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    Katrina Victims Challenge Insurance Denials

    NOLA Flooding Caused by Human Neglect of Levees, One Suit Argues

    In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a major storm is brewing over the denial of many homeowners' insurance claims. Battered by consumer attorneys on one side, major insurers are watching their credit ratings being downgraded because of what's likely to be the largest insured loss in U.S. history.

    Insurance adjusters are out in force, using rented SUVs and wading boots and working 16-hour days. But the verdicts they deliver are often not much more welcome than Katrina herself was.

    Adjusters are denying many homeowners' claims, saying the damage was caused by flooding, an "Act of God" that is not covered by homeowners policies. Many homeowners are outraged and several prominent lawyers are right behind the adjusters.

    Dean Barras of Marrero, La., said State Farm denied coverage on much of the damage to his home, claiming that the "chimney was not built properly." In a complaint to ConsumerAffairs.com, Barras complained that much of the damage occurred during the two weeks his home was exposed to the elements, without electricity or air conditioning.

    Among the damage State Farm refused to cover was: a double-pane window with water in it, warped door frames, wooden musical instruments ruined by humidity, furniture and cabinetry swollen by humidity, roof damage from wind-driven debris, a batting cage with a tree on top of it and a houseful of appliances damaged by an apparent electrical surge.

    "Imagine your entire house a steam bath with blown-open doors and exposed to the elements for two weeks," Barras said. "I paid insurance premiums for 9 yrs. faithfully on this dwelling. Thanks for your ears -- I'm tired."

    Dickie Scruggs

    Enter Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, a Mississippi lawyer who has won billions in suits against tobacco and asbestos companies. He is suing several major insurance companies, including State Farm, Allstate and Nationwide. Scruggs said that although most of the hurricane damage was caused by "a combination of wind and storm surge," insurance adjusters are claiming that the losses are due solely to flooding, which is not covered by homeowners insurance.

    Scruggs said he expects to file "tens of thousands of lawsuits" for homeowners along the Gulf Coast. Rather than a class-action suit, he said, the suits would be consolidated into "common issue" legal actions in which juries will render verdicts, and in which insurance companies could be ordered to pay the amount required under each individual policy. Scruggs is the brother-in-law of Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.

    Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has also sued property insurers, trying to force them to pay for more of the damage.

    Louisiana Suit Blames the Levees

    In Louisiana, plaintiff attorneys with the McKernan Law Firm have filed suit on behalf of homeowners in the Greater New Orleans area claiming that the high water in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes was caused by a man-made neglect of levees protecting the area and wind damage rather than rising water caused by natural elements, normally exempted under the "Act of God" clause.

    The lawyers argued that it was breeches in the levees, not a storm surge, that caused most of the damage in the New Orleans area. Water did not come over the levee but flooded the areas in question only after the breeches occurred, their lawsuits will argue.

    Insurers Respond

    The insurance industry is adamant that the losses are caused by flooding, which is not covered by the typical homeowner casualty policy.

    "The flood loss exclusion in homeowner policies is clearly worded, has existed for decades and has withstood previous legal and political challenges," said Ernie Csiszar, president and CEO of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. "We're outraged by this attempt to retroactively rewrite policies so that every risk will be covered, regardless of the cost to millions of American consumers."

    Flood losses have been covered separately by the National Flood Insurance Program since 1968, Csiszar said. Many lenders require home buyers in risky areas to purchase this federally guaranteed protection in order to qualify for mortgages. However, it is not mandatory for all homeowners.

    Csiszar said private insurers have historically excluded flood damage from most standard homeowner's policies because of the potential for catastrophic, widespread, and repeated losses.

    Insurers Downgraded

    Standard & Poor's has placed major U.S. insurers including State Farm, Allstate, Allmerica and United Fire Group on its CreditWatch list because of their "exposure to the catastrophic and unparalleled losses stemming from Hurricane Katrina."

    International companies placed on the list are: Ace Group, Lloyd's, Oil Casualty, Montpelier Re, PXRE and Swiss Re.

    Fitch Ratings also put five North American insurers on its Rating Watch Negative list. The affected companies include: The Allstate Corporation, Horace Mann Educators Corp., Montpelier Re Holdings Ltd., PXRE Group Ltd., and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

    Fitch said it believes that Hurricane Katrina will represent the largest insured loss in U.S. history, surpassing the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack and Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

    Katrina Victims Challenge Insurance Denials...
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    Healthy Diet Cuts Pancreatic Cancer Risk

    California researchers have concluded that a diet filled with fruits and vegetables is an effective weapon in keeping pancreatic cancer at bay

    California researchers have concluded that a diet filled with fruits and vegetables is an effective weapon in keeping pancreatic cancer at bay. The findings by a team from the University of California at San Francisco showed the fruit and vegetable-rich diet cut the risk of pancreatic cancer in half.

    According to the study, the more servings of fruits and vegetables, the better than chances of avoiding the cancer. Eating two servings a day, for example, was not effective. Eating five servings or more was associated with the 50 percent reduction in cancer risk.

    Not all vegetable are equal, according to the researchers. Onions, garlic, beans, yellow vegetables and dark leafy vegetables provide the most protection. Tomatoes and lighter colored vegetables are less effective, according to the study.

    If you had to choose between fruits and vegetables, the researchers say you would get more cancer protection from vegetables. Of the fruits, citrus seemed to be most effective.

    The researchers said the findings are important because pancreatic cancer is hard to diagnose and treat. They say a healthy diet can make pancreatic cancer even rarer to start with.

    Healthy Diet Cuts Pancreatic Cancer Risk...
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    Pennsylvania Fines Hearing Aid Company $190,000

    Marketing Specialists Inc. held in contempt of court

    A Pennsylvania hearing aid company has been ordered to stop conducting business in the state, fined $190,000 and ordered to pay nearly $31,000 in consumer restitution, Attorney General Tom Corbett announced.

    Clearfield County Judge Paul E. Cherry found Mark E. Jones and his business M.E. Jones Hearing Instruments, of Dubois, and Joseph G. Pannette and his business Marketing Specialists Inc., of the same address, in contempt for violating the court's July 2001 order.

    Pannette is a hearing aid fitter and business manager of M.E. Jones Hearing Instruments. He is also the president and sole owner of Marketing Specialists Inc., which managed customer accounts for M.E. Jones Hearing Instruments and manufactured the hearing aids that were sold to consumers.

    Corbett said in July 2001, the Clearfield Court of Common Pleas entered a Preliminary Injunction Order against the three defendants prohibiting them from violating Pennsylvania's Hearing Aid Sales Registration Law and Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.

    The court ruled that the defendants violated its order by failing to comply with the 30-day money back guarantee required by the Hearing Aid Sales Registration Law and the three-day right to cancel provision under the Consumer Protection Law.

    The Petition for Contempt was filed in November 2003 after the Attorney General's Office received new complaints claiming that the defendants continued to illegally deny consumers their refunds or honor their requests to cancel the sales contracts.

    Many consumers said the defendants falsely told them that they were not eligible for a refund. Others claimed that they were forced to wait months to get their money back. The consumers said that they paid the defendant between $1,200 and $2,000 for a single hearing aid device that either did not fit properly or failed to improve their ability to hear.

    During the contempt hearing, the daughter of a 98-year-old Bedford County man said that her father paid the defendants $4,000 for two hearing aids that never worked properly. Despite the defendants' repeated claims that they would correct the problems, the devices failed to improve the consumer's hearing as promised and he was denied a refund. The daughter said her father's inability to hear not only made him feel alienated, but created a safety issue because she could no longer communicate with him over the telephone.

    "This case was particularly egregious because the victims were mostly older Pennsylvanians who were defrauded out of significant sums of money as they tried to improve their quality of life," Corbett said.

    "The court's prior order put the defendants on notice that they were barred from engaging in illegal business practices and they chose to ignore the ruling," said Corbett. "It's appropriate that the defendants face stiff penalties and the ultimate consequence which is forever forfeiting their right to conduct business in this field in the Commonwealth."

    Under the court order, the defendants are required to:

    • Pay nearly $31,000 to consumers who filed complaints with the Bureau of Consumer Protection.

    • Pay a $190,000 maximum civil penalty.

    • Permanently forfeit their right to continue doing business in the Commonwealth.

    A Pennsylvania hearing aid company has been ordered to stop conducting business in the state, fined $190,000 and ordered to pay nearly $31,000 in consumer ...
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      GM Offers OnStar Diagnostic Service by Email

      Your Car Will Tell You How It's Feeling

      If your car carries the General Motors OnStar satellite-based communications system, the worlds largest automaker knows where you and probably how fast you are driving. Now the automaker is pitching OnStar as a service that allows your car to tell you how it's doing.

      GM is already capable of performing diagnostic checks on vehicles by remote control, when owners ask for them. Now, U.S. customers who sign up for OnStar Vehicle Diagnostics will have a battery of tests done automatically and will get an e-mail generated by their own vehicle roughly every 30 days.

      The information will include feedback on a car's engine, transmission, anti-lock brakes, air bags and other vital vehicle systems. The emails will also include reminders of when a vehicle is due for an oil change or when customers actually have to visit their dealership for scheduled maintenance.

      The OnStar global positioning device and technology is built into almost every GM vehicle produced since the 2004 model year.

      The automaker attempted to turn the tracking system into a profit center promoting it as a safety feature that included automatic alerting of emergency services when air bags are deployed, the ability to assist authorities in locating stolen vehicles, and remote unlocking of doors when keys are left inside.

      While not a flop, the emergency services options option was not a raging success either.

      OnStar is offered free of charge to GM's retail car buyers the first year but costs $199 a year after that. GM says about 65 percent of its customers opt to keep the service.

      GM executives hope the diagnostic service boosts customer appreciation of OnStar increasing the retention rate after the initial year.

      GM plans to soon offer OnStar as standard equipment in all its vehicles.

      GM Offers OnStar Diagnostic Service by Email...
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      Katrina Victims Face Insurance Delays, Denials

      Mississippi Files Sues to Void Certain Exclusions

      Katrina survivors are reporting difficulty in obtaining copies of their insurance policies in the wake of the disaster and some are finding that insurance companies are refusing to pay claims, pointing to exclusions against water damage.

      The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) wants insurance companies to put copies of generic policies on the Web so consumers can get an idea of what is covered. And Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is suing insurers who are refusing to pay for certain types of damage.

      Many Katrina survivors who do not yet have copies of their policy are being told by insurers that they will be denied most or all of their claim on the basis of a flood exclusion. Far too many of these survivors, FTCR fears, will take the insurer's assessment as an indisputable truth and turn to FEMA for taxpayer assistance that is dramatically less valuable than insurance coverage.

      FTCR, which is tracking insurance complaints from homeowners and businesses, reports that many policyholders are being told they will have to wait two weeks before a new copy of policies lost during the storm is sent.

      In response, the group is calling on insurance companies to place generic insurance policy forms -- along with specific hurricane coverage and flood exclusions -- on the Internet, so Katrina survivors who don't have a copy of their policy can immediately obtain important information about their insurance coverage.

      While noting that each individual's policy may have different coverage levels and endorsements, the group said that insurers could easily place the standard policy forms detailing windstorm and hurricane coverage online and that this would begin to clarify for policyholders what may or may not be covered and help expedite the claim process.

      "With the massive relief effort by charities and government underway and the postal system up and running, it's hard to believe that insurers cannot get copies of policies to customers immediately," said FTCR's Executive Director Douglas Heller.

      "But if the insurers cannot get policies to survivors expeditiously, then the generic policy forms with the key language describing what is covered under the hurricane or windstorm endorsements should at least be put online. People know that they had some kind of hurricane coverage, but without a policy it is hard to figure out what's covered," Heller added.

      Without a copy of the policy, or at least a generic policy form that provides an indication of what is and is not covered, policyholders will face delays in beginning the claim process and might be forced to turn to FEMA for assistance when, under their policy, insurance coverage is due, said FTCR.

      The consumer group has been chastising insurers for these quick denials, arguing that residents in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama who purchased insurance with hurricane or wind coverage should be covered, whether wind or water that did the damage, because the obvious and initiating cause of all the damage was Hurricane Katrina.

      The group recommends that people refuse to settle their claims until they have a copy of their policy and have reviewed it and their insurer's offer with an independent expert.

      "Most disaster survivors expect that their insurer will treat them fairly and they instinctively trust their company. But too often insurers have failed their policyholders in the wake of a disaster and people are forced to fight for a fair settlement. The first step in ensuring a fair claims process is ensuring that survivors know what is covered," said Heller.

      In Mississippi, Attorney General Hood said his office has filed a civil action against the insurance industry seeking to declare void and unenforceable certain provisions contained in property casualty insurance policies issued to Mississippi Gulf Coast residents excluding coverage from damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.

      All that the people have left is hope and Im not going to allow an insurance company to wrongfully take that hope away. Although some insurance companies are trying to do the right thing, I wont allow the others to take advantage of people hurt by Hurricane Katrina, Hood said.

      The Complaint asks the court to declare that certain insurance contract provisions are void and unenforceable as they are contrary to public policy, are unconscionable, and are ambiguous.

      The provisions at issue attempt to exclude from coverage loss or damage caused directly or indirectly by water, whether or not driven by wind. The complaint states that these provisions should be strictly construed against the insurance companies who drafted the insurance policies and their exclusions.

      The complaint also states that the issuance of such insurance policies violates the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act.

      The complaint asks the court, among other things, to enter a Temporary Restraining Order to immediately stop insurance companies from asking property owners to sign documents stating that their loss was caused by flood or water as opposed to wind, and to stop using water exclusions to deny or reduce coverage for hurricane damage or loss.

      The Court is also being asked to enter a preliminary and permanent injunction with regard to these same matters.

      Im hopeful that next week we will be able to stop unscrupulous insurance adjusters from requiring people to sign away their rights to flood damage claims in exchange for a significantly smaller amount which will be used for immediate living expenses. I want to encourage the people to continue to fight and Ill do everything I can to make sure that insurance companies pay what they owe. Hood said.

      Katrina Victims Face Insurance Delays...
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      Insurance Executives Indicted for Bid Rigging, Fraud

      A New York grand jury has indicted eight former executives of the nation's leading insurance brokerage firm for their alleged roles in a massive bid rigging scheme that defrauded clients of millions of dollars.

      The former managers of Marsh Inc., a subsidiary of Marsh and McLennan, Inc., are accused of colluding with executives at leading insurance companies to arrange noncompetitive bids and conveying these bids to Marsh clients under false pretenses, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and State Insurance Superintendent Howard Mills said.

      The indictments come after 17 individuals at five companies, including eight former Marsh employees, previously pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the ongoing insurance industry investigation that began a year ago.

      "These indictments are part of a continuing effort to hold individuals accountable for bid rigging and other illegal activities that defrauded insurance clients," Spitzer said.

      Today's indictment charges that from November 1998 to September 2004, the defendants colluded with executives at American International Group "AIG", Zurich American Insurance Company "Zurich", ACE USA "ACE", Liberty International Insurance Company "Liberty" and other companies to rig the market for excess casualty insurance.

      According to the indictment, defendants and other Marsh employees told their excess casualty clients that they obtained bids for their business from insurance companies in an open and competitive bidding process.

      In fact, defendants had rigged the process in the following ways: First, before any bids were submitted, the defendants determined which insurance company would win the business. Second, they set a "target" for the winner to submit as its bid. Third, they obtained losing bids, which they called "B quotes," from other participating insurance companies.

      By misleading customers into believing that the customers' interests came first, the conspirators fraudulently obtained millions of dollars in commissions and fees for Marsh and millions of dollars in premiums for the insurance companies. The victim companies ranged from high technology firms to a fruit cannery to a cosmetics manufacturer.

      Marsh itself faces no criminal sanctions. After the filing of a civil lawsuit in 2004, the company settled a civil case in January with the Attorney General, agreeing to replace top management, apologize for "unlawful" and "shameful" business practices, agreed not to accept contingent commissions, adopted additional reforms aimed at improving transparency and service for insurance customers and set up an $850 million restitution fund for policyholders.

      Agreements have not yet been reached with ACE, AIG, Zurich or Liberty.

      The indictment charges the following individuals with Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, an E Felony; Combination in Restraint of Trade and Competition, an E felony; and various counts of Grand Larceny in the First, Second and Third Degrees, respectively B, C and D felonies:

      • William Gilman, Executive Marketing Director and Managing Director;
      • Joseph Peiser, Head of Global Broking Excess Casualty and Managing Director;
      • Edward J. McNenney, Global Placement Director and Managing Director;
      • Greg J. Doherty, ACE Local Broking Coordinator Team Leader and Senior Vice President;
      and • Thomas T. Green, Jr., Senior Vice President.

      The indictment charges the following individuals with Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree; Combination in Restraint of Trade and Competition; and various counts of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree:

      • Kathleen M. Drake, Local Broking Coordinator Team Leader and Managing Director;
      • William L. McBurnie, Coverage and Carrier Specialist and Senior Vice President;
      • Edward J. Keane, Jr., Assistant Vice President.

      If convicted of the top count with which they are charged, Grand Larceny in the First Degree, defendants Gilman, Peiser, McNenney, Doherty and Green face a minimum of one to three years and up to twenty-five years in state prison. The top count for the remaining defendants, Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, carries a maximum term of 15 years.

      In addition to the Marsh settlement, agreements have been reached with the Aon Corporation and Willis North America which will respectively result in restitution to policyholders of $190 million and $50 million along with reforms adopted by Marsh. Other areas of the investigations focus include so-called finite insurance and insurance industry accounting irregularities.

      Insurance Executives Indicted for Bid Rigging, Fraud...
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      No Bankruptcy Relief for Katrina Victims

      Rep. Sensenbrenner, Who Voted Against Hurricane Relief, Refuses to Hold Hearings

      Survivors of Hurricane Katrina who were hoping to avoid the weight of the new bankruptcy law may be out of luck. Representative F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has indicated he will not hold a hearing on waiving the law for purposes of disaster relief.

      "If someone in Katrina is down and out, and has no possibility of being able to repay 40 percent or more of their debts, then the new bankruptcy law doesn't apply," Sensenbrenner said.

      The new bankruptcy laws take effect Oct.17.

      Thirty one Congressional Democrats had voiced support for waiving the more onerous provisions of the new law for Katrina victims "to insure that we do not compound a natural disaster with a man made financial disaster," according to a joint statement.

      Sensenbrenner was one of 11 Republicans who voted against a massive relief package for Katrina victims.

      His other legislative accomplishments include the "REAL ID" act, which mandates that state-issued drivers' licenses meet new federal requirements. It's been derided as a waste of states' money and an extra level of bureaucracy for local motor vehicle agencies, as well as a major target for identity thieves.

      The new bankruptcy laws require passing a "means test" to verify if the petitioner can pay their debts via other means or not. Nathalie Martin, resident scholar at the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI), said this will require "lots more in the way of paperwork, including providing pay stubs and invoices," much of which is no longer accessible postg-Katrina.

      "Employees lost their paperwork records. Whole companies lost their paperwork. The technology requirements needed to maintain these records are simply not available to these people," Martin told ConsumerAffairs.com.

      The Consumer Federation of America voiced similar concerns in a press release supporting relief from the bankruptcy legislation.

      "These new requirements, coupled with strict deadlines for production upon the penalty of an automatic dismissal are difficult for the most organized person to meet, never mind someone who has had his or her home destroyed by Katrina," said the statement.

      Martin noted that bankruptcy filings often increase after natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods.

      "Many people will still qualify to file for Chapter 7," which allows an individual bankruptcy petitioner to liquidate their debts. "It may take one to three years before we really start seeing the effects of the new law."

      In a poll conducted by ABI, 80% of its members said the law should be waived for up to two years to provide relief for Katrina victims, Martin said.

      Katrina survivors are already starting to run up huge debts on their credit cards as they struggle to find new jobs, new homes, and new lives. Although many banks and credit card companies have offered leniency on payments and loans in the short term, the long-term effects of their displacement and loss of finances may put them hopelessly in debt.

      The new bankruptcy legislation has been criticized by consumer-rights advocates and finance experts for turning the bankruptcy courts into "collection agencies" for credit card companies such as MBNA.

      In addition to requiring extensive paperwork and mandated credit counseling for bankruptcy petitioners, the law also limits the protections of homeowners who have refinanced their homes, and broadens the definition of "nondischargeable" debts to include monies owed to "governmental units."

      This could conceivably mean that Katrina survivors who received emergency loans from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) might be liable to pay it back, even if they file for bankruptcy.

      Nathalie Martin believes that even with these onerous new restrictions in place, banks and creditors will be sympathetic to victims of the disaster. "A bank is going to see that if you had a mortgage with them, they won't get paid."

      Martin has authored a new book, "The New Bankruptcy Code and You," which explains the new laws in depth and offers advice to those considering filing for bankruptcy.

      "ABI and other organizations like it are here to help the evacuees start over," she said. But she acknowledged that passing any kind of reform or repeal of the bankruptcy laws in the current administration was going to be an "uphill battle."

      No Bankruptcy Relief for Katrina Victims...
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      EPA Fuel Economy Ratings Have Shortfalls Of Up To 50 Percent

      Window Stickers Vastly Overstate MPG,Consumer ReportsStudy Finds

      Fuel economy tests conducted by Consumer Reports show that government figures posted on new-car window stickers can have shortfalls of up to 50 percent, according to an investigation published in the October issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

      Hybrid cars and the diesel version of one small SUV are among the worst offenders, costing consumers hundreds of dollars more in fuel per year than they were led to believe.

      In a study of 303 cars and trucks, model-years 2000 to 2006, Consumer Reports found that shortfalls in miles per gallon (mpg) occurred in 90 percent of the vehicles tested. The largest discrepancies involved city driving, with some models falling short of claimed mpg by 35 to 50 percent (see table).

      Ironically, hybrids, whose selling point is fuel thriftiness, had some of the biggest disparities with fuel economy, averaging 19 mpg below Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) city ratings. On average, our highway mpg more closely reflected the EPA rating. Still, hybrids won three of the best five spots for overall mpg in the magazine's testing.

      "Current EPA figures are definitely misleading and ultimately expensive for consumers," said David Champion, Senior Director of Consumer Reports' Auto Test Center. The magazine attributes the problem to the use of the EPA's outdated testing procedures, dating back to the 1973 oil embargo, which don't account for the increased drive time spent in dense traffic and faster highway speeds on today's roads.

      The EPA also allows car manufacturers to use for testing purposes hand-built prototype vehicles and the most favorable test conditions for maximum fuel economy, yielding results that are nearly impossible for consumers to achieve.

      By contrast, Consumer Reports buys new cars and trucks anonymously from dealerships and uses special test equipment to accurately gauge real-world fuel economy using public roads and the test track on its 327-acre test facility in East Haddam, Connecticut.

      "Just one in ten of the vehicles we tested achieved fuel economies as good as or better than EPA estimates," Champion said. For consumers, the news means that their vehicles typically cost hundreds more per year to operate than they were led to believe. Put another way, when gas in August hit $2.37 per gallon, the mpg shortchange effectively boosted the price for some motorists to $3.13 per gallon.

      Assuming 12,000 miles per year of driving over five years and no further increases in gas prices, Consumer Reports figures show it will cost Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck owners $2,558 more in fuel than the EPA estimates, $1,742 more for Mercury Grand Marquis owners and $1,316 more for Nissan Quest owners.


      Here are some of the test results reported by Consumer Reports.

      SMALL SUV - Jeep Liberty Diesel Ltd. (4WD)
      EPA CITY MPG: 22
      CR CITY MPG: 11
      EPA SHORTFALL: 50 percent

      HYBRID - Honda Civic Sedan
      EPA CITY MPG: 48
      CR CITY MPG: 26
      EPA SHORTFALL: 46 percent

      LARGE SEDAN - Chrysler 300C
      EPA CITY MPG: 17
      CR CITY MPG: 10
      EPA SHORTFALL: 41 percent

      MIDSIZED SUV - Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT LT (4WD)
      EPA CITY MPG: 15
      CR CITY MPG: 9
      EPA SHORTFALL: 40 percent

      MINIVAN - Honda Odyssey EX
      EPA CITY MPG: 20
      CR CITY MPG: 12
      EPA SHORTFALL: 40 percent

      LUXURY SEDAN - BMW 745Li
      EPA CITY MPG: 18
      CR CITY MPG: 11
      EPA SHORTFALL: 39 percent

      PICKUP - Dodge Ram 1500 SLT (crew cab, 4WD)
      EPA CITY MPG: 13
      CR CITY MPG: 8
      EPA SHORTFALL: 38 percent

      FAMILY SEDAN - Oldsmobile Alero GL
      EPA CITY MPG: 21
      CR CITY MPG: 13
      EPA SHORTFALL: 38 percent

      LARGE SUV - Dodge Durango Limited (4WD)
      EPA CITY MPG: 13
      CR CITY MPG: 8
      EPA SHORTFALL: 38 percent

      SMALL SEDAN - Ford Focus ZX4 SES
      EPA CITY MPG: 26
      CR CITY MPG: 17
      EPA SHORTFALL: 35 percent

      EPA Fuel Economy Ratings Have Shortfalls Of Up To 50 Percent...
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      Subprime Mortgage Pricing Varies Greatly Among U.S. Cities

      Many of the cities in the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Katrina have among the highest levels of subprime lending

      Homeowners in the southwestern or southeastern states are much more likely to refinance with higher interest rate subprime loans than those who live in the Pacific or New England regions, according to a study by the Consumer Federation of America.

      Many of the cities in the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Katrina have among the highest levels of subprime lending.

      The variation in prevalence of high cost mortgages by geography raises concerns about whether this type of lending is priced solely on risk factors, or whether some lenders take advantage of the lack of competition in certain localities to price mortgages as high as they can said Allen Fishbein, Director of Credit and Housing Policy at Consumer Federation of America (CFA).

      The loan data for this report were obtained from lenders from reports they are required to submit under the Federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA).

      The 2004 HMDA data is due out later this month and is expected to show notable pricing disparities in the mortgage market among African American and Hispanic borrowers compared with other borrower groups.

      The CFA analysis found the prevalence of higher subprime lending among certain minority groups but also provides the first comprehensive look at subprime lending patterns for metropolitan areas and regions across the country.

      Among the studys key findings:

      • The share of refinance lending that is subprime varies from 10.5% in the Pacific states to 27.4% in the Southwest states nearly a three fold difference. In 2004, these loans generally carried an interest rate of 8% or higher for consumers.

      • Regional variation was even higher for the most expensive segments of subprime loans (loans with interest rates generally above 10%). Homeowners in the Southwest were more than four times more likely to receive these highest cost subprime loans than homeowners in the Pacific states (2.3% vs. 10.3%).

      • Even larger subprime variation was found between metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). In the five MSAs with the smallest share of subprime refinance lending, fewer than 3% of borrowers received subprime loans. In contrast, in the five MSAs that the lowest share of prime refinances lending; nearly forty percent of refinance mortgages in these markets are subprime.

      • Highest subprime MSAs are concentrated in the Southeast and Southwest regions. Of the 30 MSAs with the highest share of subprime refinance loans (about 10 percent of the 317 MSAs studies, 80% are in the Southeast (Carolinas through Mississippi through Kentucky) or the Southwest (Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and New Mexico).

      A complete listing of subprime lending rates for over 300 metropolitan areas is available in the report, titled Subprime Cities: Patterns of Geographic Disparity in Subprime Lending.

      The CFA research helps to provide a local context to the national release of data by the federal government. The conventional home refinance loan data examined represents almost 19% of the 2003 total volume of these loans. CFA examined over 2.5 million conventional refinance mortgages reported by over 26 lenders and their 160 affiliates in 317 Metropolitan Statistical Areas including at least one MSA in each state.

      The release of the CFA research underscores the value and utility of HMDA data as a tool for identifying geographies with unusually high levels of subprime lending. Federal and state regulators, consumer and community organizations, and lenders as well should monitor lender loan patterns to determine which ones vary from local and regional norms.

      CFAs findings raise important public policy concerns. The subprime refinance market provides high cost loans mostly to borrowers not served by the mainstream prime markets and is fertile ground for abusive lending practices known as predatory lending. High foreclosure rates in the subprime market are evidence that many borrowers are entering into loans they cannot afford.

      The HMDA analysis suggests that disparities in the pricing of mortgages exist among borrower groups and also vary quite a bit by geography. Just as with disparities between borrower groups, variation in pricing of mortgages by geography levels may be a function of legitimate price determinants. Yet given the size of the variation between localities and regions, banking regulators and other enforcement officials should not assume that these differences can be explained solely as a function of risk-based pricing.

      Patrick Woodall, CFAs Senior Researcher, said: Consumers have every right to expect that the mortgage funds they borrow from lenders are priced fairly, based on legitimate risk-factors, and not merely on opportunistic factors or lack of borrower knowledge and financial sophistication.

      Subprime Mortgage Pricing Varies Greatly Among U.S. Cities...
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      Canon Named in Class Action Suit

      Company Ignored Defect in Digital Cameras, Suit Charges

      A class action suit charges that Canon Inc. has sold digital cameras with a serious defect that renders the camera inoperable. The so-called "e18" error occurs when the lens sticks and will not move in or out.

      "We have reviewed numerous complaints from consumers who gotten the brush-off from Canon," said attorney Richard Doherty of Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates, a Chicago law firm.

      "Canon has refused to stand behind the cameras, and offers consumers who paid approximately $400 for what they thought was a high-quality digital camera the option of a repair costing at least $150 or the opportunity to purchase a refurbished, used camera for $175," Doherty said.

      One disgruntled consumer, Bruce of Farmingville NY, was taking photos in Australia when his the lens locked up on one of his Canon Powershot cameras. "I called up Canon at $2 per minute and they said there was nothing they could do while I was away and I should but disposables instead (1440 pictures?). I told the man he was crazy," he said in a complaint to ConsumerAffairs.com.

      "I received back an email and letter stating that they opened the camera up, found some sticky substance inside and they were voiding the warranty. They said it waould cost me $195.75 to fix the camera," Bruce said.

      The class action suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. It was assigned to Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, who presided over Martha Stewart's trial and sentenced her to five months in prison and five months of home detention on charges of lying to federal investigators.

      Canon Named in Class Action Suit...
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      Brinkmann, Charmglow Gas Grills Recalled

      The Brinkmann Corporation is recalling about 130,000 Brinkmann-brand and Charmglow-brand gas grills manufactured by Brinkmann. The regulators on these gas grills, the component that controls the amount of gas released to the burner, could leak gas when attached to certain liquid propane tanks. This poses a risk of fire and burn injuries.

      The Brinkmann Corporation has received two reports of a small flame reportedly due to gas leaking at or near the propane cylinder. No injuries or property damage have been reported.

      The recall involves Brinkmann-brand and Charmglow-brand gas grills. The regulator is attached to the side of the grills. Only grills that have regulators with the name 'GDA' are affected by this recall. The grills have three to six burners and the name 'Brinkmann' or 'Charmglow' on the lid.

      The grills were sold at home centers, sporting goods and hardware stores nationwide from January 2005 through September 2005 for between $150 and $900.

      Consumers with grills that have the 'GDA' regulator should contact Brinkmann to receive a free repair kit or replacement hose regulator assembly.

      Consumer Contact: Call Brinkmann toll-free at (800) 675-5301 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday. Consumers also can log on to the company's Web site at www.brinkmann.net to request a repair kit.

      The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

      Brinkmann, Charmglow Gas Grills Recalled...
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      Chicago Nursing Home, Doctor Charged with Abuse

      Charges Follow Death of Patient Afflicted with Bedsores

      A Cook County, Illinois, Grand Jury has returned indictments against a nursing home doctor and the Cook County nursing home facility where he worked on charges related to the death of a patient in their care.

      Attorney General Lisa Madigan said the indictments charge Forest Park, L.L.C., and Care Centers, Inc., doing business as The Pavillion of Forest Park nursing home, and Jason Garti, M.D., former medical director and wound care doctor at Pavillion, with multiple charges of Gross Neglect of a Long Term Care Facility Resident.

      Forest Park, L.L.C., and Care Centers, Inc., were indicted as the licensee and owner of Pavillion, respectively.

      The charges are the result of an investigation by the Illinois State Police Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. The investigation began after emergency room personnel at Loyola Medical Center contacted the Department of Public Health.

      According to the indictments, on September 11, 2002, a resident at Pavillion was transported by ambulance to the emergency room at Loyola Hospital, where it was discovered the patient had a large area of decubitus ulcers commonly known as bedsores.

      The indictments charge Garti with two counts of Gross Neglect of a Long Term Care Facility Resident, a Class 4 felony, punishable by one to three years in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC).

      The two entities, Forest Park L.L.C., and Care Centers, Inc., were each charged with multiple counts of Gross Neglect of a Long Term Care Facility Resident. If convicted, the charges may result in the closure of the nursing home.

      Chicago Nursing Home, Doctor Charged with Abuse...
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      MBNofA: Bank of America Adopts MBNA's Tactics

      Bank of America's Credit Card Operation Looks More Like MBNA Everyday

      Since buying credit card giant MBNA in June 2005, Charlotte, NC-based financial titan Bank of America has adopted some of its former prey's most prized tactics -- spiking interest rates, charging late fees even when your balance is paid, and customer "service" that leaves cardholders feeling worse than when they called.

      The tactic circles around offering a credit card (like their Visa Platinum) at a 0% interest rate, and encouraging customers to transfer balances from other cards to their new Bank of America card.

      Once that new balance is transferred, however, the card balance proceeds to accrue daily interest and late charges, until the balance hits its limit. Thereafter, the balance APR changes to an intolerable rate, anywhere from 17.99% to 31.99%.

      That's what happened to Kelly of Longview, Texas. She accepted a "zero percent" balance transfer offer. "Once the balance was transferred I was dinged with a daily interest rate which caused the card to go over balance and then they changed the interest rate to 31%," Kelly said in a complaint to ConsumerAffairs.com.

      If you look carefully at the fine print, you can see that Bank of America's seemingly generous offer of zero percent interest isn't all that generous after all. For example, read this list of fees:

      Late Payment Fees: $19 for total balances less than $100, $29 for total balances $100 to $1,000, $39 for total balances great than $1,000. Over the Credit Limit Fee: $35.

      So you could have a paid account with no balance, or never use the card at all, and get hit with a $19 fee.

      Also, take note of their payment terms:

      During the introductory period, if we do not receive at least the Minimum Payment Due during any billing cycle, you exceed your Credit Limit or you close your account, any introductory rate on Purchases and Balance Transfers will terminate and will be adjusted to the Standard Rates.

      Given that mandatory minimum payments on credit balances are doubling, that's a lot of money to fork over in a very short time.

      And if Bank of America's billing cycles are anything like their banking deposit cycles, it's no wonder so many customers are getting zapped with late fees.

      Beth from Sterling, VA explains how Bank of America's holds on her deposited pay caused her to lose money for no reason:

      Their policy was to "hold" any deposit over $500 (my paychecks were running just around $600 at that point) 3-5 days to wait on it to "clear" before it technically "posted" to the official statement. This should not have applied to direct deposit paychecks, which should come across as an immediate electronic transfer of funds into the account. When I would visit the ATM after my paycheck was sheduled to go in, it would show the funds as "available."

      I would assume the funds were there and was budgeting my bills around when my deposits were due to go in; my employer put checks in at Midnight every other Thursday, so I would pay bills Friday. When I would write a check to pay bills, however, they would instead draw from my "statement," which held the deposit. Hence, the checks I was writing would be applied to my account 2-3 days before my deposits were showing as posting. They would take advantage of the above issue to apply "overdraft fees" on my bill checks before clearing the paycheck deposit that went in the day or more before! That's $25-$30 per bill!

      A Poisonous Pedigree

      Wilmington, Delaware-based credit card provider MBNA was the source of great consumer angst, thanks to such now-familiar tactics as exorbitant interest and fees upon fees, not to mention interest on fees.

      Many cardholders decided they'd had enough, and began paying down their cards and closing their accounts in record numbers. The loss of revenue to MBNA was enough to torpedo quarterly profits by 94%. Soon afterward, Bank of America swept in and bought snatched MBNA in its beak.

      The acquisition of MBNA's valuable credit card resources made Bank of America a serious challenger to Citibank and J.P. Morgan Chase, the top dogs in the financial and banking industry.

      But it may be that Bank of America has also acquired many of its acquisition's bad habits, possibly hindering its efforts to improve its reputation in the consumer banking sector.

      Since buying credit card giant MBNA in June 2005, Charlotte, NC-based financial titan Bank of America has adopted some of its former prey's most prized tac...
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      Computer Vendors Charge More For Less Service

      The next time you buy a personal computer, read the fine print very carefully. The warranty may not be as long as you think, and you may have to pay for coverage that used to be free.

      Major computer vendors such as Gateway and Dell have been reducing standard warranty coverage to as little as 90 days, and exhorting consumers to purchase pricey extended warranty programs.

      This might lead to savings in the long-term, as replacement parts can often cost far more than the money you'll spend on an extended warranty. But it could also mean you're spending money for protection you may not need after the first three to six months of owning your PC.

      A Dell Dimension 5100 desktop, for example, can cost you as little as $799 with special online offers and discounts applied. But purchasing any coverage beyond the standard 1-year warranty can tack on an extra $80 to $330, not counting any additional peripherals or accessories you might buy.

      The Gateway NX250X laptop's online price is $949 after the $50 rebate, with a "Notebook Value Service Plan" of 90 days. However, the purchase comes with the "Value Plus" 2-year extended warranty protection already selected, which adds an extra $109 to the purchase price.

      This is becoming standard operating procedure for many Gateway products purchased online -- the default package includes an extra-cost extended warranty plan.

      Extended warranty sales are big business for Dell and Gateway these days. The November 2004 issue of Warranty Week reported that Dell's revenue from extended warranty sales was actually overtaking its spending on warranty claims, and Gateway increased its warranty revenue to $33 million while decreasing its warranty costs to $15 million.

      Not every major PC manufacturer is cutting corners on its warranty protection. Hewlett-Packard continues to offer the standard one-year warranty for all its products, and MPC (formerly MicronPC) offers a three-year-warranty as well as dedicated in-house technical support.

      Of course, purchasing that extended warranty is no guarantee you'll actually receive decent replacement parts for your defective machine, or reliable tech support to help you fix your problem.

      ConsumerAffairs.com regularly receives hundreds of complaints from users who are frustrated with rebates they didn't get, tech support that doesn't help, and extended warranties that don't cover their computer malfunctions.

      Take the case of Miriam from Alameda, Clifornia, who purchased a new Dell in January 2005, and has been wrestling with constant glitches and unreliable assistance ever since:

      "I've been on the telephone for inordinate amounts of time, sent and received over 32 emails, had new memory, a new fan, new hard drive, new power supply and new memory installed by [a Dell contractor]," she said.

      "I paid for an extended warranty and I am getting nothing in return."

      Becky from Martinsburg, WV purchased a Dell Inspiron laptop for her son at $677, including a rebate of $150 and a three-year-extended warranty of $50 per year.

      Once her son received the laptop, she didn't get the rebate claim form or any documentation for a warranty beyond the standard 90-day limited version.

      "I have spent hours on the phone today trying to reach some sort of satisfaction on this and have been told that I can not get the rebate," she says. "I can add the warranty for the cost of $150. Obviously the sales rep misled me or had the info wrong himself, but the sales manager basically told me there was nothing they could do. I am out $150 due to this deception."

      Computer Vendors Charge More For Less Service...
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      REAL ID A Gold Mine for Identity Thieves, Critics Charge

      Enacted with little fanfare in May 2005, the REAL ID Act doesn't become fully effective until 2008 but it is already causing consternation among state officials, who say it will be a major financial and resource drain at a time when many states are already short of funds.

      Its backers say the measure toughens standards for getting a driver's license and thus provides protection against illegal immigrants and terrorists. Privacy advocates say the law's establishment of a national database of American drivers' information makes it a gold standard for identity thieves.

      Authored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the REAL ID act slipped through Congress as part of a spending bill authorizing money for the military forces in Iraq and relief from the tsunami of 2004.

      "Giving state drivers licenses to anyone, regardless of whether they are here legally or illegally, is an open invitation for terrorists and criminals to exploit. States will now have to require proof of lawful presence in the U.S. before issuing drivers licenses, he said in a statement after the May 5 vote.

      Sensenbrenner's other recent legislative activity includes voting against the emergency Hurricane Katrina relief bill in the House. He said the $52 billion measure "lacks accountability."

      REAL ID mandates uniform federal standards for drivers' licenses, including what type of information can be included on a license, and what documentation must be provided to apply for or renew licenses in your state.

      However, the legislation is an "unfunded mandate," meaning that states will have to come up with the money to implement the new directives on their own. This has led privacy advocates and consumer groups to warn that cash-strapped state governments may have to cut corners and use cheap measures to ensure the card readers are in place.

      The REAL ID act will create a unified database of driver information to share between states, "which will create an enormous repository of identification documents that will be an identity thief's dream," according to a recent article in DMNews. "A DMV clerk in another state may provide copies of your documents to an identity thief who works overseas," the article warned.

      Many states have already seen their motor vehicle agencies come under attack from identity thieves and scam artists. Several employees of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles were arrested and charged with fraud for selling drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants in July of 2005.

      Another vulnerability created by the REAL ID act comes from the usage of "common machine-readable technology" for verifying drivers' identities. The leading candidate for the new technology is the RFID (Radio Frequency Identifier) tag, to be embedded in drivers' licenses.

      Technology pundits and privacy organizations alike have derided the usage of RFID tagging for important documents or identification as a violation of personal privacy, and an invitation to steal one's information.

      A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report from May 2005 on the use of RFID tags in other government agencies noted that "Without effective security controls, data on the tag can be read by any compliant reader; data transmitted through the air can be intercepted and read by unauthorized devices; and data stored in the databases can be accessed by unauthorized users."

      Internet security expert Bruce Schneier commented on the government's desire to use RFID tagging in October 2004 when discussing the REAL ID law.

      "The administration is deliberately choosing a less secure technology without justification. If there were a good reason to choose that technology, then it might make sense. But there isn't," Schneier said in an article on his Web site.

      Privacy advocates are also alarmed by the REAL ID prohibition against using P.O. Boxes. This could cause people who may not have a permanent residence to be ineligible to get a drivers' license,or endanger victims of domestic abuse or previous identity theft who have stopped giving out their primary addresses.

      In the words of law professor Anita Ramastry: "There needs to be a procedure to ensure these persons' safety and welfare. The REAL ID Act has none."

      Critics say the reality of REAL ID will be even longer lines at your state's motor vehicle agency, higher state and local taxes to cover the costs of implementing the program (estimated at $80 to $100 million), and a rash of new identity theft incidents.

      REAL ID A Gold Mine for Identity Thieves, Critics Charge...
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      Analyst Sees $100 Per Barrel Oil By 2007

      Motorists stunned by $3 per gallon gasoline in the wake of Hurricane Katrina don't have much to look forward to

      Motorists stunned by $3 per gallon gasoline in the wake of Hurricane Katrina don't have much to look forward to, according to a Canadian oil industry analyst.

      Jeffrey Rubin, chief economists for the Imperial Bank of Commerce has issued a report that predicts oil prices will continue to rocket higher, until they reach $100 a barrel by late 2007.

      The reason? Hurricane Katrina's damage to Gulf of Mexico oil rigs is a complication, Rubin writes, but he also points to the problems that had pushed oil prices over $60 a barrel long before Katrina's appearance: Consumption is rising worldwide, especially in China and India. A growing global economy will demand oil faster than producers can pump it.

      "The gap between supply and demand grows as much as 3 million barrels a day by 2008. Global oil needs are almost 84 million barrels a day now," Rubin said in his report.

      While oil prices have dropped sharply from their post-Katrina high of nearly $71 a barrel, Rubin says renewed upward pressure in inevitable.

      His report suggests the price of oil next year could average $84 a barrel, with the average rising to $93 a barrel in 2007. With oil prices at that level, the price of gasoline in the U.S. would be well over $3 a gallon.

      Leading Importers

      Rubin's predictions carry more than a little weight. Canada is, after all, the United States' leading source of imported crude oil, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. In June, the latest month for which figures are available, the U.S. imported 1.705 million barrels per day from Canada followed by: Mexico (1.616 million barrels per day), Saudi Arabia (1.598 million barrels per day), Venezuela (1.292 million barrels per day), and Nigeria (1.012 million barrels per day).

      The rest of the top ten sources, in order, were Iraq (0.608 million barrels per day), Angola (0.397 million barrels per day), Algeria (0.292 million barrels per day), Ecuador (0.288 million barrels per day), and United Kingdom (0.269 million barrels per day).

      Total crude oil imports averaged 10.753 million barrels per day in June, which is an increase of 0.587 million barrels per day from May. The top five exporting countries accounted for 67 percent of United States crude oil imports in June and the top ten sources accounted for approximately 84 percent of all U.S. crude oil imports.

      Meanwhile, Americans aren't the only ones angered by the oil price spike. India's Finance Minister, Shri. P. Chidambaram, charges the spurt in world oil prices is totally unjustified.

      After meeting with his British counterpart, Chidambaram said the oil producing nations are exploiting high growth rates in India and China to impoverish developing countries and that wealth is being transferred from developing countries to the oil producing nations.

      Analyst Sees $100 Per Barrel Oil By 2007...
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      Fix It or Nix It: Appliance Repair Tips

      Many consumers simply give up on appliance repairs and replace the faulty item

      If you've found it frustrating trying to get a product professionally repaired, you're not alone. Consumer Reports' October 2005 issue has the results of the latest "fix it or nix it" survey, which show that the process is full of roadblocks that have made a hefty number of readers simply give up.

      Drawing on the experiences of 2,300 subscribers, Consumer Reports found that readers repaired 16 percent fewer products, including a number of big-ticket items, than in 1997.

      Although repair costs have remained relatively stable since 2000, prices for comparable new products in almost every category analyzed have fallen, sometimes by hundreds of dollars, which helps explain why more products are being tossed. Consumer Reports' survey also found that nearly half the respondents either didn't seek repairs or quit along the way.

      Consumer Reports' expert advice for products that need professional repair is to toss any for which you paid less than $150, and to nix any repair that costs more than half the price of a new product. It doesn't make economic sense to repair off-warranty toasters, countertop microwave ovens, cordless phones, CD players, VCRs, inkjet printers, and conventional TV sets under 30 inches. Many such products aren't even serviceable.

      Although junking nearly new products can make economic sense, it makes no environmental sense. Consumer Reports experts suggest you check whether your community has a program to recycle or refurbish old products. For a roundup of groups that accept old or broken products, visit www.GreenerChoices.org..

      When deciding whether to repair or replace, consider the case for both. A new product offers more bang for fewer bucks; inexpensive imports give consumers more for their money. New products could also offer higher energy efficiency, which could add up to substantial long-term savings.

      Other reasons readers gave for replacing rather than repairing: a craving for newness, expensive repairs, and getting repairs was inconvenient. If you do buy new, refuse an extended warranty unless the item is pricey, fragile, or hard to fix.

      On the other hand, repairs make the most sense for expensive products that have recently come off warranty. If you're thinking about a repair, take the following steps to ease the process:

      • Be sure that the product is really broken. The trouble may be a loose plug, improper wiring, a tripped circuit breaker, or a bad surge-protector outlet.

      • Go by the book. Most instruction manuals have a troubleshooting section, and some manufacturers' Web sites also provide help.

      • Search for help online. Some useful sites include http://www.repairclinic.com, http://www.pcappliancerepair.com and http://www.livemanuals.com.

      • Contact the manufacturer. About 10 percent of readers who complained about a problem got an offer to fix or replace an out- of-warranty product free of charge.

      • Consider factory or authorized service, but don't dismiss independents. Readers were equally satisfied with the quality of their work.

      You can delay having to make any decision about repairs by taking on preventive maintenance. Consumer Reports has advice for its subscribers at www.ConsumerReports.org for keeping old products behaving like new. Among the appliances in the list are: printers, clothes dryers, washing machines, dishwashers, microwave ovens, electric and gas ranges, and CD and DVD players.

      Consumer Reports also includes a chart with year-by-year advice, based on survey data and the expertise of its market analysts and engineering experts, on when to fix or toss 15 types of electronic equipment, appliances, and mowers.

      In addition, the magazine reveals what's on the horizon for a wide range of products to aid in your keep-or-toss decision, and offers a chart indicating the percentage of five-year-old products that have ever been repaired or had a serious problem, along with a sampling of brands that have been more- and less- reliable over the past few years.


      When deciding whether to repair or replace, consider the case for both. A new product offers more bang for fewer bucks; inexpensive imports give consumers ...
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      Home Depot Charmglow Gas Grills

      Nexgrill Industries is recalling about 86,000 Charmglow gas grills sold at Home Depot. The hose connecting the propane tank with the manifold can run up too close to the firebox. The heat from the firebox can damage the hose, causing it to leak gas. The release of gas creates a fire risk that could cause injury and property damage.

      Nexgrill has received five reports of fires involving hoses leaking gas and more than 45 additional reports of incidents involving possible gas leaks.

      The recalled Charmglow Gas Grills have a model number of 720-0036-HD-05, which can be found on the back of the grill. The stainless steel grill is designed to be used with propane gas. The name of the grill is located at the left corner of the exterior of the main burner lid. A temperature gauge is located at the center of the main burner lid.

      The grills were sold at Home Depot stores nationwide from November 2004 through June 2005 for about $350.

      Consumers should stop using the gas grill and contact Nexgrill Customer Service to receive a free, self-installation repair kit.

      Consumer Contact: Call Nexgrill toll-free at (888) 568-9888 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. PT Monday through Friday, or log on to the companys Web site at http://0036.serorder.com.

      The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

      Home Depot Charmglow Gas Grills...
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