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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Oprah's No Phone Zone Pledge

Sign the Pledge
If you think you have the cell phone, texting and driving thing do not. Sign our pledge to make your car a No Phone Zone and pass it on. You could save a life—maybe even yours.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Inner Loop Chapter of BNI Hosts Visitor’s Day

The Inner Loop Chapter of BNI Hosts Visitor’s Day

Houston, Texas- January 27, 2010 - BNI, an international networking organization specializing in business referrals among its members, is hosting a Visitor’s Day for its Inner Loop chapter on Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 7:00 a.m. at CafĂ© Express in Uptown Park. BNI helps businesses experience growth by maximizing their marketing efforts through word of mouth promotion and this Visitor’s Day is a great avenue for introducing prospective members to the organization.
BNI was founded in 1985 by Ivan R. Misner, Ph.D., author of The World’s Best Known Marketing Secret, Seven Second Marketing, Business by Referral, Masters of Networking and Masters of Success. “Our style of networking is based on the philosophy ‘givers gain’—if I help you, then you’ll help me, and we’ll all do better business,” says Misner.
Anyone interested in attending the meeting is welcome. Please RSVP by Monday, Feb. 8, to Doug Croker at, Bob Vinson at, or David Lorms at Visitors must be prepared to give a brief speech regarding their business and profession. The breakfast cost will be $10 in the form of cash or check.

About BNI
BNI is an international networking organization specializing in business referrals among its members. Founded in 1985 by Ivan R. Misner, Ph.D., the organization is designed to help businesses experience growth by maximizing their marketing efforts through word of mouth promotion. For more information about BNI, please visit our Web site at

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Auto Insurance

Many of us know the feeling of getting our car insurance bill and thinking, "Again!? Didn't I just pay this!?" Car insurance is one of those unavoidable (in most states) expenses. AOL Autos wanted to find out from an insider exactly what goes into those prices and what we can do to keep our car insurance costs down. We talked to Patrick Lawson, a 25-year veteran auto insurance agent.

The Bottom Line: Premiums

Have you ever wondered how they come up with these numbers? Lawson mentioned the common factors like age, sex, car type and driving record but also noted a new, little known factor. "Companies are now, of all things, checking credit because people with poor credit, statistically, can be susceptible to more claims," he said. He explained that some people in these cases are more apt to file a claim instead of settling it themselves because they might not have the means to handle it any other way.

"Insurance is nothing but numbers, and that's all the industry has to go on is how they make these number come out. And the numbers suggest that people with less-than-perfect credit, sometimes, have a higher probability of claims," says Lawson.

Regardless of good credit or bad credit, he always recommends that people shop around for car insurance, "Even if you have pristine credit, some companies put more of a value on credit than others," he said. "You can't make a blanket statement, but what you can say is it pays for everybody to shop around a little bit because it's well worth it."

He said that some car insurance companies have bad experiences with drivers and some have more positive experiences so, "You as a consumer, have the job to find the ones that are having the good experiences."

Once you find a car insurance company that provides the services you're looking for, keep in mind that the prices themselves are fixed by the insurance company, so haggling with your agent is out of the question. "Whatever the price is, it is," he said.

Some Things to Avoid

Sales data shown is of top 20 selling cars and trucks as compiled by Autodata Corporation. Many of us have let someone else borrow our car for a short time. Maybe we're hurt and can't drive, a friend needs a car for the day, or we simply just don't feel like driving. Lawson told AOL Autos that lending your car to the wrong person can be a big mistake.

"You should always be careful who you let drive your vehicle. You just don't arbitrarily say, 'Hey take the keys and go' because you don't know what that person is doing, you don't know their driving record, you may not even know if they have a license," says Lawson.

He explained that if you lend your car to an unauthorized person and they get into an accident, your car insurance company might do everything it can to get out of settling the claim. This is especially important for parents who have their kids named on their policy as drivers. Sometimes their kids let their friends drive the vehicle as well. "As a rule of thumb, only the names of insured persons should ever give permission and only in extenuating circumstances, don't use it as carte blanche," Lawson said.

Speaking of things to avoid, we asked him if buying a red sports car was out of the question. "Here's a real misnomer about auto insurance, people say if you get a red sports car, that's like the kiss of death. Color has absolutely nothing to do with whether you get a speeding ticket or you don't," he said. If two cars are going 85 mph in a 65 mph zone, the police are not more likely to pull one over and issue a ticket because that car is red, Lawson said. When Lawson was studying to become a car insurance agent, he said the instructors made it a point to tell students that the red car theory is a falsehood.

The real problem with speeding tickets has to do with the drivers themselves, not the color of the car. "Some insurance companies are only equipped to deal with you if you get two tickets in a three year period. If you pick up three, you've gotten out of their underwriting mode where they're not going to renew you," he said. If your tickets (or accidents) build up, some companies will drop you because you're a risk.

In some cases, drivers just don't have any control over what happens when they get into their vehicles. Hitting a deer one too many times or being rear-ended on more than one occasion, can also affect your car insurance rate. "You hate to say it but that's almost the case," Lawson said. "Being at the wrong place at the wrong time can come back to bite you." Lawson acknowledged that it may not be fair that insurance companies handle certain people this way. Even if there's no real reason why some people get into more accidents than others, the fact is their claims cause companies to lose money.

Another thing to avoid is lying to your auto insurance agent. If you think he doesn't know about your tickets and accidents, think again. He's had a few people tell him their driving record, minus a few small details. He'll look up their record on the computer and, "They'll watch it print," he said, "and I've had a couple people just get up and gather their belongings and just walk out because they know they're dead in the water."

The Serious Side of Auto Insurance

With 25 years under his belt, Lawson has seen a lot. He talked about a family who came into his office wanting to purchase motorcycle insurance for a first-time bike owner, their 16-year-old son. They showed him a picture of the bike they were purchasing, a bike he described as, "A crotch rocket that does 0-60 as fast as you can sneeze."

He told the mother that it was a mistake, but she emphasized how safe her son was going to be. He told her, "Ma'am, I don't want to be inappropriate or hurt anyone's feelings, but this is a death claim waiting to happen. When you take a fast motorcycle on an inexperienced operator, you're begging for problems."

The first weekend the kid was on the bike, he lost control on a rural road, became airborne and totaled the bike. He spent some time in the hospital and later recovered. The mom called Lawson after the accident. "They called me up and the lady was crying and said, 'Why in the world did we not listen to you?' What do you say to something like that," Lawson asked, "You can't say anything except, 'I'm sorry it happened,' and ask 'how is he?'"

Motorcycles aren't the only dangerous thing on the roads though. Drivers who talk on their cell phones and send text messages cause accidents as well. Lawson knows firsthand the dangers of these distractions. A close friend of his was permanently disabled when a woman dropped her cell phone on the passenger floor and swerved into his lane when she tried to pick it up. The woman didn't have adequate insurance and his friend ended up being bankrupt by the medical bills.

"I think all the states should raise the minimum liability limits and require that all states make auto insurance mandatory," he said.

Chances are, most of us live in a state where car insurance is mandatory. By keeping your credit score in check (or working to improve it), shopping around for a car insurance company that fits your needs and avoiding mishaps like speeding tickets and accidents, you'll be able to keep the cost of your car insurance down. Also make sure to know what your current car insurance policy covers. You may have coverage that you don't need like windshield replacement or tow truck coverage. Adjust your coverage to get the car insurance that you need, with the price that matches your budget.

Friday, January 8, 2010

10 simple ways to get your car ready for winter

By Laura T. Coffey contributor
updated 6:27 p.m. CT, Mon., Jan. 15, 2007

If you live in a cold-weather state, or perhaps if you are planning to visit loved ones in a colder clime over the winter holidays, the following tips literally could be life-saving!

And even if you’ve been living in Alaska for many years now, these tips can serve as handy reminders of simple steps you can take to stay safe and keep your vehicle in good working order this winter.

1. Get the right kind of oil change. Are you approaching the time for a 30,000-mile full service for your vehicle? If so, don’t procrastinate! Among other things, the service should include an oil change, and the oil used should have the right viscosity, or thickness, for your vehicle at this time of year. Oil tends to thicken as it gets colder, and if it’s too thick it won’t do the best job of keeping your engine lubricated. Check your owner’s manual for guidance about which oil to use in different climates and temperatures.

2. Make sure you can see. When’s the last time you replaced your windshield wiper blades? They usually work effectively for about one year, so be sure to invest in some new ones if you’re due. Here’s another important step to take before you find yourself struggling to see in a blinding storm: Fill up your windshield washer reservoir with windshield washer fluid. (Plain water won’t do the trick at this time of year because it freezes.) Also check to see that your heater and defroster are working properly so you can keep the windshield nice and clear.

3. Give your battery a little TLC. This is an ideal time of year to make sure your battery’s posts and connections are corrosion-free and that your battery has all the water it needs. If your battery is more than three years old, have a certified repair shop test its ability to hold a charge. Granted, you might be able to find a Good Samaritan to help you jump-start your vehicle in the middle of a blizzard — but wouldn’t you rather avoid such a scenario altogether?

4. Examine your belts and hoses. When you have that full service done on your vehicle, make sure the belts and hoses get checked for wear and tear — even if you’re driving a modern car. Cold weather can do a number on belts and hoses, so they deserve attention.

5. Check your tire pressure. Your tires must be properly inflated to ensure you’ll have the best possible traction as you drive along — and traction is often severely jeopardized in wet, snowy or icy conditions. The air pressure in your tires has likely dropped as the weather has gotten colder, so it’s important to see where things stand now. (You can generally expect that you’ll lose 1 pound per square inch whenever the temperature drops by 10 degrees Fahrenheit.) Again, your trusty owner’s manual will tell you what your target tire pressure should be.

6. Think about switching to snow tires. Do you live in a hilly place that gets its fair share of snow? Then you might want to improve traction even more by investing in winter tires and using them over the next few months instead of your usual all-season tires. When shopping around for snow tires, ask about all the fees that might come into play, such as fees for mounting and balancing. You can accomplish this easily and make accurate cost comparisons by asking each store for the “out the door charge.”

7. Do you have four-wheel drive? If so, it’s important to check the status of your four-wheel-drive system and be sure it’s working correctly — especially because most drivers don’t use their 4WD systems in the pleasant summer months. Be sure that the system engages and disengages easily, and that all drivers in your household know how and when to activate the system.

8. Get the antifreeze mixture just right. Aim for having a 50-50 mix of antifreeze (coolant) and water inside your radiator. This will prevent the mixture from freezing even at ridiculously cold temperatures. It’s easy to check the status of the mixture with an inexpensive antifreeze tester, which you can pick up at any auto parts store. If the mixture is off, your cooling system should be drained and refilled or flushed. Be sure you’re equipped to dispose of your old antifreeze properly if you do this job yourself. It can’t just be poured down the drain.

9. Prepare an emergency kit. Store this stuff in your trunk during the winter months, especially if a road trip is in your future:

a blanket
extra boots and gloves
an extra set of warm clothes
extra water and food, including hard candies
an ice scraper
a small shovel
a flashlight
windshield washer fluid
windshield wipers
jumper cables
a tool kit
tire chains
a tire gauge
a spare tire with air in it
tire-changing equipment
a first-aid kit
paper towels
a bag of abrasive material such as sand, salt or non-clumping kitty litter, which can provide additional traction if a tire gets stuck in snow.
Also, keep the gas tank as full as you can to prevent the gas lines from freezing.
10. Know what to do if you get stranded. Don’t wander away from your car unless you’re completely sure about where you are and how far away help is. Light two flares and situate them at each end of your vehicle to call attention to your plight. Put on the extra clothes and use the blanket to stay warm. If you have enough gas in the tank, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes for each hour you’re waiting for help. Leave at least one window open a little bit so that snow and ice don’t seal the car shut. Suck on a hard candy to prevent your mouth from getting too dry.

National Safety Council
© 2009 Reprints

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Here are ten tips to help you prepare your home for winter

Here are ten tips to help you prepare your home for winter:

1) Furnace Inspection
Call an HVAC professional to inspect your furnace and clean ducts. Stock up on furnace filters and change them monthly. Consider switching out your thermostat for a programmable thermostat. If your home is heated by a hot-water radiator, bleed the valves by opening them slightly and when water appears, close them. Remove all flammable material from the area surrounding your furnace.

2) Get the Fireplace Ready
Cap or screen the top of the chimney to keep out rodents and birds.
If the chimney hasn't been cleaned for a while, call a chimney sweep to remove soot and creosote. Buy firewood or chop wood. Store it in a dry place away from the exterior of your home. Inspect the fireplace damper for proper opening and closing. Check the mortar between bricks and tuckpoint, if necessary.

3) Check the Exterior, Doors and Windows
Inspect exterior for crevice cracks and exposed entry points around pipes; seal them. Use weatherstripping around doors to prevent cold air from entering the home and caulk windows. Replace cracked glass in windows and, if you end up replacing the entire window, prime and paint exposed wood. If your home has a basement, consider protecting its window wells by covering them with plastic shields. Switch out summer screens with glass replacements from storage. If you have storm windows, install them.

4) Inspect Roof, Gutters & Downspouts
If your weather temperature will fall below 32 degrees in the winter, adding extra insulation to the attic will prevent warm air from creeping to your roof and causing ice dams. Check flashing to ensure water cannot enter the home.
Replace worn roof shingles or tiles. Clean out the gutters and use a hose to spray water down the downspouts to clear away debris. Consider installing leaf guards on the gutters or extensions on the downspouts to direct water away from the home.

5) Service Weather-Specific Equipment
Drain gas from lawnmowers. Service or tune-up snow blowers. Replace worn rakes and snow shovels. Clean, dry and store summer gardening equipment. Sharpen ice choppers and buy bags of ice-melt / sand.

6) Check Foundations
Rake away all debris and edible vegetation from the foundation. Seal up entry points to keep small animals from crawling under the house. Tuckpoint or seal foundation cracks. Mice can slip through space as thin as a dime. Inspect sill plates for dry rot or pest infestation. Secure crawlspace entrances.

7) Install Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Some cities require a smoke detector in every room. Buy extra smoke detector batteries and change them when daylight savings ends. Install a carbon monoxide detector near your furnace and / or water heater. Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they work. Buy a fire extinguisher or replace an extinguisher older than 10 years.

8) Prevent Plumbing Freezes
Locate your water main in the event you need to shut it off in an emergency.
Drain all garden hoses. Insulate exposed plumbing pipes. Drain air conditioner pipes and, if your AC has a water shut-off valve, turn it off. If you go on vacation, leave the heat on, set to at least 55 degrees.

9) Prepare Landscaping & Outdoor Surfaces
Trim trees if branches hang too close to the house or electrical wires. Ask a gardener when your trees should be pruned to prevent winter injury. Plant spring flower bulbs and lift bulbs that cannot winter over such as dahlias in areas where the ground freezes. Seal driveways, brick patios and wood decks. Don't automatically remove dead vegetation from gardens as some provide attractive scenery in an otherwise dreary, snow-drenched yard. Move sensitive potted plants indoors or to a sheltered area.

10) Prepare an Emergency Kit
Buy indoor candles and matches / lighter for use during a power shortage.
Find the phone numbers for your utility companies and tape them near your phone or inside the phone book. Buy a battery back-up to protect your computer and sensitive electronic equipment. Store extra bottled water and non-perishable food supplies (including pet food, if you have a pet), blankets and a first-aid kit in a dry and easy-to-access location. Prepare an evacuation plan in the event of an emergency.