Many folks may be traveling to see their moms this Mother’s Day weekend and if not, the upcoming Memorial Day weekend is the official kickoff to summer vacation season. Before you hit the road to wherever you’re headed, make sure you’ve had proper maintenance done on your vehicle. Keeping up with routine maintenance items is a key factor in avoiding unnecessary accidents and indirectly, higher insurance premium costs.

To ensure a poorly maintained vehicle doesn’t contribute to an accident, our friends at National General have put together a few ways you can keep your cars in top condition.

According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, 9% of all car crashes in the United States were preceded by some sort of issue with the tires of the vehicle (e.g. tread separation, under-inflation, or blowouts). Properly maintained tires improve gas mileage, stopping ability and handling of the vehicle.

Check the air pressure in your tires (including the spare) at least once a month. This will also give you the chance to check for cracks in the sidewall and the amount of tread on the tires. Rotate your tires every 6,000 miles, or as often as the vehicle’s manufacturer recommends. A periodic alignment of the tires will ensure even wear and extend the life of your tires. Check your owner’s manual for specific information about tire pressure, rotation and alignment.

Fewer accidents are completely attributed to failure or degradation of brakes than tires, but poorly maintained brakes still contribute to thousands of accidents every year. When brake pads wear down too far, they can damage the rotors, leading to costly repairs and possible brake failure. Inspect the pads and rotors for wear annually. Take your vehicle in for repairs if you start hearing squeaking or scraping, your vehicle veers to one side or the brake pedal pulses when braking. These are signs of worn brakes and will lead to diminished braking capability.

Windows and lights
Clear visibility gives you the extra time needed to react in an emergency situation. Keep your windows (both inside and outside), mirrors and lights clear of obstructions and as clean as possible. Try to walk around your car once a month to check that all of your lights still work. You should also change your wiper blades every six months, earlier if they begin streaking. If you are having trouble seeing the road at night, there is a possibility that your headlights are out of alignment. Luckily, this is generally a cheap and easy fix.

A fluid leak can cause the steering wheel or brakes to stop working or even cause the entire engine to suddenly lock up or overheat. Check the following fluids to keep a vehicle running smoothly and prevent an unexpected mechanical failure while on the road:

Engine Oil – Check once a month – Contrary to popular belief, most modern vehicles don’t require an oil change every 3,000 miles. Check the owner’s manual for the recommended frequency. Because oil lubricates all of the moving parts of the engine, if not changed at the recommended interval, the engine could seize and cause catastrophic damage.

Brake Fluid – Check during oil change – Typically needs to be changed every two years. If there is a sudden drop in brake fluid levels from a leak, the brakes will no longer work. If unchanged for a long period of time, the entire braking system could be damaged from rust, overheating or corrosion.

Power Steering Fluid – Check once a month – Check the owner’s manual, but most models do not require power steering fluid be replaced, but a leak can cause the steering wheel to stop responding.

Coolant – Check twice a year – Generally needs to be changed every two to three years. Coolant keeps a car from overheating during the warmer months and freezing during the colder months. Never check coolant levels when the engine is hot.

Transmission Fluid – Check once a month – Transmission fluid should be changed according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. Transmission fluid will only be low if there is a leak and should be taken to a mechanic immediately if low in order to prevent damage to the transmission.

In addition to preventing potential accidents, routine maintenance can also save thousands in expensive repairs. Safe travels!


“I canceled my insurance policy and never missed a payment – why is the company still sending me a bill?”

This is a common question, and one in which there is no fault in asking. The answer is more than likely what is referred to as short rate cancellation.

Short rate cancellation is a financial penalty incurred when the insured cancels an insurance contract prior to the expiration date of the contract. This allows the insurer to keep a percentage of unearned premium to cover costs, as outlined in the language of Part F of the NC auto policy.

The key word to remember there is contract – that’s what an insurance policy is. When you break a contract early in any walk of life, there is usually a penalty. A simple comparison to make is when you are signed up with a cell phone company and try to switch over to a new company. There is usually a fee that must be paid to the current provider to get out of that plan.

There is no specified penalty for this method of cancellation – it all depends on how far along into the policy term you are when you request the cancellation. When using the short rate method, it basically means that more of the premium becomes owed at the beginning of the policy term and is not divided out evenly among the days you had coverage. A rough approximation of the penalty is usually akin to one month’s premium early on in the term, though this decreases the further along you get in the term.

If you are ever thinking about cancelling a policy early and are curious to know what your short rate penalty will be, you can get an estimate by using this calculator:

That calculator is just an informational tool, however. The official penalty amount is ultimately calculated by the insurance company (not the agent!). On the flip side, they also calculate any refund you may be due if you happened to have paid ahead or in full.

Certain companies, like National General, have exceptions to the short rate method when cancelling early. For example, if the reason for cancelling is that you are moving out of state, being deployed by the military, or your vehicle is deemed a total loss due to an accident, the policy will cancel on a more traditional method known as pro rata. This means that the refund and/or premium due is calculated on a proportional basis – any premium you may have paid in advance will be fully refunded based on the days you had coverage.

It’s also worth pointing out that if an insurance company cancels your policy for any reason – even for unpaid bills – it will be on a pro rata basis. There is no penalty in that case, other than the fact that you no longer have insurance. There are also no penalties for cancelling at the renewal date.

So what is the moral of the story? Make sure you shop around, and that you are happy with the insurance policy before signing the contract. It’s not like a pair of pants that don’t fit – you can’t just exchange it for a new pair. We are always here to help at Brown-Phillips, so don’t hesitate to ask.