CNET to the Rescue: Tech tips for car buyers and owners

Car Tech's Wayne Cunningham joins us today with advice for new-car buyers. Also, smartphone apps for maintenance, parking, and gas buying. And of course your tech questions answered!

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
7 min read

Today's show has Josh and Rafe joined by CNET Car Tech's senior editor Wayne Cunningham, who brings us into the expert fold with tips for researching and maintaining your vehicle. We also do a road test with the power strip of the future, and Parrot's high-flying A.R. Drone, along with answers to your tech questions.

Below is an audio and a video archive for you to watch, along with our show notes, and links to subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or your favorite RSS catcher.

Watch this: CNET to the Rescue: Tech tips for car buyers and owners


Episode 18: Tech tips for car buyers and owners

Pricing/Crowd-sourcing information

Josh: If you're looking for a particular model, there's a good chance there's a fan site for it. I've done this quite recently where i found that out, and there was a very active thread about what people had paid, options that weren't worth it, and what dealer they went to. In this case, I actually found someone locally who had gotten a deal, was able to private message them and find out the specific dealer and salesperson they went through, so I could--if I wanted--go there and say "so and so got this deal from you. I want it too."

Another tip to see what others are paying is through Edmunds or an insurance company like USAA. With both, you price out your car and it tells you what you'd pay. Edmunds uses actual sales data too, though I think you're better off hitting the forums to find exact numbers with the kind of trim and things you want under the hood.

Decipher your car's idiot light with CarMD
RepairPal: Yes, your mechanic is ripping you off.
DriverSide: World's least sexy (but still useful) car site

Also, a handful of sites, like:


To buy or not buy the GPS package in a new car?

Josh: The GPS package on most cars is absurdly overpriced. On the one I was looking at though, you couldn't get vehicle stability assist without going the GPS route. The problem is that the technology quickly gets outdated, the maps updates can cost money, and when you're trying to sell it in a few years, there's not always an easy way (or any way) to switch that unit out. Also, for that price you can usually get a brand new GPS, with updated maps and technologies every year or so.

Rescue Road Test

AR.Drone, a $300 flying menace that's ridiculously fun for the 15 minutes its batteries last.

10-port USB hub

Josh: This is the power strip of the future Rafe! Yes, it's not the most attractively designed casing, but I can have 10 things plugged in at once. It also charges high-power devices, though you need to get an external power adapter for that. I had one sitting around from an old external hard drive that was the right voltage.

Bonus: you can mount it on your desk or wall.


Cpadilla: I am in the middle of a major remodel on my home and want to try and future proof the tech. I am currently planning to run CAT6 and RG6 to all the rooms and a surround sound system for my home theater. Any additional recommendations to try and future proof my setup?

Tweeple say.
1. Cat 5 is fine
2. Don't forget audio
3. Lots of people say Fiber -- but that's not realistic, expensive and requires converters
4. Wireless? No, not enough performance
5. HDMI was suggested, but it doesn't like long runs and it's not a networking wire, it's point to point
6. Best suggestion, from iYaz and others: Run conduit, 2-inch w/ big turns, so you can pull new wires as needed. Also home-run it all to a central point - a room with good sound insulation and plenty of AC.

Josh: USB ports in your wall sockets would also be quite awesome. Good for charging gadgets.


Raul Santiago: My laptop is very sluggish and I want to do a "clean reinstall" of the Windows Vista operating system. One Freaking damn dilemma. This computer happens to be my ITUNES HOME computer where I do all my music, video, and game app syncing.

I'm dreading the migration of everything to either my desktop (Windows 7 operating system) or maybe an external drive. I suspect I'm going to lose all my smart playlist, but far worst all my game progress for the games I've been playing. I don't want to restart Plants vs Zombies again!!! I'm just shy of two achievements.

Is there a better easier way to move my media? How do I save my game progress? I've searched high and low for it on my hard disk.

If I happen to find my iPod backup file in my laptop vista machine, can I just move that over to my (Windows 7) desktop in addition to manually moving my music?

I hate this freaking Apple control crap!!!! I can only aspire to be a ranter like "Le Gran Molly Wood!" I"m gonna hold off until I hear from you guys.

Josh: There's actually a remarkably simple way to do this built into iTunes. Just go into the File menu, then Library, then "Back up to Disc. This works with CDs and DVDs and preserves things like playlists, and play counts. If you have a huge library and you don't want to be swapping out DVDs or CD-R's, then you might just want to go with transferring your library to a hard drive. CNET's Donald Bell has a good how-to.

As for the app backups, Apple has a good support article, which we also link in the show notes. I'm not entirely sure the back-up also saves these, so you might want to find the folder where they're stored--which Apple tells you, and copy those over to a hard disk too. As long as you restore your iOS device from one of these backups, it will carry over your progress. Also, some games that use Plus+ and Openfeint have network game saves just in case you want to be on the safe side. Openfeint's is especially cool since you can sync your progress from one device to another.


Paul Gough: My backups have gotten out of control. I have 10 USB drives, 3 computers, and lots of CDs (several hundred) containing more than a decade of backups. Can you suggest a program that can give me printouts of the files on each of these media, such as a directory, to help me figure out what I have and what I don't need and what is duplicated? Also is there a foolproof program that I can use to help consolidate everything and eliminate the many duplicates because the files have been backed up more than once. None of my backups of drives, etc. are incremental. I just backed up whole directories--multiple times--as I felt a backup was needed. I am using PCs.

Perhaps you could do a whole show on how to consolidate everything and continue into the future in an organized way. I suspect I'm not alone with this problem?

Hi this Dre from Stillwater, Ok and I recently upgraded to win 7 and it seems that my hard-drive storage has shrunk in half and I have a double or triple copies of the same file.Is there a way to sort and delete all the copies of the same files in a easy way. Thanks any help and the awesome show.

Rafe: Really--hundreds of CDs? Ouch. If you're lucky and you don't re-use filenames, then I would just get a single drive or array to use as a new repository, and copy everything into it, ignoring dupes or letting new version overwrite old ones. Teracopy (free download) is a good replacement for Windows copy. Also see Syncback for fine-grained control over batch copy apps.

After you've got everything in one place, copy the array onto a second one and store it offsite. Then use a backup app like Syncback to keep things clear in the future.

Josh: In Windows, you can print out what's in the directory.

I'd also suggest checking out one of the apps from this Lifehacker roundup from two years ago of stuff that can de-dupe your files.


Angel from San Juan, Puerto Rico: I currently own a Dell Dimension 9150 desktop (Pentium 2GHz dual-core processor before the Core2Duo's came out) that about 5 years old. It's still pretty good for most regular tasks (email, office apps, Internet, etc.). However, it's showing its age when using Handbrake to convert DVDs into a format compatible for my AppleTV or my Xbox 360. It's currently taking twice the video's runtime to encode h.264 video.

Legal issues aside, I'm looking at getting a new desktop that will be mostly dedicated to converting my DVDs using Handbrake and I'd like to know what would be a good CPU and GPU combination for that task (and play a little Starcraft 2 to boot). I'm perfectly OK with either purchasing the components separately and building the computer myself or buying a retail system. I'm also perfectly OK with either a Windows system or a MacOS system. The only requirement is that I'd like to keep the system under $1,200 total.

Rafe: Handbrake is CPU only, so the GPU won't matter. I do all my encoding on a two-year-old Macbook and most movies take about 40 min--so that's about 2x to 3x encoding performance. Any modern, 64-bit CPU should be fine, with faster CPUs encoding more quickly.

Josh: Buy a cheap Dell tower with a beefy processor. Can get that for around $400. It'll pay for itself in time and energy on your part in just a few months if this is something you're doing all the time. As for being able to play Starcraft 2 on it? That's a whole other show.

Next time:

Send any tech questions our way: rescue@cnet.com.

You can also catch past episodes and answers at cnet.com/rescue

And as always, don't forget to follow us on Twitter--I'm @josh and I'm @Rafe. Wayne is @waynec_sf

See you next week!