Cars we love – 1968 Dodge Charger RT

We noticed this amazing 1968 Dodge Charger RT at the Councours d’Elegance in Pebble Beach this year. This car is a classic and is definitely on our wish list.

Dodge has come a long way in their attempt to recapture some of the magic from cars like this one. While the new Charger is controversial with the four doors, it still looks like a beast and the new design has been very popular. Meanwhile, the new Challenger really invokes the styles from the past with its retro design. Of course if you buy the newer versions you won’t have to spend a lot of time restoring older models, though for many people that’s the whole point. That said, keep in mind the other expenses like pretty high car insurance rates. Badass cars like the Challenger will likely require performance car insurance.

Just looking at the photo above, for many people the additional expenses are worth it. There’s something about old classics like this one that you can’t replicate. Sometimes older is better.

  

Are you getting tired of car insurance commercials?

Some are car insurance commercials are funny, but many aren’t. Geico has pushed the envelope for years with some great commercials, but the latest batch of radio station commercials are painfully bad.

If you’re looking for car insurance, the key is shopping around and learning about service as well. You should always look for cheap car insurance quotes on the web, and then dig deeper for company reviews as price isn’t everything.

Do your research and forget about the commercials!

  

Going green may not save you green with your auto insurance

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Will buying a hybrid save you money on your auto insurance? That might not be a good assumption given this recent data.

Hybrid car owners may be a different shade of green than their insurers hoped.

Insurance companies often give discounts to drivers of hybrids, perhaps because the image of a tree-hugging environmentalist suggests a cautious type who is a good risk to insure. But hybrid drivers rack up more miles, more tickets and costlier accidents than conventional car drivers, according to a study released Wednesday.

“High-mileage drivers seem to be attracted to [hybrid] vehicles,” said Raj Bhat, president of Quality Planning Corp., the San Francisco firm that conducted a study of 360,000 vehicle-insurance claims made to 12 U.S. insurers over the last two years, comparing hybrid and conventional vehicles. Quality Planning is a unit of Insurance Services Office Inc., a closely held group of companies that provides data, analytics and other services.

The disconnect between perception and reality could leave insurers with unprofitable hybrid policies unless they adjust pricing to reflect the unexpectedly high costs, or make up the difference elsewhere, said Robert U’Ren, senior vice president of Quality Planning, in an interview.

For 2008 hybrid cars, the most recent model year it studied, Quality Planning found that the cost to insurers of providing collision coverage for hybrids was 13% higher than for conventional vehicles. The cost of providing comprehensive coverage, which also includes the expense of noncollision-related damage, was 17% higher. For older and particularly for larger hybrid models, the difference was even bigger. U’Ren said that the more complicated hybrid engine design likely accounted for much of the difference in cost.

The article goes on to explain that most insurance companies have not made significant adjustments relating to premiums and coverage for hybrid cars, and several insurance companies, including Farmers Group Inc., a subsidiary of Zurich Financial Services AG, and Travelers offer hybrid owners up to 10% off coverage prices. It will be interesting to see how this develops as more data becomes available.

  

Challenges facing auto salvage firms

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The recession has devastated the worldwide car market, but it’s also affecting other firms in all aspects of the auto business, from auto parts salvage to auto insurance.

The idea of making money from used auto parts conjures up images of thugs in chop shops tearing apart fancy stolen cars. But auto salvage is a perfectly respectable business, and Chicago-based LKQ has turned scavenging into a science. Since 1998 a group of former Waste Management executives have been revolutionizing a mom-and-pop industry by rolling up dozens of scrap yards that turn junkers into usable parts, and convincing insurance companies and body shops that recycled parts are just as good as ones straight from the manufacturer. After the company went public in 2003 the stock returned better than 500% through its peak early last year, landing LKQ (the name stands for Like Kind and Quality) at No. 58 on our 2008 Fastest-Growing Companies list. “Basically, they’ve got thousands of acres with a bunch of cars lying around,” says analyst John R. Henderson of Morgan Keegan. “But there’s a lot of money in ripping them apart.”

LKQ (LKQX) hit the skids last year. As commodity prices tumbled in the second half, the company was getting dramatically less for the material sold to scrap-metal dealers. Earnings fell about 40% in the fourth quarter. The company also suffered from a little-known side effect of recessions: falling insurance claims. People were driving less (3.4% fewer miles in 2008, according to the Federal Highway Administration), and many cash-strapped drivers chose to go without repairs rather than pay the deductible. Auto claims were down about 4.5% industrywide last year. Overall, LKQ’s growth (not counting acquisitions) slowed to just 0.7% in the fourth quarter. Its share price tumbled 60% from its peak, to under $10.

Yet analysts have not given up on the company, and many believe it’s a bargain. Nine rate it a buy, against five holds. At its core, harvesting scrapped cars is still a very profitable business. With a national feed of daily pricing information, LKQ’s buyers know exactly how much to pay for a vehicle (the company bought nearly 150,000 of them last year). And with a broad customer base, they’re assured of selling whatever parts they can find. That’s not the case for a local or regional operation, which isn’t as sure of its supply of wrecks or demand for parts. Typically, a junker LKQ buys for $1,700 yields at least $3,600 in revenue, according to Henderson.

Over time a recessionary environment may actually be good for LKQ. Insurance companies are cutting premiums, and have had huge losses in their investment portfolios. They’re looking to save money, and one way is to put more pressure on the body shops they work with to use cheaper recycled and generic parts. In the past a big worry that insurance companies had about such parts was the reliability of supply. Typically, scrap yards and generic suppliers could offer only about 45% of the parts insurers ordered. But LKQ, with a national footprint, plus its 2007 acquisition of generic-parts importer Keystone, fills 65% of orders, according to analyst Nate Brochmann at William Blair.

As the article points out, the auto insurance business is being affected in many different ways. Claims are down, but they are also cutting premiums. It’s probably a great time to go shopping for auto insurance.

  

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