance companies during 2014.
Those subsidies were typically based on 2012 income and now must be reconciled with the taxpayers’ actual 2014 income and household size. Some taxpayers will owe the government money, with caps on the amount they have to repay. Others will get money back.
Fresh Complications
Both the individual mandate and the subsidies present complications for tax filing.
One issue with the mandate is that workers won’t get statements from employers that say whether their insurance met the law’s requirements for minimum coverage. The IRS delayed that requirement until the 2016 tax-filing year, and the lack of information will limit the government’s ability to enforce the law.
The other complication is figuring out whether any of the exemptions to the penalty apply. They include the unavailability of affordable coverage, membership in a religious sect with objections to insurance, or a long list of circumstances under which the government can issue a hardship exemption, such as domestic violence and homelessness.
Absolutely ’Blindsided’
The subsidies affect substantially fewer people than the mandate—and could be trickier to navigate.
People who didn’t update their family status and income during 2014 will have particular difficulty. A bonus or a move to a higher-paying job could cause some to owe the government money that they never actually received—because it was sent straight to the insurance company.
“People are going to absolutely be blindsided,” said Steve Mankowski, a partner at EP Caine & Associates in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, who is chairman of the National Conference of CPA Practitioners’ tax-policy committee. “It can take someone from getting a refund to owing money.”
One plus for taxpayers is that the IRS doesn’t have some of its usual tools to enforce the law. Congress prohibited the tax agency from using liens and levies to make people pay the individual mandate. The IRS can still reduce refunds.
The IRS is also going to be shorthanded this year, which will mean less customer service and less enforcement.
The administration says the Obamacare changes shouldn’t complicate things for most taxpayers and is directing people to the IRS and Health and Human Services websites for information.
“For the vast majority of Americans, tax filing under the Affordable Care Act will be as simple as checking a box to show they had health coverage all year,” Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said in a statement. “We are working to ensure that whatever their experience, consumers can easily access clear information since this is the first year they will see certain changes to their tax returns.”
Budget Cuts
The IRS budget is $10.9 billion this year, down 3 percent from last year and 12 percent below what the administration requested.
The tax agency also must continue working on a problem it has struggled with for several years —criminals who steal others’ refunds through identity theft.
That’s especially an issue early in the tax season, when criminals can file tax returns and get refunds before legitimate taxpayers even know what happened.
The IRS has taken steps to address identity fraud, including on the number of refunds that can be sent to a single bank account or prepaid debit card.
“They have a much better handle on it, but it is still a problem,” said Edward Karl, vice president for taxes at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
—With assistance from Alex Wayne in Washington.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Road Test - Western Star 5700 XE
Road test thanks to Links provided:
November 2014, - Test Drives
by Jim Park, Equipment Editor Also by this author
Not long ago it would have been a stretch of the imagination to use the words Western Star and aerodynamic in the same sentence. Today, they might be considered synonymous. The company claims its new flagship, the 5700XE, is 14% more aerodynamic than its predecessor, the 4900, and the second most aerodynamic truck in the Daimler Trucks North America portfolio, next to the Cascadia. Company officials did not elaborate on the spread between the two, but it’s probably closer than many would suspect.
In 2012, Western Star rolled out a first stab at an aerodynamic truck, the 4900 FE. It featured a set-back front axle and a rounded hood profile, a swept-back bumper and few other cosmetic changes. While it did cut the air a little more smoothly than the standard 4900, it fell short of the industry’s current definition of a true aero truck.
But the market was different in 2012. In fact, a year before the 4900FE hit the streets, Western Star conducted a customer survey that suggested 40% of its customer base was still on the aerodynamic fence, but were beginning to lean in that direction.
“Our customers told us they wanted distinct styling, and not something they associated with a fleet truck,” Western Star general manager Mike Jackson said when the 5700XE was launched in Las Vegas in September. “But that has changed in 2014. They tell us now that while the badge and the image are still important, they realize they have to make money too.”
Jackson noted that the current Class 8 tractor market is running at 65% full aero, compared to the traditional or partial-aero designs, like the 4900FE. That left Western Star without a truck to fill a growing market demand.
“Without a full-aero offering, we were clearly self-imposing some limitations on our growth opportunities,” Jackson says. “We realized we couldn’t play well in the aero market with what we offered. The 5700XE is the answer.”
Jackson says he expects this truck to push Western Star into the 5%-plus range for market share in the on-highway segment by opening the doors to that 65% of the on-highway market they couldn’t previously touch.
Western Star’s director of marketing, Ann Demitruk, says the 5700XE is not being aimed at large truckload fleets, leasing companies or customers that want the absolute lowest up-front pricing. Rather, she sees owner-operators, small- to medium-sized fleets, and fleets looking for a unique look and brand, along with fleets looking for a premium reward truck for their drivers as the target market for the 5700XE.
“We won’t sell a lot of these trucks to fleets looking for a low-cost, cookie-cutter truck,” she says. “We’re positioning this as a truck that will set the customer off from the competition while delivering top fuel efficiency and outstanding total cost of ownership.”
The design phase was an interesting exercise. Designers had an iconic brand and distinctive style to work with, which generally demands a light touch with the brush. The 5700XE’s chief designer, Don Vena, held many design clinics with top customers to ensure they’d be satisfied with the result, but he certainly left a bold stroke of his own on the truck.
“Western Star has always been unique, so I never wanted to deviate from that,” he says. “With the push for aerodynamics there comes the thought that it needs to look like a jelly bean. I just don’t see Western Star ever having that kind of vehicle.”
He says the design priority was maintaining the traditional Western Star proportions; the cycle fenders, the rectangular headlights, the raised center section on the hood, and, of course, the vertical grille bars and the sun visor. Vena incorporated all those elements in the 5700XE, but pulled them forward with more contemporary styling.
The rectangular headlights are still there, but now they are projector-beam lamps with LED brows and a three-piece modular design for lower replacement costs.
Two particular design elements contribute further to the styling, but also the aero performance, Vena says. The bumper end caps, he says, are absolutely necessary to the aero performance, routing the air around the front wheel well and over the top of the fender.
“Without the end caps, the aerodynamics just fall apart,” he says.
The sun visor, an essential part of the classic look, is also highly functional. It was designed to help channel air flow up and over the cab roof. It’s also aero neutral, which means the air doesn’t see it. “It contributes no drag at all,” Vena says.
And the truck is loaded with bright work and stainless steel trim, including the grille surround and the grille bars. Vena says that was non-negotiable in the design process.
“It’s a pride of ownership for these folks,” he says. “They love to have the bright work on the vehicle. While we were designing the side fairings and body molding we made provisions to be able to dress it up.”
I suppose if aerodynamics was the 100% prime focus of this design — or any truck design for that matter — you’d have a truck that looked like a jelly bean or an egg. That may be the optimum aero shape, but who’d really want to own a truck that looked like an egg? If the aero work on this truck is effective as its designers say it is, it’ll earn its keep. But when it comes to fuel efficiency, the aero package gets a lot of help from the proven Detroit powertrain.
Since the 5700EX will only be offered with a Detroit engine, a high degree of chassis and powertrain optimization was possible. Customers will have their choice of DD13, DD15 or DD16 engines and a choice of DT12 automated manual or several Eaton Fuller manual transmissions. The really fuel-economy conscious customer can opt for the integrated Detroit Powertrain with a feature set called Intelligent Powertrain Management.
This has a downsped DD15 engine rated at 400 hp and 1,750 lb-ft mated to a DT12 direct-drive transmission with IPM and either Detroit 6x4 drive axles with a 2.41:1 ratio, or a Detroit 6x2 setup with a 2.28:1 ratio.
“This is our entry into the down-speeding realm,” says Brad Williamson, DTNA’s manager of engine and component marketing. “We offer a higher torque engine with a lower axle ratio, which allows you to operate at lower engine rpm for better fuel economy.”
The torque and horsepower curves show the engine produces its best torque between about 1,000 and 1,300 rpm, and close to peak horsepower between 1,300 and 1,625 rpm. Williamson says customers who operate in rolling terrain will see the greatest benefit from this powertrain choice, while those running in flat or mountainous terrain may prefer a more traditional powertrain option.
“DP15i uses preloaded terrain maps and GPS to look out about three miles ahead and then, with the help of load and grade sensors, fuels the engine according to need,” he says. “Once you have the system engaged, the driver doesn’t need to touch the brake or the accelerator. The system is managing everything as efficiently as possible.”
Williamson says the IPM will be standard on all DT12 packages beginning in 2015.
At the launch event, Williamson said the new powertrain packages could net certain customers using the 6x4 or 6x2 configurations efficiency gains of up to 5.2% and 7.6% respectively, compared to a baseline powertrain consisting of a DD15 455/1,550, a 10-speed manual transmission, and a Detroit 6x4 with a 2.53: ratio. As is usually the case, he wouldn’t discuss pricing during his presentation, so it would remain with the buyer to hammer out the ROI potential at the time of purchase.
Western Star has also added a few safety and driver convenience features. A new wood- and leather-wrapped steering wheel has thumb control functionality for navigating the driver display menus as well as headlamp and marker lamp interrupt (if anyone still does that little courtesy), cruise control, phone pickup and disconnect, volume control and mute.
“It’s not just a lapped on system,” Jesus Gomez Director of Engineering at Western Star Trucks. “We worked with WABCO to calibrate their system for the particulars of the Detroit powertrain and our braking system, so it behaves as you’d expect a Detroit product to behave.”
First impressions
You can’t tell much from the inside about how the outside is doing from an aerodynamic perspective, except to observe the noise. Non-aero trucks are pretty noisy, and that’s just from the eddy of air and the buffeting that a big square hood sets up. The 5700XE was very quiet. I checked my iPhone sound meter app, and saw 72-73 db. That’s very close to passenger car quiet, and the same reading I got from a recent drive in a Kenworth T680.
I’ve written before on how I feel about the DT12 transmission, and can find no fault with it. It’s relentless in its pursuit of skip shifting opportunities and it never misses a chance to grab the next gear as soon as possible. On several trips up a 6% or so grade, I found the DT12 upshifting at 1,400 rpm, which depending on the gear, landed me back at 1,000 or 1,100 rpm. That’s courageous.
On the opposite side, downshifting for rpm while using the engine brake, several times I was able to manually get the thing as high as 2,300 rpm. There’s some serious retarding capacity there with a 15-liter engine.
I struggled a little with the OnGuard collision avoidance system, probably because I wasn’t entirely familiar with the way it works. It restricts vehicle speed to a prescribed following distance (a customer preset option), and while driving north west out of Las Vegas toward the town of Beatty, I found myself pressing down on the pedal and wondering why I wasn’t accelerating. Truth was, I was coming up behind a slower car or truck, and the system is designed to maintain a set following distance. Once I figured out that changing lanes removed the threat from the radar’s eyes, away I went.
OnGuard braked and throttled the truck in harmony with traffic. It could be a very useful tool for a poor man’s platooning arrangement.
While gentle in its speed and braking management in most situations, a couple of stray four-wheelers with the annoying habit of braking in front of a truck got the system’s attention — and mine too — pretty quickly and the braking was pretty aggressive when it needed to be. Otherwise, the system was virtually transparent to me.
I find the Western Star cab beyond spacious. And it still is. It’s the same steel cab that goes back to the Constellation days in the late '90s. Tried and true, I guess, with little to improve upon. I’d prefer dashboard switches were spaced out more, or grouped into functions. Maybe it’s because I get to drive one so infrequently, I fumble around a lot looking for the right switch. Someone with more time-on-type might not have a similar complaint.
The ride and handling are what you’d expect in a premium truck. For as large as it appears from the outside and from the left seat, it’s still pretty nimble. The tried-and-true Airliner suspension provides a very good ride. Our truck had wide-base single tires with full-width axles so it felt very stable, even in a stiff crosswind.
The mirrors produced my only negative observation, and it’s a modest one. They are cab mounted, which restricts the door opening to somewhat less than 90 degrees. Also, with the window open, I noticed a lot of wind noise from the mirrors. My guess is there’s still some aero improvement to be gained by moving the mirrors back onto the doors.
Western Star GM Mike Jackson says the 5700XE is targeted at the classic truck guy who knows that in trucking’s game of pennies, aero counts. We couldn’t verify the aero performance in a quantifiable way on our run. Jackson says it’s second only to the Cascadia in the DTNA portfolio in terms of aero performance, and I have no reason to doubt him. It’ll be interesting to see some actual numbers emerge as these trucks enter service in the spring of 2015.
Overall, I was quite pleased with the truck, and ewxcited about the downsped and highly integrated powertrain. It really does offer the "large car" crowd the benefits of driving a "jelly bean," without sacrificing style.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Importance Of Keeping DEF Pure

Article thanks to Links provided:
October 2014, - Feature by PEAK BlueDEF
Since the 2010 emissions regulations, Selected Catalytic Reduction has been a fact of life, and with it Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF).
SCR doesn’t work without DEF. SCR is an aftertreatment technology that injects small amounts of DEF into an engine’s hot exhaust stream to reduce NOx emissions. DEF is made from urea, an ammonia-based chemical, and dionizeddeionized water. The proper solution is 32.5% high-purity urea mixed with very high-purity water.
When working properly in the exhaust, DEF vaporizes and forms ammonia and carbon dioxide. When the exhaust gas and ammonia are passed over the catalyst, NOx is converted to nitrogen and water. Not much can go wrong in the process as long as the DEF is properly formulated. But problems can occur when DEF is blended incorrectly or it becomes contaminated in the distribution process through incorrect procedures and handling.
Poor quality DEF can cause problems in the injection system that introduces the DEF into the exhaust. It can also cause premature failure of the catalyst. If the DEF has been contaminated and therefore is not cleaning the truck exhaust properly, a downstream NOx sensor will send a fault code to warn the driver of a problem. It will also light up the malfunction indicator light and in extreme cases cause the engine to derate.
What can you do to ensure the purity of the DEF you put in your trucks?
One way to ensure the quality of the DEF is to make sure it is API registered and meets ISO 22241 standards.
You should also always use equipment dedicated exclusively for dispensing and storing DEF. Don’t use funnels or bottles from other products. If you have to clean DEF fueling equipment, make sure to rinse it with de-mineralized water and not tap water. Do not refill previously used DEF containers, unless using a closed liquid system..
To ensure the quality of BlueDEF, PEAK Commercial and Industrial has developed a protocol to eliminate the potential for contamination of the product through the transportation and distribution process. The railcars and truck tankers that carry BlueDEF are dedicated to shipping the urea or DEF alone. Common carriers, too, must follow BlueDEF’s equipment purity specifications, which don’t allow them to washout tanks that previously carried another product. They must agree to dedicate their tankers solely to BlueDEF. Dedicated equipment with tamper-resistant seals is used at any transfer points to prevent contamination there.
In addition, each shipment comes with a certification verifying that it meets the ISO specification.
BlueDEF customers are also required to have closed liquid systems with valve coupling systems that seal the container opening on drums and totes. This is required to prevent dirt and debris from getting into the container.
Other tips for keeping DEF in proper condition including storing it at temperatures between 32 and 86 degrees out of direct sunlight. With proper care, DEF has a shelf life of approximately two years. But to ensure the purity of your DEF, a closed liquid system is the best option.