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iDrive You Crazy

Prank gift box - idriveWith Christmas nearly upon us, it’s time to finish the holiday shopping! If you’re anything like me, you have no idea what to get for that special someone in your life. With smart phones, e-readers, and tablets more popular than ever, a techy-type gift would be great, but where to start?

Well, how about something to take that iPad or Kindle to the next level?

We all know the dangers of texting and driving. Hold the device up above the steering wheel and you obstruct your view of the road. Hold it in your lap and you risk spilling your coffee on it. Who wants that? If only there were a way to make texting/browsing/emailing while driving more comfortable and convenient!

Enter the iDrive! I found it at locally but it’s available from Amazon too! This steering-wheel-mounted device can hold your tablet right at hands’ level! Your eyes will barely have to leave the road while you finish that novel or play Sudoku.

Prank gift box - idrive 2

Even better, the iDrive can be mounted on a motorcycle, bike, or even a jet-ski!

Prank gift box - idrive 4 Prank gift box - idrive 3

Before you have a heart attack or throw your computer/mobile device across the room in fury (or veer off the road if you’re using an iDrive): I’m sort-of kidding.

I really did buy this, but it’s just an empty gift box meant to fool your loved ones. I’m planning on giving it to my husband. I’m not sure what I’ll put inside, but whatever it is, I’m sure it will be far less likely to result in a vehicular manslaughter charge than a real iDrive would.

I can’t wait until Christmas morning, when I can witness the look of horror on my husband’s face. Ah, ’tis the season!

Not interested in an iDrive? Perhaps a NapSack would be the perfect gift for that special loved one or work colleague? Or a Family Blankeez for your sister-in-law or your child’s teacher. Maybe you know a new or expecting mom who could really use a Crib Dribbler Feeding System – it would certainly make a memorable shower gift! For the carnivores on your holiday list – how about bacon scented dryer sheets? Let’s be honest, there’s nothing like warm, bacon-scented clothes right out of the dryer on a cold winter morning! And there are plenty of other prank boxes to choose from – truly something for everyone on your list. 

Prank gift box - NapSack Prank gift box - family blankeez Prank gift box - Crib Dribbler Prank gift box - bacon dryer sheets Prank Bath and Brew  Prank Pet Sweep

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Safest 2015 SUVs and Minivans with Three Rows of Seating for Families

Safest Family Vehicles with a 3rd Row of Seating for 2015

Are safety and seating more than a couple kids your top considerations in selecting a new vehicle?  You aren’t alone!  Our last winners, the 2011-2012 Honda Odyssey and 2010-2012 Buick Enclave (Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia) are very safe vehicles, but the landscape has changed a bit.

In particular, the IIHS has added a new crash test, the small overlap front crash test.  In addition, they now give credit for vehicles that have available frontal collision warning systems.  These systems are not all created equally, some are only basic warnings, while advanced ones can actually brake in emergency situations and possibly avoid a crash.

There are plenty of very safe vehicles.  Most midsize crossover SUVs and minivans provide excellent protection for occupants, likely better than anything on the road 10 years ago.  Side curtain airbags and stability control are now standard features.  In addition to frontal crash protection systems, advanced safety features like emergency crash notification, lane departure warning, cross traffic warning and blind spot warning systems are becoming more common on non-luxury models.

So how do we filter the list of so many family vehicles that have earned safety awards?  It’s pretty easy:

  • Must be an IIHS Top Safety Pick+
  • Must have an NHTSA 5-star overall rating
  • No  individual NHTSA crash test results of 3-stars or less
  • Must have at least 6 passenger seats

The qualifiers?  At the time of this writing, It’s a pretty exclusive list.

  1. 2014-2015 Acura MDX
  2. 2014-2015 Toyota Highlander
  3. 2014-2015 Honda Odyssey
  4. 2014-2015 Mitsubishi Outlander
  5. 2015 Toyota Sienna (refreshed)

And the winner is?

2014-2015 Acura MDX.  What’s not to like?  It not only received an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ with the optional Advance Package, but it also received a “Good” result in every single IIHS test AND sub-category of each test.  Extremely impressive, and the only 3-row vehicle to do so.  Its frontal crash mitigation system earned an “Advanced” frontal crash protection rating from the IIHS as well, but you must opt for the pricey MDX Advance Package to get a full set of advanced safety features.   In every trim are four full LATCH seating positions for carseats, plus a 5th top tether anchor, an area where many SUVs and minivans skimp.

In the NHTSA testing, it not only received a 5-star overall rating, but also received 5-stars in each of the five individual crash tests at Safercar.gov.  Also very impressive!  At 4,300 lbs., the MDX is going to have an advantage over many vehicles in a frontal crash.  Despite the weight, it is among the better handling midsize SUVs on the market and has received high praise from many automobile and consumer publications.  Perhaps the main drawback is the price tag near $55,000 with the Advance Package.  Premium fuel is required, but thankfully fuel economy increased considerably, from 16 city, 21 highway in 2013 up to 18 city, 27 highway for AWD trim in 2014-2015.

Runner Up:

2014-2015 Honda Odyssey.  For those not willing to spend over $50K on a vehicle, there’s actually one that is just as outstanding in terms of safety, but is also roomier for passengers, has more cargo space, better fuel economy and costs under $30,000.  It’s tough to beat a minivan!  Starting at $29,000, it offers a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS and a “Good” rating in each test starting in 2014.  It also received a 5-star overall rating from the NHTSA and also earned 5-stars in each of the five crash tests.  It’s 4-star rollover rating was the same as the MDX, but Odyssey has a relatively low rollover risk of 12.7%.

Unfortunately, to get the forward collision warning system, you must step up to the $36,000 EX-L trim that received a Top Safety Pick+ rating, but only a “Basic” frontal crash prevention rating.  You also get lane departure warning at this trim level as well as LaneWatch (wide angle right-side mirror camera).  Bluetooth hands-free and a backup camera are standard on all trims. Fuel economy is quite good for an 8-passenger vehicle at 19 city, 28 highway.  But where the Odyssey really stands out from this pack  is space.

For fitting three carseats or passengers across the second row, the Odyssey is a hands-down winner for any minivan or SUV.  Combine that with a reasonably wide third row seat that is comfortable enough for adults and you have a winner in terms of seating flexibility.  Add the power sliding doors and cargo space that is far superior to any midsize SUV and you have a family hauler with interior and cargo space not matched by anything but the very largest monster truck-based SUVs.

Maybe you already have a minivan, or just want something smaller and easier to fit into a parking spot or garage?  Or with one or two kids, you simply don’t need the extra row of seating.  There are also some excellent 5-passenger SUVs on the market in our next segment coming soon.

 

Celebrating the Brand New Cosco Scenera NEXT

Scenera NEXT FionaThis story begins back in August at the KIM Conference, when Dorel Senior Product Marketing Manager, Ryan Hawker, pulled Kecia and me aside and told us excitedly he had something to show us. That something was the Scenera NEXT and the official launch for this awesome little seat was on Saturday at the Dorel Technical Center in Columbus, IN, where they manufacture the NEXT and other Dorel carseats. Honored for the invitation to the launch, I had to battle Darren, Kecia, and Jennie for who would go to the event. Unfortunately for Darren and Kecia, they had already visited the Dorel Technical Center several years ago when it first opened; Jennie’s daughter, it turns out, had a recital that day. Win for Heather!

Technical center sign

The Dorel manufacturing facility is indeed enormous at 1.1 million square feet. They do everything here from designing carseats to 3D printing for testing to manufacturing to storage and shipping. We started our tour of the facility at the Technical Center. Everyone had done a great job of setting it up for fun! There were balloons anchored by locking clips everywhere. All employees were wearing Scenera NEXT t-shirts. The launch event wasn’t just a tour for the blog and two other invited dignitaries (That makes us sound important, doesn’t it? Ha!). No, it was for the families of those who work on the NEXT to come in and see what their family members do at work. This was the first time Dorel had done an event like this and also the FIRST time they’d gotten a carseat from idea to production in a YEAR. That’s unheard of in carseatland.

Scenera NEXT Fiona Scenera NEXT Minnie Scenera NEXT Realtree Pink Camo Scenera NEXT Bloom

We started in the foyer of the Technical Center where they had a few NEXT fashions shown, then we moved into a room with a big screen where they were showing a video of kids explaining the features of the NEXT. All 13 fashions of the NEXT were there—unfortunately it was very dark and there was no way I could get a good picture. Trust me, you’ll love them all. They had face painting for the kids off to the right in the open offices—you can tell this is a carseat company since there are carseats laying about everywhere. They weren’t just new carseats either. Ancient carseats in pristine condition lined one wall—oh wait, they’re still a few years younger than me.

1972 Cosco seat old seats 2 old seats 1

We next visited the 3D printing room where 2 printers work to make test pieces. When an engineer designs a part and wants to know if it will work a certain way, he or she sends a CAD file here and it’ll get printed up. Sometimes the part is sturdy enough to be installed on the test seat located in the room.

3D models

Just a few feet down the hall is the crash testing lab. They were running crash tests about every 5 minutes so everyone could get a chance to see one. The crash tests happen so fast you have to be standing and looking at just the right spot to see it happen. Even then, if you blink, you miss it. That’s truly how fast it happens. Fortunately, they had a slo-mo video at the other end of a different test that we all shuffled down to watch. Because they weren’t setting up a new seat after each test, I asked Ryan if they had ever done multiple crash tests on a seat before. He said they hadn’t and were using this as an opportunity to see how this carseat held up. I didn’t look carefully at the seat they were using, but I believe it was Safety 1st Complete Air.

On our way to see the NEXT actually being molded, we came across 2 carseat mold forms—about 4′ tall—sitting on the floor. Ryan explained that the mold comes in 2 halves, which are pressed together under great pressure. The plastic is injected into the mold, cooled, then removed from the mold by robots for more cooling, removing of sharp plastic bits, and label application. Next the seat shells are transported by conveyor belt to human hands for wicked fast assembly of the rubber plugs that help the NEXT grip the vehicle seat, harness adjuster strap, tether assembly, harness, LATCH strap, and cover. The final step in the process is a computerized camera and laser quality assurance check that makes sure *everything* on the carseat has been assembled perfectly. If it hasn’t, an alarm is sounded and it gets pulled and checked for errors. Each carseat is stored in a database so it can be tracked if a customer calls about it.

mold injection mold machine injection mold machine 2 injection mold machine 3 injection mold machine 4 injection mold machine piston assembly line

We ended our tour where most employees begin their day: at the Shining Star wall. When they clock in, employees pass a wall filled with stories where Dorel carseats have saved lives. Handwritten thank you letters with pictures of carseats and crashed vehicles are posted on the wall and a notebook is kept to the side to keep older letters as new ones arrive. It goes to show that when you share your story with the people who create the carseat your baby rides in, whether your baby is a few hours old or several years old, they know about it and appreciate it.

Dorel Shining Star wall

After going through the facility and meeting the people behind Dorel and Cosco, I came away with a powerful feeling of family and pride. We ran into many 2nd generation employees as we made our way through and they were so proud to share their jobs with us and their families, who had never been to the factory floor before. All the families were dressed up and it was clearly an important and fun day for everyone and all for the launch of a new little carseat destined to take the carseat world by storm.

We have a mini-review of the Cosco Scenera NEXT in our Comparison of Budget Priced Convertibles under $100 and will have a full review soon. Stay tuned for a giveaway! The NEXT is available for purchase for $49 from Walmart.com.

Of course, my trip to Indiana would not have been possible if not for the invitation from our Cosco friends and 360 Public Relations. Thank you for sharing the day with me and allowing me to see your processes and the pride behind the products.

Provide an Honest Service? Beware Selling it With Paypal!

I’ve been scammed a couple times on eBay.  Ultimately, I cancelled my eBay sellers account and haven’t sold anything there in years.  I continued to use Paypal for its convenience, despite the heavy fees.  I wrongly assumed this paid for their service in the event of a dispute.  I was very, very wrong.  Paypal’s own community clearly demonstrates the thousands of scams, many seemingly perpetrated with Paypal’s defacto support.

If you provide any service to a buyer, be wary of using Paypal to accept payments, especially using automatic renewals with their pre-approved payments system.   This system is nothing more than a way for buyers to use your services for free.  As I discovered recently, Paypal doesn’t even adhere to its own User Agreement for disputes of this type.  A dishonest buyer can claim any or all of their previous subscription payments were “unauthorized”.  They simply say the seller took the funds from their account without their knowledge (which isn’t even possible in general), or someone hacked their account, or whatever.

The worst part is that Paypal doesn’t let the seller provide any proof to the contrary or investigate at all.  I had proof in my recent case.  Their Resolution Center says it gives you an option to upload files and comments when you Respond to the case, but in my case, it only gave me options to refund or ship.  They refuse to accept such information by email or phone support.  Their email support is dismal, anyway.  The representatives apparently cannot read or understand English, and can only respond to you with generic pre-made responses.

In my case, the dispute was for a transaction that didn’t qualify for a dispute according to Paypal’s own terms.  I was finally able to call and get a fax number where I sent my response, twice.  They ignored it.  At the end of the response period, they sent me an email claiming I had failed to respond in the given time.  One minute later, they sent another email saying they had completed their “investigation” and deducted the funds from my account.

Fortunately, it was a trivial amount.  In fact, I had already refunded one of the two disputed preapproved payments as a one-time exception to the clearly stated no-refund policy.  I was going to refund the other one too, just for goodwill.   Perhaps the buyer didn’t notice that they had chosen the automatically renewing option.  Maybe they didn’t see the renewal email notices or forgot to cancel it.  Maybe they were just a basic thief and wanted to use a paid service for free.  It doesn’t really matter when you are the seller and have honestly provided your service for a fee.

But Paypal’s involvement (or lack thereof) was a good lesson in all of this.  Even for transactions over 6 months old, they will freeze your funds and not allow you to provide evidence.  If you are accepting a large sum for a service, BE VERY WARY OF PAYPAL.  There are plenty of other reputable payment systems today.  Based on my experience, if it’s not a tangible item, Paypal will apparently automatically refund your fairly earned money, even if it means ignoring their own User Agreement.

I will no longer pay the big Paypal fees on larger sums.  I am curtailing my use of Paypal to avoid any sales on non-tangible items like services, if at all possible.  I suppose it’s pretty safe to use Paypal as a buyer if you are cautious, especially on items that qualify for buyer protection.  That is my opinion based on recent experience, anyway.  Let the seller beware!