November 2008

Kia Rondo: Frugal and Family Friendly

By The Car Family

For more reviews go to

We really like the Kia Rondo. It is nearly perfect for a family with plenty of functionality, a pleasant demeanor, and the ability to be both nimble and comfortable without sacrificing gas mileage in the 23-mpg range. But the most compelling feature is its price, which undercuts all the other minivans, but is a little more dear then the competitive Mazda 5. We highly recommend you avoid the base model where practically everything is an option. You should be able to get a well equipped model for well under $20,000


Safety abounds even with the base model with ABS and stability control and head airbags and seat belt pretensioners and side curtain airbags, and an air pressure monitoring system. Crash scores were good.

Mom’s view: It is all rounded and thus the Rondo name no doubt, and on the inside all those curves result in an enormous interior. It is fairly quiet too, with the feeling of quality that belies the low cost of this rig. There is an optional third seat, which has very little legroom, but makes it possible to carry seven people and a tad of luggage. The rear seat has a 60/40 split and the second row seats fold flat. The Rondo is at an ideal height for removing and installing child’s seats and the doors open very wide making it easy to enter and exit. You don’t have to worry about getting your dress dirty either, as you can easily slide in without a problem. Thankfully, it does not have sliding side passenger doors that are such a bother during windy days and inclement weather because the size of the opening can’t be controlled. The Rondo’s doors open as a sedan’s and are very large. The rear hatch is easy to open and close even if you are short and the liftover is low.

The interior is dull, but loaded with storage. There are ten cupholders, a fairly large glove compartment, and a variety of bins and cubbyholes. There is room in the second row for three adults and the high roofline gives the interior a commodious feel.

Rondo’s 15.8-gallon fuel tank and our mixed driving average with the V6 engine was 24-mpg. If you mainly drive on the highway you could go over 300 miles, but I would dearly love an 18-gallon unit. The government’s rating for the two engines are 20/27 and 21/29 mpg.

Dad’s view: There are two engine choices, the 2.4-liter four-cylinder which provides 162 horsepower and the 2.7-liter V6 that puts out 182 hp. There isn’t much of a gas mileage penalty with the larger engine, although you don’t need it unless you live in the mountains and/or travel with a fairly full load most of the time. The reason there isn’t much of a gas penalty is that the base engine has a four speed automatic and the V6 gets a five speed. Both units shift extremely well and have a Sportmatic feature that allows you to place the Rondo in whichever gear you wish. This is excellent feature when driving in the hills and adds a little bit of fun to an otherwise uneventful vehicle. The power rack and pinion steering and four-wheel, independent suspension provide a satisfying ride.

The brakes are adequate, but not impressive. I had to use them once in an emergency situation and the ABS came on just fine, but there was way too much tire squeal. The pedal feel is a bit soft, but the brakes react in a linear fashion in all conditions.

Kia’s Optima providing the platform for the Rondo and the result is a family sedan ride that feels every bit of its 3500 pounds. As for acceleration, responsive, maybe overly responsive would be a better description, to any pressure on the go pedal. The Rondo quickly gives you all it has from the git-go. It is responsive, but once over 5000 rpm you are mostly waiting for inertia to help with passing unless you shift the transmission yourself. The steering has a good weight and the suspension gives you some courage in corners. It drives smaller then it is. That being said, I like the Mazda 5 better for its lower stance and more aggressive suspension. It is not as spacious as the Rondo and only comes with a four-cylinder engine. The Rondo has a much better warranty, but resale is probably not going to be as good as the Mazda.

After 600 miles of testing two items that need to be addressed came to light. First, the seats need more support and should have a slightly longer bottom cushion. Secondly, the night lighting is just adequate. You get a wide distribution of light, but using your high beams does not provide enough illumination down the road.

There is no question the Rondo is one of my very favorite run-around vehicles. The size makes it easy to park in small spaces, the high stance provides a good view of the road, and the engine sips gas. It doesn’t thrill you, but it is satisfying and with Kia offering some great deals there is no question that you can get one fairly well loaded for less than a compact car.

Working woman’s view: If there ever was a vehicle in need of a makeover it is the Kia Rondo. It is nearly invisible in a parking lot and there isn’t any sense of visual pride when you view it. Of course, you do get a fabulous warranty that goes for 100,000 miles on the drive train and it is a frisky friend in town with good visibility and exceptional initial acceleration. The Rondo is easy to maneuver, too, but it isn’t nearly as fun to drive as the Mazda 5 or as handy as the Honda Element with its clamshell doors.

I found the interior easy to live with, but the adjustments for the seats are very awkward and it is nearly impossible to find a good seating position if you have shorter legs and long arms. The seats are okay, but don’t get the leather option as it very difficult to not slide in when you are wearing a polished cotton dress or anything with a smooth fabric.


In a dark color, and with some attractive alloy rims the Rondo has a bit of snap, but the real beauty of this minivan/station wagon is in its pricing and ease of operation. It has just enough acceleration, exceptional fuel mileage, terrific visibility, and easy to operate controls to drive it to the top category of this segment. I would rank it below the Volkswagen Jetta station wagon, the Subaru Impreza, and the Mazda 5. But better then the rest and that includes the much more expensive BMW and Audi wagons when measured for family usefulness.

Young working male’s view: The reports on the Rondo’s reliability have not been great. That being said, it does have a super warranty that Hyundai calls the most generous in the industry. You get five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper coverage, a five year/100,000-mile limited anti-perforation warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance feature. Chances are that if there is a problem you are going to be able to have it fixed without cost. I would say that the build quality I found would rank the Rondo in the average category. The point is that a warranty is often more important than reliability reports because the vast majority of all cars are fairly problem free. It is when they aren’t that your concerns should start and Kia appears to have the covered. On my job making servers and computers for we have domestic customer service for just that reason. If there is a problem you need to know there is someone there to help. That is why when you buy a Kia you should make sure there is a dealer in your area.

Over time I learned to enjoy the utility that is the Rondo. Although it really isn’t directed at my demographic group, its usefulness and ability to sip gas was exceptional. I would pay the extra $1000 or so for the larger engine because there is really only about a one-mile per gallon penalty and I would order the third seat as well. I think it will pay at resale. It should be noted that when the third row seat is up your storage area is almost nil at under seven cubic feet. Most of the time I kept the rear seats down and had over 31 cubic feet of room.

Stereo reception is weak and the system itself is not well suited for such a large interior space. The base unit has four-speaker audio system that struggles, but even the upgraded six speaker unit that plays MP3 files is hard pressed to impress. The units are also needless complicated, but easy to manipulate. The gauges use a small font and difficult to decipher. The heating and cooling controls are very simple to use and should be standard on every vehicle sold. The Rondo has a number of large windows and it takes a fairly long while to heat and cool the entire vehicle. I would tint the windows immediately.

Another notable need for improvement is the horn. The worst. You may as well use a bicycle bell. The heater is only average and the seat warmers are too mellow for those who live in cold climes. The sound when the turn signals are on is also in need of more volume and, finally, the tire noise is too great. The car needs tires that are not as wide, but a touch taller to make for a quieter ride and to gain better highway mileage. All of these are minor irritants that shouldn’t stop you from buying this Kia, but the Mazda 5 does a better job with all of them. Thus I would take the Mazda.

Family conference: The Rondo is a cross over that should compete with the likes to the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV, Ford Taurus X, Subaru Forester, Honda Element, and the like. Given its price and room, it gets the better of these competitors. The Rondo is more family friendly, has a vast hold, and is perky enough to be pretty to your pocketbook. On the other hand, this is a Goldie Locks type of vehicle. It isn’t a small or sharp handling as the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe or as cumbersome as the larger minivans from Honda and Toyota. But if you are looking for something that doesn’t make any type of status statement whatsoever and is never going to catch the eye of law enforcement, the Rondo is for you. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

For a list of all vehicle websites go to

The End of the D and F Grade: Welcome to Lake Wobegon

I must be living in Lake Wobegon, that mythical Minnesota town that my fellow Anokaian Garrison Keillor created where all the children are above average. The reason is simple, in classrooms throughout the country the D and F grade are fast disappearing in favor of those that traditional were given to superior students. That could only mean we are living in Keillor’s fantasy village. Unfortunately, this isn’t a fantasy and it didn’t happen a long time ago. The demise of the D and F grade came rather quickly. It was the outgrowth of a society empowered by the government’s legislation that no child is going to be left behind and the general hush of educators who know darn well that they better go along or suffer the wrath of sanctions. The result was that non-performing students, advocates for the importance of self-esteem, and parents desperately wanting to assure others that their child was on the honor roll bullied their way to higher grades using which ever tactic worked.

After this quixotic change the A became a grade for those students achieving above the accepted standards at a school regardless of the State standardized test scores. A B mark was the grade provided for those students who did the work and the C was a gentleman’s way of saying your work was done, but poorly. That was it. D and F grades were reserved for those students who simply did not do any work and for those whose parents would not object. These low grades were also avoided at schools where principals believed that if a student received a failing grade the teacher wasn’t doing their job. Yep, it was the teacher’s responsibility not the students or parents. The F grade also meant that the principal would have to justify that grade to his/her superiors which was never good unless the he had coached with the superintendent.

Some principals, helpless to change grades ethically, began a silent campaign to force teachers into not giving low grades. That would mean pressure for them to provide remediation for students who failed regardless of that fact that in all probability the pupil had many years of remediation. The F grade also meant the student might have to repeat a grade or worse, the student would stay at that school another year. To the rescue came social promotion and its justification that maybe the child wasn’t ready to learn or, perhaps, would have mental problems due to this “rejection and hurt their self-esteem.” After all, the government had mandated that they couldn’t be left behind anyway.

Some teachers soon realized that the only thing that that really mattered were happy parents and smiling administrators and many started gifting out A, B, C grades eager to pass their charges onto the next teacher. If that teacher was a holdout for the D and F grades he or she would get messages from parents indicating that they were the only teacher that the child was having a problem. A check of the record would confirm this, Thus only the brave and tenured stood firm waiting for the mandated standardized test to confirm their assessment. Unfortunately, the results came in the summer after the student had been promoted.

I remember talking to my mechanic whose daughter went to a private school and had about a 4.3 grade point average. Don’t ask me how that happened, but apparently in schools across the land an A is no longer the highest grade you can get. A new higher mark has been installed further cementing the death of the A, B, and C grading system. It is given to those students who take “more advanced” classes. Don’t even try to figure this out, but apparently there were so many straight A students that there had to be a new method used to increase the 4.0 so that colleges could see that these students were way about average. Of course, average was no longer a C, it had become a B. And, obviously, the A was no longer the highest grade a 5.0 or there abouts was.

So my mechanic was dismayed by the prospect that his daughter’s private school had provided an excellent education, but her SAT scores were under 1000. He complained to me about the unfairness of the tests and about the Democratic legislature that had mandated them. Honest. Never a mention of the daughter’s preparation or President Bush. The good news is that she was accepted at a church based university and so I felt safe to take my car there afterwards making sure no one had placed an Obama sticker on it.

The problem is that grade inflation produces students with high expectations and this hope is shattered when they meet with the realities of standardized testing. But hey, that’s someone else’s problem. In fact, with the declining validity of the grades, the SAT has become a more valuable tool for predicting academic success in college.

Of course, the end of D and F grades is not without its rationale. Good grades enable schools to tout their honor rolls and for some private schools to retain their students. Why would anyone send a child to a school and pay extra to have them receive failing marks? There are also teachers who feel that certain children may benefit from a higher grade as it could make the student feel better and, perhaps, get them to understand they can be successful.

The emphasis is not on learning at some schools, but the grades. When the grades are checked by administration they like to see high class averages. I have seen some of the best teachers called into a principal’s office for a meeting about low grades and I have known administrators to put pressure on teachers to change grades.

Next is the fact that teachers can face an exodus of students as parents search to make their children happy and face a less stressful class. Teachers not wanting to risk the wrath of their fellow educator who get these transfers may decided to loosen up their standards.

Finally, teachers are perhaps practicing something they learned in university. Nearly half of all grades at such universities such as Duke, Harvard, and Columbia are in the A range and the University of Illinois reports that A grades constitute more than 40 percent of all grades and outnumber C’s by almost three to one.

So rest in piece D and F grades. There just isn’t the need with so many superior students. And not just in Lake Woebegon.

How to Improve Assessment Scores

Second Grade Teacher Accused of Grade Inflation

Grade Inflation adds to Woes, Especially in Middle School

Grade Inflation by type of school

Student perceptions of grading practices: Does average class performance equal a C grade?

Grade inflation

Where All Grades are Above Average

Grade Inflation: The Current Fraud

The Skewing of the Bell Curve: A Study of Grade Inflation in Oklahoma High Schools

Grade Inflation Making It Tough To Evaluate Students’ Performance

Grade Inflation: An Elementary and Secondary Perspective

2009s Best New Cars and the Worst

by The Car Family

for more reviews go to

This year is perhaps the dullest for new models in a decade with the overarching concerns being the economy and fuel mileage. Despite this reality there are a few bright spots as manufactures struggle to put a less expensive new face on their products while still looking at less dramatic sales and profits. The results are a mixed bag as most of the sparkling new vehicles are probably at least a year away.

Here are the best of 2009’s models. Notice there aren’t any Bentleys, Porsche SUVs or Masarati’s listed because they are not only environmentally unfriendly, they are tremendously expensive to insure and maintain. Besides, you can take a Nissan GR-X and pretty much destroy the ego of any of these sports cars for far less money. And, as for the big sedans from Maserati and Bentley, let’s be honest. These heavyweights gulp gas and scream conspicuous consumption at a time when foreclosures, unemployment, and financial institutions woes create a citizenry that may no longer see these imported titans as status symbols, but as an in your face salute to the privileged class. The Porsche SUV is fast, handles well, and defies logic unless you want to help the German economy. So unless your ego is so small you can’t do with adoration from well-tipped valet parking lads, there are a lot of less costly vehicles to tempt your credit.

Best of 2009

First, our choices for the best cars for 2009. The Hyundai Genesis is a winner if for nothing else its pricing and features starting about $34,000. If you need a full size sedan at not much more than a Toyota Avalon this is the car to drive. The Lexus of the 21st Century.

Toyota’s Venza is the best SUV due to it combination of interior room and fuel mileage and its starts about $25,000. In other words, this is a Lexus at a Toyota price. However, since Toyota does not call it an SUV the Forester takes that honor, but only with the optional turbocharged engine and that starts at $26,000.


The best value in a family sedan is the Kia Optima and the best small car value is the Honda Fit. The former is a steal priced under $19,000 and the latter gives you ten cupholders and a lot of fun for $15,000.

The best American car is the Lincoln MKS and the best American SUV is the Ford Flex or Chevrolet Traverse. The Lincoln runs around $40,000 and is as good as the Lexus ES while offering a bit more luxury. The Ford Flex is a large station wagon that doesn’t do anything untowardly and holds a bunch. Easy to enter and exit and great for kids with a price under $30,000. The Chevrolet is priced nearly identical, but has a more typical SUV stance. Both vehicles are family friendly.

Jaguar’s XF is the best new luxury car for its rare combination of grace, performance, handling, and interior all for about $50,000.


The tight cornering Acura TL and TSX and its controversial exterior have a variety of improvements including its all wheel drive option that improves handling and the availability of a V6 with 305 horsepower. Larger then the previous model with an interior that is not to be missed. The base engine is plenty good enough with the 2.4-liter inline 4 producing 201 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque while yielding about 24 mpg in mixed, fast, driving. The steering and suspension are all set for canyon country.


Audi’s A4 is larger and a better drive than the previous model. Now available with a 265 horsepower 3.2 liter V6 and the possibility of diesel power, we still would prefer the turbo four cylinder engine that has been redone with fuel efficient in mind. These fast selling cars are very roomy and a delight to drive. New this year is the Audi Q5. Just what the world needs, another SUV. The good news is that it is much easier to live with then it huge, gas hoggish brother, the Q8. It is equipped with a 270-horsepower 3.2-liter V6 and Quattro all-wheel-drive system. The TT has grown and is more comfortable and more powerful. Loaded with racy features, this is a fun car that is quickly becoming an expensive sports car. A lot of fun and easy to drive but avoid the sporty options unless you want a rough ride on untidy highways.


The X6 is best left to those who can understand its appeal. A strange looking dude with a diverse array of options form all wheel drive to a 3.0 liter twin-turbo inline six or a X6 xDrive50i with a V8 producing over 400 horsepower.


Fast and sporty, the CTS-V from Cadillac has a whopping 550 horsepower V8 that makes it one of the world’s fastest sedans. We have no idea why this is appealing to buyers, but you can certainly create wonderment at the senior home by having the fastest car there. And, no doubt, you can run a lot of BMWs to ground with this throwback to the muscle car era.


The Traverse is a SUV that is well priced and has good fuel mileage. It is on the same chassis as the excellent GMC Arcadia and Saturn Outlook, but costs less. The 3.6-liter V6 and 6-speed automatic transmission work well together. The Camaro is due out soon, but don’t expect to find one of these sharp looking coupes at list price anytime soon. On the other hand, for the more daring the ultimate Corvette is just $100,000 or more from your grasp. With a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 and its 620 or so horsepower that you can enjoy getting to 60 mph in less than four seconds. A future collectible if there is enough fuel left in the world.


It is all about the Dodge Challenger this year as this model joins the Camaro as these struggling companies look to the past to save their futures. The Challenger is a big vehicle with a huge variety of drive trains. We like the 375 horsepower 5.7 liter HEMI V8 and choice of 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmissions, but the base 250 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 and 4-speed automatic transmission are better values and more economical to operate. Oh, heck, go for the V8 and recover more at resale. If you really want to plunder the world’s resources put the Challenger SRT8 touts a 425-horsepower 6.1-liter V8 on your insurance policy. Just make sure there aren’t any teenage driver’s in the family. More family friendly is the Dodge Journey that is a combination mini-van, SUV, and sedan. Chrysler has the best interior features of any manufacturer. The Journey has room, sort of, for seven and is not much longer than the tidy Dodge Avenger. Stay with the 2.4-liter engine produces 173 horsepower and be rewarded with 19-city/25-highway mpg.


Ferrari is offering its California to those patient and rich enough to afford its 460 horsepower. Prices are said to be just a tad over $200,000. We expect that tad to be whatever the best offer is at the dealership as they go down the waiting list. Pay the man, resale is going to be terrific and who doesn’t want to own one of the few vehicles on earth that gets worse mileage then a Hummer H2.


Ford is struggling with a top-heavy line-up of SUVs and not much in the way of alternative fuel vehicles or gas sippers to tempt buyers. So Ford produces, yep, another SUV. The Flex is a station wagonish vehicle that is long and wide and boxy and attractive inside and out. The interior is very unique for a Ford and there is also the Microsoft-developed Sync multimedia interface and huge sunroof that extends well into the rear seating area. The Flex seats seven and even offers an optional refrigerator inside the rear console. The best feature may be the EasyFuel capless fuel filler that means an end to lost or improper tightened gas caps. The engine is the 3.5-liter V6 with 262 horsepower. Safety features include ABS, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.



Look for a bevy of honors for the big Genesis sedan from Hyundai. This is a terrific car that can easily compete with the foreign competition and beat it by thousands in price. If you need a luxury sedan this may be the one for those that don’t have the noises in the air. You can order the Genesis with a 375-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 or two V6 engines that we recommend. The 264-horsepower has enough power for daily needs, but the 3.3-liter or a 290-horsepower 3.8-liter is better for those who traveling with a family onboard. Standard are dual-zone automatic climate control, cruise control, a power sunroof, power heated side mirrors, heated leather seats, and a seven-speaker sound system.

A smooth six-speed automatic transmission makes everything happen. Loaded with features that make it the bargain of the year and its fast, too. Safety features include ABS, stability and traction control, active head restraints, front- and rear-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags. Hyundai is also offering its bargain priced Elantra as a Touring model and a five door wagon version.



Now owned by Tata of India, Jaguar has an all-new XF sport sedan that has a most un-Jaguar look. The interior is stunning, the ride a bit to sporty for our tastes, but the engine purrs with either a 300-horsepower 4.2-liter V8 or a supercharged version with 420 horsepower. A very attractive alternative to the Lexus, Audi, and BMW and it starts around $50,000.


The MKS is Lincoln’s new flagship and it is surprisingly pleasant to drive. The base 3.7-liter 270-horsepower V6 engine and its 6-speed automatic transmission and all wheel drive feature makes it quite pleasant and competent without the usual Lincoln bigger is better attitude. The MKS offers include the voice-activated SYNC in-car communication system and the really neat capless fuel-filling feature.


Easily the best bargain in a family sedan, the new Optima come with a 175-hp 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine or a 190-hp 2.7-liter V6. Go with the optional 5-speed automatic and get 22/32 mpg. Bland, perhaps, but starting under $19,000, loaded with safety features such as available ABS, traction control, antiskid system, front side airbags, curtain side airbags and a active head restraints and you have a family special.


While Lincoln gets smaller Mazda goes larger with the redesigned Mazda6 sedan. Power from a new 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and the 3.7-liter V6 are more then enough, but the real treat is the fact that there is finally enough room in this Mazda for a family. Good handling, too, and the biggest trunk in its class and easy to load.


Diesel engines for the new GLK Class SUV and the super E320 sedan are the news at Mercedes. Oh, and if you really want to suck the earth dry of fossil fuel there is going to be a limited, thank goodness, supply of the SL65 AMG Black Series with its lightened body and twin-turbocharged V12 engine producing a 650 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque. Mercedes quality is improving and the Bluetec diesels are world class with fuel excellent fuel mileage and reliability.


Struggling to find a niche for itself, Mitsubishi has brought fourth the Lancer Ralliart with a new 235-horsepower 2.0-liter DOHC turbocharged engine that is manipulated by a paddle-shifted Twin Clutch-SST gearbox. There is also all wheel drive and a variety of interior and exterior pieces that mark it a Mitsubishi. The problem with Mitsubishi is that its products don’t have the quality feel of the competition. For example, the jack on the Lancer is nearly impossible to use and why bother with a keyless entry system when more attention should be placed on ride quality. If you can get one at a good price the responsive engine, superior warranty, and fun factor might ease your pain at resale.


Just try and get one; Nissan’s very hot GT-R is a coupe is the wunderkind of those with the need for speed with its 480-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6 ready to get you down the road faster than anything else in the $70,000 price range. A super car, but since there are under 2000 planned for the North American market be patient and beware the mark-up.


Redone and much better, the Pontiac Vibe is more user friendly, larger, and just as handy as before. If you want to make a bigger impression the Pontiac G8 GXP is fast, has good interior space, and can even be ordered with a 6-speed manual transmission. With the improved Pontiac, better Saturn line-up, a Chevrolet Malibu that is well priced, and a new look at Cadillac how can the stock be so cheap? Maybe too much spent on the Corvette and Hummer line-up.


A new hybrid version of the Saturn Vue will use General Motors’ new 2-mode hybrid system with a pair of 55-kW electric motors powered by a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack to help the 3.6-liter V6. Look for fuel mileage of 25/32 with a range of nearly 500 miles. Saturn is quickly becoming a shinning star for General Motors with a much improved line-up. Now if it can just keep the pricing competitive and keep them in the dealerships. We visited several dealerships and they hadn’t one in stock.


Bigger, but not necessarily better, the Subaru Forester is softer. larger, and more upscale then ever before. In fact it starts to press its stalemate, the Tribeca, in size and character. You can order the 170-horsepower version or the optional 224-horsepower turbocharged one. If you carry a family get the turbocharged version as the lesser unit is taxed when loaded on mountain roads. The Impreza was recently redone and it follows the other Subarus in being larger. The Forester is an outstanding SUV, but only with the turbocharged engine under the hood.


One of our favorite small cars, Honda’s Fit has been enlarged and improved with little additional cost. The backseats fold flat, the car loves to run, and the gas mileage is always over 30 mpg. A winner for $15,000. If you spend more consider the Toyota Matrix or Pontiac Vibe.


Easily one of the most useful cars made, especially for those who like good fuel economy and cargo room. The Matrix comes with an ample 1.8-liter engine, but we much prefer the XRS with the 2.4-liter engine and 158 horsepower. The problem here is it that much better than the less expensive Honda Fit?

Toyota’s Venza is the best news out of Toyota since the Prius. A little front heavy in appearance, nevertheless, this is the car to own if you have a family and don’t want the burden of a minivan. Lots of option and the possibility later in its life of being a hybrid, this Toyota is going to make buying a Lexus RX a questionable purchase. The Venza’s base engine will be the one to buy as it provides gas mileage of 19/26 and can even be ordered with all wheel drive. The best of the new *SUVs for gas mileage and useful interior room, but Toyota says it isn’t a SUV. Either way it would be our first choice. *Toyota does not call it a SUV.


We have owned Volvos in the past and found them long lasting, but extremely expensive to maintain and parts were dear. As such the arrival of the crossover XC60, a five seat SUV, with a bundle of safety features that includes a package that pre-charges the brakes for sudden stops and much more is of interest.  However, it leaves us wary of the cost of maintaining such a electronically enhanced vehicle. The XC60 will be available with a 285-horsepower 6-cylinder turbocharged T6 engine that isn’t fuel frugal.

Volkswagen Passat CC

The sleekest Volkswagen ever, the Passat CC is a coupe like sedan with an optional all wheel drive system, six speed automatic transmission, and a standard 200-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder or a 3.6-liter V6 with horsepower. There is the availability of such features as an electronic chassis control system, a large sunroof and a unique system that actually corrects the car’s steering to keep it on track. Lots of features and certainly well worth a look if not just to use the touch screen and see if that new look doesn’t tug at your credit limit.


The VW Jetta SportWagen is going to be a winner when equipped with the diesel engine. It is the sharpest looking, excuse the expression, station wagon, you can buy for the money and the fuel mileage is going to rival hybrids. It rides well, has a very friendly interior, and exceptional visibility. The best station wagon for the money replacing the reigning champ, the Subaru, and the gas mileage is 21/30 for the 2.5 engine, which is better than the Subie.

Volkswagen Tiguan

This crossover SUV has all the usual Volkswagen features such as a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, a tidy shape, a comfortable ride and a price tag that makes it difficult to justify for those who just buy a small utility vehicle for commuting. Frisky and fun loving with gas mileage of about 23 mpg in mixed driving. Interior space isn’t great, but the seating is excellent.  A spirited vehicle at a premium price.

Volkswagen Routan

Sadly, this is the minivan Volkswagen decided to bring to the market. The base is the very competent and excellent riding Chrysler and that includes the 3.8-liter V6 with its 197 horsepower. Why they didn’t bring the ones they have in Germany here is probably due to the declining dollar and safety issues. Drive the Dodge/Chrysler version and than the Routan before you decide.

For a list of all vehicle manufacture websites go to

Earthquake Safety Preparation Links

By Alan Haskvitz

Earthquake lessons and links are always vital. Here are a list of some of the better ones. First, a school or family meetings should be held to formulate a plan in case of an earthquake. Items to be discussed include:

If you have a student at school that child cannot be released to anyone who is not on the school’s emergency list. If you work out of the area you might want to check into having someone local be able to pick-up your child and keep him or her safe.

Communications are critical and there is a good likelihood that cell phones and landlines will not work. Have a plan before hand as to where to meet and how to get there. A good, sturdy computer is always a plus such as those made by They run on open source software which is much less expensive as well.

When you plan a trip home remember that underpasses and bridges may not be safe. Try and make a travel plan that allows you to detour these areas.

Have an emergency supply of food, water, blankets, and a radio in your car.

Don’t expect to be able to get your vehicle out of a parking lot. During earthquake cars bounce around and they could easily be thrown against other vehicles. Stay out of parking lots during an earthquake because of this as well.

You need a lot of water for both your family and your pets/ Expect to have three gallons of water for each person and pet. That should last three days. Also have water purification tablets or chlorine bleach to purify drinking water from other sources. Emergency water may be obtained from water heaters, melted ice cubes, toilet tanks and canned vegetables. Do not drink water from pools or spas due to chemicals in the water.

Keep a supply of medication on hand and some cash as credit card use depends on communications that might be down. Also make sure that you have plenty of fresh batteries and pay extra for Alkaline or Lithium type batteries.

Have a fire extinguisher available, as there may not be any water to douse a fire. You also should have some basic tools such as a crow bar to open stuck doors and garage doors. A wrench to turn off gas and water mains that might be leaking as well as can openers, matches, a knife, extra flashlights and good batteries, a battery powered lantern, a portable radio, and a bottle opener. The new LED flashlights and lanterns are highly recommended as they use less battery power and give a brighter light. You should also consider your outside barbecue to cook food once all gas leaks have been stopped. Don’t cook indoors.

Items such as toilet paper, plastic bags, hand sanitizers, paper towels, duct tape, rope, rainwear, sleeping bags, extra bedding and clothes, gloves, and a secure place for your vital documents are all recommended.

Here are some important websites that contain additional information and learning opportunities. You might want to contact the schools your child attends to see what their preparations are as well as your work place.

Lesson plans for teachers

Earthquake lessons and links for educators and parents

Virtual Earthquake site

A site that enables you to determine earthquake severity on an interactive site.

How to survive an earthquake: myths and reality

Family emergency supply checklist

Printable booklets on preparing for an earthquake

How your family can prepare for an earthquake.
See what a major earthquake would do to downtown Los Angeles.

Video depicting the physical, social, and economic consequences of the most comprehensive earthquake scenario ever created and other simulations.

What schools can do for earthquake preparedness

What businesses can do for earthquake preparedness
Simulation quiz about your home and what you can do to secure items.

Earthquake information for kids

Includes learning games.

California Homeland Security Office link

Ideas for home preparation that includes those with handicapped individuals.

Broad cast audio for the Shake Out Drill

Current earthquakes around the world

California earthquake information

List of California faults and explanation of type

Thanksgiving Teaching Resources and Lessons

There are some good lessons and ideas here to perk up those lessons used in the past and perhaps new flavor to your holiday teaching plans.

Native Americans

Very useful collection of lessons for teaching about Native Americans


Teachable Moments


History and interesting facts

History of Thanksgiving

Interesting information, but a lot of ads.

A compilation of interesting facts

Lesson plans

For many levels, but uneven quality.

Huge collection of lessons and ideas

Lessons plans and other ideas for the holiday

Thanksgiving lesson ideas

A giant link site

A variety of lesson plans and printables

For many levels.

Integrated Math plans for Thanksgiving

Lesssons about Plymouth Plantation

Squanto Helps New Arrivals

An elementary site with links.

The Origins of Thanksgiving
An interesting site with information on Thanksgiving myths as well as the perspectives of African Americans and American Indians.

The Origins of Thanksgiving from a variety of angles for elementary and middle school levels.

Large link site

Slow loading at times.

Teachnology: Thanksgiving Worksheets
Collection of Thanksgiving worksheets and other Thanksgiving printables.

Myth and Truth

An excellent unit for older students.

Kindergarten and Preschool lessons

Primary ESL Plans

Basic integrated ideas for primary students

The First Thanksgiving

For primary grades


For Second Grade

Inmagine being at the First Thanksgiving

For primary

Simple crafts




Includes worksheets, activities, word puzzles, coloring pages, as well as lessons and thematic units.

Hearty collection of printables

Enchanted printables

Districts that are interested in low price and quiet open source computers and servers with American based customer service should contact for special school pricing.

Traffic Laws that Need to Be Enforced: Large SUVs are illegal on residential streets.

For car reviews go to

There are a variety of driving laws that were written, passed, and need to be enforced as per the State Constitution. As such, all Hummer H2s, Ford Excursions, Lincoln Navigators and other large SUVs are illegal to drive on the streets of most communities who limit the amount a vehicle can weigh to use such roads to 6000 pounds. In addition, those vehicles and others that weigh over 6000 pounds are illegal to drive on the Pasadena Freeway, according to Cal Trans. That’s right; no large SUV can use the Pasadena Freeway legally. And we are talking about the Gross vehicle weight rating which means that almost all large SUVs are not allowed on residential streets pretty much everywhere.

Too Heavy for Residential Streets

Get these top heavy, polluting, parking lot hogs out of residential areas and into the commercial zones where they belong. It also makes you wonder why these rapidly depreciating SUVs shouldn’t be considered trucks due to their weight and size and have their freeway speeds reduced. This would make it safer for all concerned.

Driving with fog or driving lights on is against the law except during inclement weather. The police need to stop and ticket those drivers as per the law. A vehicle may be equipped with not more than two fog lamps mounted on the front which may be used in addition to the headlights only when there is fog, rain, snow, smoke, or dust, reduce the daytime or nighttime visibility of other vehicles to less than 500 feet. It is not legal to drive with driving lights or fog lights on at any other time. Driving with more than your headlights on is against the law and shows disrespect for others who may be blinded by these lights

When two auxiliary lights are installed, one shall be mounted at the left side and one at the right side at the same level and as close as practical to the sides. When one lamp is installed, it shall be mounted as close as practical to the left side or on the center of the vehicle.

You must have your headlights on when you have your windshield wipers on. That is the law and it is a good one. Using a vehicle’s headlights increases visibility during inclement weather. Low beam headlamps shall be used when following another vehicle within 300 feet. In addition, you must turn on your headlights no later then 30 minutes after sunset and keep them on until 30 minutes after sunrise.

A license plate must be on the front and back of every vehicle. Period. And you can’t cover the license plate with a devise intended to obstruct or impede the reading of the plate.

A driver may not stop in a crosswalk for a red light.
On one-lane roads the vehicle going downhill must yield 
to the vehicle going uphill while the ascending vehicle is on a grade.
U-turns are prohibited in a business district
except at intersections or through openings
in a divided roadway. 
Turn signals are required 100 feet turning. 
Vehicles shall be stopped or parked, where
permitted, with the right-hand wheels
within 18 inches of the right-hand curb.
The operator of a private motor vehicle is
responsible for the use of seat belts or
child’s seats for all passengers.

You cannot smoke while driving with anyone under the
age of 17 in the vehicle.
It is not legal to display, install, or attach
anything to a windshield or rear windows
except for the 7-inch square in the lower corner
of the windshield or rear window
or a 5-inch square in the lower corner of the
windshield nearest the driver.
It is against the law to use a cell phone that does
not have hands free operation. It is also dangerous
to use cell phones at any time as they distract and
are a leading cause of accidents. Those under
18 cannot use cell phones regardless.

It is illegal to drive too slowly and block traffic or create a road hazard.

At night all bicycles must have a front and rear light as well as reflectors on the pedals or on the riders shoes or ankles.

Finally, in California if you see a gasoline powered vehicle that is smoking you can report it to the South Coast Air Quality Control Board and the owner will receive a notice of the incident by calling 1-800-CUT-SMOG. This is a very valuable tool, as sometimes the owner may not know the vehicle needs repair.

For a list of vehicle websites go to and click on business