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Will your next SUV be a plug-in?

Published: Friday, June 05, 2015 @ 6:56 AM
Updated: Friday, June 05, 2015 @ 7:22 AM

About Clark Howard

Clark Howard is a Radio and TV consumer expert who shows you ways to save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off. His daily syndicated radio show is heard on more than 200 radio stations throughout North America.

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SUVs have had two distinct reputations. One as a family carry-all capable of hauling lots of people, their stuff and the occasional trailer. The other is as a fuel-chugging, bloated example of everything that’s wrong with the world. Love them or hate them, the SUV became the target of plenty of attacks that blamed them for everything from reliance on imported oil to climate change.

The SUV came about in the 1980s as an alternative for those who wanted to drive something else other than the station wagons their parents did. Sure, the minivan was also starting to get increasingly popular during the same period, but the SUV offered a rugged look and off-road capabilities that gave drivers a sense that they could go anywhere in the event the roads turned to mud.  A commanding view of the road was also a big draw. These capabilities, while firmly embraced by the buying public, came at the expense of fuel economy.

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Over the years, the SUV has morphed way beyond its humble beginnings into vehicles that offer all the luxury and comfort of high-end sedans combined with the three-row seating of the minivan. One thing that really hasn’t changed much is the SUV’s appetite for fuel. But that’s about to get a makeover.


Volvo's latest entry

Volvo was fairly late to the SUV market having introduced its first model in 2002. The XC90 was positioned to offer buyers an alternative to the wagons Volvo had successfully sold for years without buyers having to defect to another manufacturer. The XC90 was hugely successful for Volvo and the United States became its largest market. And, because of its success, it was offered from 2002 to 2015 virtually unchanged.  That is a very long product cycle in the automotive industry.

All things must eventually change and now Volvo is bringing a new XC90 to market and this one is particularly interesting for not only what it brings, but for what it does not.

The previous model offered 5, 6 and 8 cylinder models so buyers had a choice of going with a smaller and more fuel efficient engines or a powerful and less fuel efficient V8. In a radical departure, the new model is available in two versions and both of them rely on the same 4-cylinder engine.

The 2-liter 4-cylinder engine is remarkable because it's not only supercharged but turbocharged as well.  Typically, modern internal combustion engines offer either turbocharging or supercharging, but not both.

The two versions that are available are the T6 and the T8 Twin Engine. While the T6 makes due with the 4-cylinder engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission delivering power to the road through all-wheel drive, the T8 Twin Engine also incorporates an electric motor and full hybrid drivetrain attached to 9.2kWh lithium ion battery. This gives the T8 Twin Engine full plug-in electric vehicle (PHEV) capabilities.  In this application, the XC90 T8 Twin Engine is capable of up to 17 miles of all electric driving. This is the first time a 7-seater SUV has been brought to market with a PHEV drivetrain.

Why is this important?

The Department of Transportation has a study shows that the average motorist drives approximately 13,500 miles per year. That averages to about 37 miles per day.  The DOT also reports the average commute is 15 miles one way.

These numbers from the DOT show why PHEV capabilities are so important. Given that a driver falls into the average, at least one leg of a commute can be an all electric, zero tailpipe emission affair if they happen to be driving a plug-in hybrid like the XC90 T8. And, if that driver has access to charging while at work, the entire commute can be fossil-fuel free. Even for those with longer commutes, a significant reduction in expense can be realized by using this type of technology.

Driving the XC90

During the launch of the new XC90 in Southern California, I had the opportunity to drive both the new models. Volvo, like other manufacturers, is currently replacing larger, thirstier engines with smaller, more efficient ones. But, because the overall size of the vehicles really isn’t changing all that much, these smaller engines have to produce the same amount of power that the larger engine models did in order to keep customers satisfied. So, how is this done?

In the case of the Volvo XC90, the overall size and displacement of the engine has been reduced. In this case, reduced to a relatively small 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine. In order to keep the driver from feeling power-starved, the engine incorporates a supercharger that significantly boosts power from 0-3,000 RPM (rotations per minute). Above 3,000 RPM, a turbocharger takes over. Because superchargers tend to be more responsive at lower RPMs and turbochargers tend to need a bit of time to build pressure, this gives the small engine a significant boost in power from the moment the driver hits the accelerator and maintains that power all the way up to the redline (maximum RPM).

This engine powers the XC90 T6 though an 8-speed automatic transmission. With 316 horsepower available, there is plenty of oomph available and it feels much more powerful than one would expect out of a 2-liter 4-cylinder. Because of the combination of supercharging and turbocharging, the power delivery is very linear. In lower RPMs, it’s pretty obvious that there’s a 4 cylinder under the hood but as RPMs increase, the sound the engine makes becomes more serious and more substantial.

I had the opportunity to drive the T6 model from Santa Monica to Ojai and back. Along the Pacific Coast Highway, it performed exactly as one might expect a Volvo to. The ride was comfortable and well controlled and the standard Lane Departure Warning sends its message through a gentle steering wheel vibration. It worked particularly well and is fairly unobtrusive.  It did, however, take a while to get accustomed to the vibration.

The pedestrian/cyclist detection system was quite jarring but extremely accurate. There didn’t appear to be an override switch but, if there were, I’d use it. Or, at very least, find a way to make the warning less alarming.

Despite having ample opportunity to put the engine though its paces, I averaged a respectable 25 MPG. That included stop and go traffic, highway and mountain driving. Use of an available ECO mode and start/stop capabilities certainly helped me get that mileage and I suspect that ordinary drivers will have little problem besting the numbers I achieved.  

My test drive in the XC90 T8 Twin Engine was more focused on city driving so I could really test the electric portion of the drivetrain.

Despite the fact that I was driving a pre-production model, everything seemed to work very well. The electric portion of the drivetrain seems to offer enough power to keep up with traffic. If the accelerator is pressed to the floor, however, the gasoline engine will start to provide the maximum amount of power and immediately shut down when the need for power subsides.  

There are a variety of settings that can be selected by the driver. During my drive, I selected ‘Pure.’ That setting maximizes the all-electric experience and, as mentioned, only uses the gasoline engine when the accelerator is pressed to the floor. Other settings include ‘Save’ which saves the use of the battery for more appropriate times such as city driving. There is also a ‘Hybrid’ mode in which the vehicle operates as a hybrid.  

Because I was driving a pre-production model, I won’t go in depth on the driving experience except that it was very similar to the gasoline-only T6. I did find that in ‘Pure’ mode, the steering feel was somewhat vague and that may be a result of the electric power steering set to use as little power as possible.  In ‘Hybrid’ mode, the steering felt just as good as in the T6. Because the ‘Pure’ mode will likely be used by most around town, this will be of little consequence to most drivers.

The T8 Twin Engine is mechanically quite a different beast.  It is an all-wheel drive vehicle as well, but there is no mechanical link between the front and rear wheels.  The front wheels are driven by the gas engine and hybrid system whereas the rear wheels are driven independently by an electric engine that is packaged where one might expect to find the differential in a conventional car. It’s a very efficiently packaged drivetrain and there is no intrusion on the interior.

Speaking of the interior, it is very typical of what one has come to expect from Volvo. The seats deserve special mention because they are monumentally comfortable.

Volvo proudly states that, while the new XC90 was under development for five years, the seats have been under development for seven years and that they have been specially designed to reduce the risk of spinal injury in an accident.

It is clear that a lot of thought has been put into them. The same basic seat design is used for the front, two outboard seats in the second row, and both in the third row. The center seat in the second row features a built-in booster seat for children.

Another feature of the interior are the center-stack controls for the navigation, radio, climate control and phone. They are instantly responsive with no delay and the navigation system responds to ‘gestures’ so zooming in on a map is very similar to zooming in on a webpage on a tablet or smartphone. Just place the fingers on the screen and spread them and the section of the map covered by the fingers springs up in detail.

How’s the efficiency?

The XC90 T6 is rated at 25 highway, 20 city and a combined MPG of 22.  The XC90 T8 Twin Engine has a preliminary rating of 59eMPG. eMPG  is the rating system used for electric cars and PHEVs. In hybrid mode and after the 9.2kWh battery has been expended, it’s possible to see fuel economy numbers in the low to mid 30s. That’s pretty impressive for a seven-seater.

The competition

As it stands right now, Volvo will have the only game in town when it comes to seven-seats and PHEV technology.  However, the T8 Twin Engine goes on sale this fall just about the same time that Tesla is expected to release its fully electric Model X. Although Tesla has yet to release numbers, the price is expected to be close to $100,000.  Volvo has said that the XC90 Twin Engine price will start at just over $68,000 and the gas-only T6 will start at just under $49,000. That’s not cheap. But, in the case of the T6, it is very much in-line with the competition.  The T8 Twin Engine is priced somewhere between the Mercedes GLE (formerly M-Class) and Audi Q7 on the low end and the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne on the higher end. It should also be noted that all of those other models are available with diesel engines that do offer a mileage boost over the gasoline equivalents. But, none of them offer PHEV variants yet though Mercedes, Porsche and BMW have them in the works for 2017 and Audi has an all-electric version of its Q7 slated for sometime after that.


But, until those models come out, Volvo has the only one. And, while it is pricey, it’s also an excellent way of reducing some of the expense of driving an SUV while still having access to the features that made them so popular in the first place.

Moldy comforter among latest product recalls

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 12:32 PM

Moldy comforter among latest product recalls

The latest product recalls include a potentially moldy comforter, an unstable bassinette, and snow globes that could potentially cause a fire, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 


The Hudson comforters by UGG under recall were sold at Bed Bath & Beyond and may contain mold which could pose a risk of infection or respiratory issues in people with a mold allergy or compromised immune system. 

The comforters come in four colors: garnet, navy, grey and oatmeal. They were sold between August 2017 and October 2017. 

No injuries have been reported. 

If you have one don't use it and return it to the store for a full refund. Call Bed Bath & Beyond at 800-462-3966 for more information. 


The latest product recalls include a potentially moldy comforter, an unstable bassinette, and snow globes that could potentially cause a fire, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The Multipro Baby Cradle N Swing bassinet sold on poses a fall and entrapment hazard for babies. 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports the bassinets fail to meet mandatory federal safety standards. 

It is recommended that you take the bassinet apart and throw it away. No injuries have been reported. 

Amazon has contacted purchasers and issued full refund gift cards. 

If you have one of these products and did not yet receive a refund contact Amazon at 888-280-4331. 


The latest product recalls include a potentially moldy comforter, an unstable bassinette, and snow globes that could potentially cause a fire, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Two Coldwater Creek snow globe models pose a fire hazard. 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports light refraction through the globes may melt or singe things placed near them. 

Once incident of damage has been reported. 

The Reindeer snow globe has the model number XC7484. 

The Vintage charm snow globe contains a silver snowman and has the model number 3WGL120. 

They were sold in Coldwater Creek stores and online. 

Stop using the snow globes and contact Coldwater Creek at 888-678 5576 to return the product for a full refund. 


The latest product recalls include a potentially moldy comforter, an unstable bassinette, and snow globes that could potentially cause a fire, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Fujifilm is recalling some digital camera power adapters because they could shock you. 

The adapter plug can break or crack exposing live electrical contacts, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

The AC-5VF power adaptors were sold with six Fujifilm digital camera models in stores and online. 

Don't use the adapter and contact Fujifilm at 833-613-1200 for a free replacement. 

No injuries have been reported. 

Top tips for selling your old stuff on eBay (and actually making cash)

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 2:52 PM

Here are some tips from experts Only sell valuable stuff Understand the fees Avoid the scams Optimize your title Take great photos Don't try to profit from shipping charges

Too much clutter, too little money, too many gifts you didn't like... an eBay auction is one of the simplest solutions to all three issues.

If your trash might be someone else's treasure, an eBay business is simple to start and accessible to just about anyone. "It has low start-up costs and it can be started out of your home," noted the New Life Auctions blog, written by sellers who have been active since 2000. "You can work at your own pace and on your own time."

»RELATED: 5 side hustles you can do from the comfort of your home

Within that flexible framework, though, are certain strategies for making far more money and clearing out a lot more junk as an eBay seller.


»Here are 10 tips from NLA and other experts: 

Only sell valuable stuff

Yes, you're trying to profit by selling stuff you don't want, but you want to make sure there are some potential buyers who will disagree with you. Start by perusing eBay's own list of what's selling well.

Understand the fees

While it's easy to enter the world of eBay sellers, sales involve fees and you'd do well to balance them against earnings, according to NLA, which offers an eBay fee calculator that allows you to compare which listing formats and categories have the lowest fees, and how much each listing upgrade will deduct from your bottom line.

Avoid the scams

You might be surprised to learn that plenty of the scams that surround eBay sales affect sellers. "Many of the scams take advantage of sellers not knowing all the rules for safe trading on eBay," NLA said. "It is very important for a seller to completely understand PayPal's seller protection program." One scam involves a buyer using PayPal, waiting for the item to be delivered and then opening a dispute with PayPal if you didn't check "delivery confirmation."

If you don't use PayPal's "signature confirmation" option to sell higher-priced goods on eBay, a scammer might open a dispute with PayPal claiming the item wasn't received. "Unable to show proof of delivery, PayPal takes the funds out of the seller's account and returns it to the scammer," NLA noted. The blog outlines other potential scams and ways to avoid them, including credit card chargeback, fake money order and "you have been chosen to sell our products" scams.

Optimize your title

Your title, not the item description, drives search results. Include critical keywords, using a search of keywords for similar completed listings to guide you. Try to include the same keywords as the listings that sold for the highest price. Avoid words like "look" or "incredible" in your title, advised NLA, since no one uses those words to search. If you have a few words leftover in your title, consider adding a common misspelling of the primary keyword to catch the eye both of bad spellers and bargain hunters who search using commonly misspelled listings

Emma Drew, who blogs about money on, said you should include terms you would use when searching for something on eBay. (Be sure to check out her "10 weird things that actually sold on eBay" post each month.)

Spell it right

Most people can't find listings with the primary keyword spelled wrong. That means fewer bidders. 

Take great photos

A picture may not be worth the proverbial thousand words on eBay, but it's pretty close. eBay itself recommends these tactics in its section on taking great pictures:

  • Use a plain, uncluttered backdrop to draw attention to your item.
  • Turn off the flash, instead using diffused lighting to prevent shadows and reflections.
  • Use a tripod to prevent softness and blur.
  • Fill the frame with the item.
  • Capture all angles, details and blemishes.
  • Show the scale.
  • Don't use props.
  • For fashion items, use a model, dress form or mannequin so buyers can see fit.
  • Shoot shoes from different angles so buyers can see the front, top, sides and bottom.

List on Thursday nights

It is common knowledge that eBay auctions ending on Sunday evening are the most profitable and popular, noted Drew, and listing for 10 days on a Thursday gives you two Sunday nights. 

Allow international buyers

"Every bid counts, even if it comes from the other side of the world," according to NLA. "Odds are they won't win the auction, so why not let them bid?" If an international buyer does win your auction, you are able to charge a separate handling fee to compensate for your time filling out the customs form. You'll also want to make it a policy to insure all international packages.

Don't try to profit from shipping charges

If your shipping rates are unreasonable, most buyers will be on to you in a flash, according to NLA. "People know that they are being ripped off and they will leave your auction and not return. Charge a reasonable handling fee." 

Resist the urge to end an auction early

If someone e-mails you with an offer that requires you to end your auction early, don't take it, NLA urged. Even the best early offers are usually just a fraction of what your item is really worth.


6 common first-time homebuyer mistakes that could cost you big time

Published: Friday, December 29, 2017 @ 9:42 AM

Be sure to avoid these 6 common mistakes that first-time home buyers often make Not getting a professional inspection Not putting a pause button on purchases Not keeping up with correspondence Not understanding the hidden costs of buying a home Not working with a buyer's agent Not looking into loan assistance programs

Buying a home can be a daunting task − whether it is your first or fifth time heading to the closing table. 

For most of us, it will be the largest investment of our lives. However, there are factors predicted for the upcoming year that will make purchasing a home even more stressful. 

»RELATED: House hunters, here are 5 secrets to getting the best home loan

According to Redfin's 2018 projections, inventory will remain low, especially for smaller starter-homes. Additionally, thirty-year mortgage rates are expected to rise between 4.3 and 4.5 percent. Changes to the capital gains tax may also persuade many current homeowners not to sell, putting even more strain on the inventory list. However, there are still deals to be found and your dream home may very well still be out there waiting on you. 

When you find it, be sure to avoid these 6 common mistakes that first-time homebuyers often make:

Not getting a professional inspection

The idea of paying for a home inspection for a property that you might not even buy seems like a silly concept to some, but it can save you tens of thousands of dollars in the long run. The median cost of a home inspection is $350-$600 for an average or larger sized house, according to Compared to potential issues with the foundation, electrical system or plumbing, however, it's a small price to pay.

Not putting a pause button on purchases

Buying your first house can be an exciting process and many new buyers get the urge to buy furniture and other home essentials before their closing date. While it's understandable to want to get a head start, it is very important that you not do this. According to Kayla Sweeny, a mortgage loan originator with Southeast Mortgage, a very common mistake is "buying things on credit during the mortgage process. The credit report has to be updated to add the new debt. Debt-to-Income ratios have to be recalculated and the file has to be reviewed again. This could potentially kill a deal."

Not keeping up with correspondence

Sweeny also noted that many first time buyers fail to check their mail, e-mail or messages regularly. "There could be critical loan documentation that a mortgage loan originator or processor has sent the borrower. The entire process is time sensitive. A sense of urgency is a must." This also applies to correspondence from your real estate agent, appraiser and inspector.

(For the AJC)

Not understanding the hidden costs of buying a home

Everyone knows that you'll likely require a mortgage to purchase a home. Unfortunately, many people fail to factor in the other costs associated with purchase - appraisals, earnest money, inspection costs, taxes, HOA dues, utilities and so on. Rafael Castellanos, president of Expert Title Insurance, told, "They have an idea of what their mortgage payment is going to be, but they don't realize there's much more to it."

Not working with a buyer's agent

Some first-time buyers believe that they don't need or can't afford a buyer's agent. Nothing could be further from the truth. Home purchasing contracts can be long and confusing, filled with legalese that often baffle the layman. Eddie Hudson, owner of The Smyrna Team at Keller Williams, explains that "this means you have no representation, and working with a buyer's agent is free of charge as the seller is paying the commission."

Not looking into loan assistance programs

There are lots of loan programs out there for first-time buyers, from federal down to local levels. Many people don't know to look for them, though. Veterans should absolutely look at the VA program, while everyone else should look at the HUD website to see if any loan or grant programs apply to them. Some municipalities have programs to develop certain areas. The assistance offered can range from help with down payments and closing costs to discounted properties in certain areas.


Aldi, Kroger recalls some apples due to possible listeria contamination

Published: Wednesday, December 20, 2017 @ 3:50 PM
Updated: Thursday, December 21, 2017 @ 4:43 PM

Possible Listeria Contamination Forces Apple Recall at Aldi

Low-cost grocery store chain Aldi and supermarket Kroger have issued voluntary recalls of some of its apples.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, which posts voluntary recalls, Jack Brown Produce, Inc., based in Sparta, Michigan, is recalling Gala, Fuji, Honeycrisp and Golden Delicious apples because of listeria concerns.

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“In cooperation with Jack Brown Produce Inc., and out of an abundance of caution, Aldi has voluntarily recalled an assortment of apples that were available for purchase in stores starting  on December 13, 2017, due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination,” Aldi said in a news release Tuesday.

The recall came after one of Jack Brown Produce’s suppliers, Nyblad Orchards Inc., notified the businesses of the affected products.

The affected products were sold at some Aldi stores in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina and North Carolina. 

“To date, no illnesses related to these products have been reported. No other Aldi products are affected by this,” the company said.

Kroger said it recalled lunchbox-size Fuji and Galas sold between Dec. 12 and Tuesday, according to USA Today.

The products affected are sold under the brand name “Apple Ridge” and are as follows: 

  • Honeycrisp apples in 2-pound clear plastic bags;
  • Gala, Fuji, and Golden Delicious apples in 3-pound clear plastic bags;
  • Fuji and Gala apples in 5-pound red-netted mesh bags; and
  • Gala, Fuji and Honeycrisp apples that were tray-packed/individually sold.

Products that may be affected can be identified by the following lot numbers printed on the bag label or the bag-closure clip:

Fuji: NOI 163, 165, 167, 169, 174

Honeycrisp: NOI 159, 160, 173 Golden Delicious: NOI 168 
Gala: NOI 164, 166 on either the product labels and/or bag-closure clip

Affected customers should immediately discard the products or return them to a local store for a full refund. Customers with questions can callJack Brown Produce Inc. at 616-887-9568, Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST.