Ready for another La Nina winter?

How's the winter driving in your neighborhood?

That cold Pacific current, La Nina, is due back this year, for the second year in a row – and that likely means a long and difficult winter for those of us in the Pacific Northwest.  “During a La Niña year, winter temperatures are warmer than normal in the Southeast and cooler than normal in the Northwest. See U.S. La Niña impacts from the National Weather Service..”  From

When I lived in Montana, the only two winter conditions that would keep me off the road – or at least temporarily pulled over to the side – were black ice and a winter whiteout.  Whiteouts could come and go very quickly; often, if you just pulled over and waiting for 20 minutes or so, the weather would clear just enough for you to see the edge of the road again and be able to proceed, albeit pretty slowly.  Black ice is actually a little scarier, simply because it blends in with the road and you don’t know it’s there until your tires start spinning.

Living in the Portland Metro area or the Eugene/Springfield area of Oregon presents another kind of challenge – lots of winter ice.  For most residents in western Oregon, the winters are not severe enough to get people used to extensive winter driving, and that lack of experience shows up when bad storms do come through.   Add to that some good doses of ice, caused by the additional humidity of an area located closed to the ocean, and you have a recipe for lots of winter driving problems.

What can you do?  Slow down; don’t be in a hurry from now until the middle of spring.  You may be able to navigate the ice and any snow that falls, but you need to leave lots of room for the drivers around you – or coming toward you – who may need to  make last-minute decisions in a timely fashion.

Be sure you have the right winter tires on your car – either all-weather, super-rugged tires with extra thick treads, or studded snow tires if they are allowed in your local area.  If you don’t have those, then get a good pair of cable chains, the lightweight kind that can be attached with very little time and trouble.

How’s the anti-freeze level in your car; have you had the coolant system checked?  We do that at Pit Stop, of course; just remember to get that system serviced.

Carry flares, a first-aid kid, a blanket and a shovel in your car all winter long.  A shovel?  Sure; you never know when you’ll have to dig yourself or someone else out of a drift.  I tend to carry those little hand- and foot-warmers as well – the kind that start heating up as soon as they’re exposed to the air.

Don’t forget some extra food – power bars, chocolate, juice and of course water.  A little Sterno stove and some matches are a good idea if you’re heading into the back country or using back roads in your travels.

Is your cell phone charged?  Did you bring a charger that can plug into your car’s cigarette lighter?  Does your cell phone have a GPS built into it, or do you have one installed in your car?

In general, pack your car for winter driving as if you expect to be spending two or three days in a stalled car somewhere in the snow.  If you’re at all like me, you’ll throw in an extra change of clothes, a toothbrush and toothpaste, too!  I’m firmly superstitious about preparing for disaster: if I am over-prepared, then surely nothing could possibly happen.

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Get a great deal at Pit Stop

We’re experimenting with our QR codes.  If you’d like to save a little money on your next Eugene/Springfield area oil change, scan this code in! 

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The Dog Days of Summer

That’s what the long August days are usually called – the Dog Days of summer.  It’s the time when life has slowed to a crawl, and things just seem to drag on and on… kind of like the debt ceiling debate, but we won’t go into that.

There are back-to-school sales already; there are people taking vacations – or “stay-cations,” depending – there are still lots of kids at neighborhood swimming pools.  And while so much of the nation has been sweltering in dangerously high heat these past weeks, we’ve been lucky here in the Pacific Northwest.  We’d actually have liked a little more sunshine and fewer clouds; but at least it’s not 103 degrees.  Still, one of the strange things about August is that the days seem to drag.

But the underlying tensions seemed to have increased lately, don’t you think?  Whether it’s the debt ceiling problems, the terrible massacre in Norway, the general state of the economy – who knows – but drivers seem to be more irritable than ever.  Case in point:  I pulled into the parking lot of my local Safeway store the other day, and started to turn down one of the aisles.  There was a big van on the left, and then as I moved down further, I realized that a little black car next to the van was starting to back up – and I only saw that little black car when I was already partially in back of it – because the van was blocking the view.  So I tapped on my horn to let the little black car know I was there.  I couldn’t back up; there were people behind me.  The little black car stopped, and I drove forward a few spaces and parked on the opposite side.

The little black care came around the far end of the aisle, up the next aisle, pulled up opposite, and a girl rolled down her window and screamed “You could have waited!” and gave me the finger.

No unusual, I know; people get irritated over the smallest things when it comes to cars and driving.  But I think things like this are happening more often lately.

My plea is this: please be patient during these difficult times.  Nobody has it easy, that I know of; everyone is stressed.  Pull up to the stop light a little more carefully; use your turn signal, always; don’t tailgate someone in your hurry; plan five or 10 extra minutes into any given trip you take to run errands.  Don’t flip somebody off for something minor, especially when you may not see (or not see) what that person is seeing (or not).  Smile.  Think of something to be grateful for – like the fact that you have a car that gets you around at all.

Blessings count.  Count them.

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Happy 4th of July!

For those of us in Oregon, summer never seems to get a foothold until on, or after, the 4th of July.  This weekend, though, the sun has come out a bit early, and the lure of the open road is stronger than ever.  Friends and neighbors have headed to summer cabins in eastern Oregon; to the beach; to the nearest lake – everyone so glad to enjoy the sunshine.

We know that you know not to drink and drive this weekend.  But have you taken any safety precautions with your car?  Get your oil changed, of course; but more than that, ask the guys at Pit Stop about the routine safety check they do on various things in your engine and under your car – even with your headlight and tail lights – each time they service your car.  Those checks can make all the difference.  If you have a loose hose or a belt, or if they notice a leak somewhere, your car may need some attention before you head out.  With this lovely, long weekend, we want you to feel free and secure and enjoy every minute.

Safe driving, and see you soon!

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Classic car season

It’s nearly summer, and those great classic car shows have already started throughout the Pacific Northwest and the northern Rockies.  This coming weekend, June 10-12, there are shows up on the north Oregon coast in Tillamook; in Sherwood, OR; in Missoula, Montana; in Jackson Hole, Wyoming,; in Port Townsend, Washington; and in Canby and Medford, Oregon.  The following weekend there’s even an annual car show put on by the Helsinki Yacht Club in Butte, Montana – you’d have to know Butte to understand why there might be a yacht club there.

All of this brings back fond memories of a classic car in my own past.  It was a ’57 Chevy station wagon, royal blue in color, with light blue fur on the dashboard and a set of chimes or bells for the car’s horn.  It belonged to my boyfriend-then fiance then husband, now former husband (and, I’m grateful to say, father of my children).  We met in high school, and that was his car – and his first memory of me with his car was pretty horrific.  Our first date was to our high school’s homecoming football game, and I wanted to decorate the car with all kinds of crepe paper streamers, balloons, you name it – and I figured the best way to do that was by attaching everything with harmless masking tape.

Which would have been fine – had the car not just been painted.  I remember Jack politely asking me to please attach the tape to the car’s metal bumper rather than to any of the painted rear or side panels… and I remember the sound of a quiet panic rising in his voice.  The poor guy – here I was, probably the most naive person on the planet, just wanting to participate in a great party, and there he was, trying very hard to trust me with his most cherished possession.  We had come from two different worlds: he’d worked very hard for that car, and even trusted me with it the following year during his first few months in the Air Force.  To me, cars were a convenience and a necessity, but I had no idea what it took to run them or maintain them – even though I had my driver’s license.

Years and years later, I remembered the look on Jack’s face that afternoon as we got ready for the homecoming game.  I was trying to patch up a few scratches on my Toyota Camry, and finally took it in to be re-painted.  “Don’t use a brush in the car wash,” the guys at the body shop said, “for at least a year.”  A year?????  Oh.  And Jack’s beautiful Chevy wagon had just been painted the week before that game.

I don’t remember Jack holding the grudge; I don’t even remember if there were genuine tape marks in the paint, but I don’t think so.  I think he caught what I was doing in time, and put a halt to it.  I do remember we had a fantastic time on that date, and I do remember that car with great fondness.  I’ve never seen another car like it – not in my favorite classic car show up in Sandpoint, Idaho, which I’ve gone to with my grandsons; and not in car shows in Eugene or anywhere on the coast.  It was a one-of-a-kind – and it was the ’60s.  That probably says everything you need to know.

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Holidays and Graduations

You can feel it in the air: tense seniors finishing final exams and final projects, downing caffeine, staying up all night, wondering if there really is life after graduation.  The stress can be enormous.  Many college graduates are older, non-traditional students who have gone back to school to get re-trained for a different job market; many of their younger counterparts will be competing with them for the same jobs.  High school seniors are worried about college or some other type of training to prepare for the future.  And, of course, all of you parents are checking your bank accounts!

On the road again…    Meantime, it’s good that we have one last holiday before most graduation ceremonies begin.  Memorial Day weekend is usually the first road trip holiday that kicks off the summer season, and most of us take advantage of it and go someplace to relax for a few days.  Whether you’re headed to the coast, to the mountains, or maybe north to Portland, Oregon has so much to offer — and Oregonians have always made the state’s best tourists. 

Is your car ready?  Do you have an emergency kit inside your car, as well as a good first-aid kit?  A flashlight and flares; a tire inflator and a jack; paper towels or rags and window cleaning fluid (I need that winter and summer, it seems).  What about jumper cables, you ask?  Well, there’s a very cool new gadget on the market called a Glove Box Battery Jumper – check in out here:

It’s small, it’s convenient, and it works.  Someone used one of these gadgets on my car last fall, and I was amazed. 

If you’re headed out over Memorial Day, have a great time and safe travels!





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The price of oil – and tips on saving gas

In today’s paper ( a short blurb titled “Your own oil windfall” starts out with a perspective worth considering:  “Your pain at the gas pump may ease when you see your stock mutual fund statement – especially if it’s a fund that focuses on energy stocks.”  The blurb reviews the huge profits from the first quarter for energy companies like Exxon and Chevron.  This is partly dependent upon the price of oil, of course – but it’s the one place where having the price of oil increase might be a benefit to you if you own mutual funds or individual stocks in these energy companies.

Meantime, on the other end of the price wars, where most of us feel it right in our pocketbooks, here are some tips on saving gas:

Gas Buddy: Enter a zip code and find the cheapest gas near to you –

Bankrate’s gas caluculator: Find out how much it actually costs you to get to that cheap gas station and whether it’s worth the extra savings.

Gashog – This app (just $5 for one year) keeps track of your car’s fuel efficiency and expenses.  Go to

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Difficult times: trying to take care of what we have

April 15: Tax Day….  April 15: Gas is edging up toward $4/gallon…  April 15: In two more days, we start with Easter Week and then Passover.  Can we still drive a few miles to that great family reunion?  Can we still make it to a friend’s house for the annual celebrations?

Who would have thought a simple decision would become so difficult? These last two years or three years have made me question my lifestyles and priorities. I’m looking in nooks and crannies where I’ve never had to look before, wondering if I can save a few nickels here or a dollar there.

Sometimes I’m very tempted to save money in areas that actually backfire on me – especially when I forget the old maxim that time is money.  It really is.  There are two major reasons why, no matter how bad the economy gets, I would still never change the oil in my car myself: 1), I don’t have the time.  It takes a lot more than 10 or 15 minutes for me to do it myself – and then longer for me to do the laundry afterward, since I hate getting grungy enough to crawl under my car and deal with used oil.  I need the time to either keep working or to look for more freelance work; and 2), I would never get around to recycling the used oil and the used oil filter myself.  But I live in Oregon!  Recycling is important, on so many levels.  It’s not just the right thing to do in Oregon; it’s also what you do if you want to be socially acceptable around here, which is not a bad idea at all!

I need to take better care of my car than ever, because now it has to last longer.  It’s already 7 years old, and normally, I’d take this next year and start thinking about trading it in.  Right now, I’m hoping to keep it running well for another 5 years or so.

I’m sure I’ll cut out a lot of things this year – more than last.  But I’ll still have the guys at Pit Stop change the oil in my car.  They take better care of my car than I do myself – of than I’m capable of doing myself.  No matter the economy, some things retain their value.

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Tax time; saving money time

Tax time.  Not-a-lot-of-additional-money time.  Where can you cut corners and still be able to maintain your life?

When it comes to  your car, there are a few ways you can save money right now – and one of them is by saving on gasoline, particularly with the prices as high as they are.  Here are some suggestions:

Use the right gasoline for your car; don’t bump it up to a higher grade if your car’s instruction manual doesn’t call for that.

Don’t let your car idle anywhere for very long.  Try not to do a lot of stop-and-go driving.

As soon as highway or open roadway conditions permit, put your car on cruise control to maintain a consistent speed.

Be sure you’ve had a recent alignment done on your vehicle; this definitely saves fuel.

It also makes a difference if your tires are inflated to the correct pressure (your car manual will state what that is); if your tires are at the right pressure, you’re saving another bit of fuel.  If you’ve just come off spring break, make sure you’ve paid some attention to these things; if you had a “stay-cation” or flew someplace for spring break, you might want to give your car a quick check.

And for everyone – it’ll help if you start preparing your car for summer driving now.  The   weather’s about to turn, and the open road is calling!

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It’s almost spring! (We can hope, can’t we?)

Tulips in spring.Spring is coming – at last!  Flowers have bloomed these last few weeks, but for every bloom there seems to be another downpour of rain.  It’s been hard to look through the foggy mists and believe the sun is coming back, but it is.

With the change in seasons, it’s time for a little routine maintenance on your car – the kind of preventative maintenance that will make your car last much, much longer in this difficult economy.   The first step is to change out that winter oil.  We’ve had a long, soggy, cold, wet winter and I’m sure you put the appropriate oil in your car to deal with that.  As the days begin to warm up, it’s time to switch to the kind of oil appropriate for milder weather.  We’ll be able to recommend the right kind for your car and your driving conditions.

Speaking of driving conditions – ever wonder where that debate came from about getting your oil changed every 3,000 miles or every 5,000 miles?  We think getting your oil changed less often makes some sense if you’re constantly on the freeway doing long-distance driving, and there are definitely people whose jobs require that.  Zooming down the freeway can help clear out a bit of the gunk in your engine.

But if you do a lot of in-town driving, as most of us do – if you stop and start a lot because you’re running errands, have appointments, need to drop off the kids someplace or pick them back up – then your car is collecting sludge.  Know why?  Well, vapor builds up when your engine is running – plain old ordinary steam.  And if you’re running at a high speed on the freeway, that vapor burns off.  But in town, it doesn’t; in town that vapor just sits there and combines with the oil, and the result is sludge which can really make a mess in your engine and affect the performance and longevity of your car.  (Oil and water never do mix, do they?) That’s precisely when and why you need to change your oil at the 3,000-mile mark.  It’s preventative maintenance, and it’s really important during these difficult days when every dollar counts.

Rhododendrons in spring There’s another kind of maintenance to do on your car each spring, and this is the kind that will enable you allergy sufferers to find a small measure of relief.  Somewhere around the back of your glove box is something called a cabin air filter. This filter, set to HEPA standards, prevents the outside pollen from getting into your car where you have to breathe it.  Those cottonwood trees?  Enjoy the “snowfall” they create, and breathe easily with your new air filter.  You’ll really appreciate the difference.

For those of you about to head out on spring break, be sure you have these things taken care of in your car before you go!  And a most Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you all!

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