Biggest Stories of 2011- What made this year’s news in Your Car Matters

You want plumbing advice from your plumber, but do you want plumbing advice month after month?  You want to hear your accountant’s every thought at tax time, but year ‘round?  You’re bombarded with email from every company you deal with, so if we want to avoid your spam filter we have to give you more than automotive advice.  We have to give you something that you’ll actually look forward to receiving each month.  That’s why we work so hard to make our articles interesting, useful, and varied.  If you’ve missed any of our Feature articles in 2011 then this is your chance to catch up.  We hope you enjoy this roundup, and rest assured that we’ll be bringing you more of the same in 2012.

2011 got off to a great start when Keith Tucker joined the Your Car Matters team in January.  He creates the nationally recognized “What Now Toons” strip, a progressive cartoon that has been praised by the likes of Greg Palast and Randi Rhodes.    Check out the archive here, and check back for his new posting each week.

The coffee we serve in our lobby on a daily basis, as well as the coffee we give out during Christmas all come from Nancy Duncan at Schondecken Coffee in Sellwood.  Here was your chance to meet the lady who keeps us all caffeinated.

The only thing better than learning from your mistakes is learning from someone else’s.  In February, a new client came in whose vehicle had been running fine until a string of symptoms all hit at once.   We quickly found the problem… he was 20,000 miles overdue for his oil change!   We saved the car without replacing the engine, but it was close.  “Mr. X” generously chose to let us take before-and-after shots of the engine, and this article became one of our most popular Features of 2011.  But beware- these pictures aren’t for the faint of heart!

In March we took you under the hood for a look at our industry-leading, proprietary Inspection Process.  While just about every shop has an inspection procedure for your car, most of them are designed to give the shop a chance to find things to sell you.  This article explained our three-level inspection process, why we developed it, and why it’s one of the most valuable services we offer.

April was a time for fun.  One of the places we advertise is the Moreland Theatre, so we asked for your opinion on some of our upcoming slides and your ideas for new ones.   They’re still posted if you’d like to take a look, and if you’re a movie buff we’re always looking for new ideas.

On April Fool’s Day itself we went a little wild.  Now that the holiday has passed, we can safely tell you that our article about a home test for your headlight’s halogen fluid wasn’t exactly real.  It was fun, though, and you can pass it on to a gullible friend next April.  You’ll find all 2011’s April Fool’s jokes here, including our Sellwood Bee Ad and our KPOJ radio spot for the new Tom Dwyer Corporate Auto Service Wonderland.

Though there was fun in April there was time for reflection as well, when Tom Dwyer Automotive became a sponsor of the Veterans For Peace rally and march through downtown Portland.  Our article about the day started out as a factual report, but turned into something else as our reporter wrestled with what to tell his daughter about the event.  “How do I tell my little girl to reach for her dreams?  Why should I tell her that her voice matters?  Is it enough to laud the ideals of what America should be, in the face of what it has actually become?”  If you’re struggling with the same questions in your own life, his answers may be interesting.

In May, we introduced you to Naomi and Neil Montaker of Naomi’s Organic Farm Supply.  Naomi’s fought against Les Schwab for months to stay at their Sellwood location, garnering support from the neighborhood and beyond.  While they ultimately lost, the loyal clientele followed them into their new incarnation as a mobile farm supply outlet.  We’ll keep you posted when they find a permanent location, but until they do our May article will give you a chance to get to know our pugnacious ex-neighbors.

As vehicle technology advances, people can get more separated from the operation of their cars. Even some of the basics of automotive functions can get lost, which may explain why our article on your car’s battery was so popular.  We hit all the high points including what your battery does, what to look for before it fails, and where old batteries go when they die.

One final May article was about an issue that’s still in play.  North Dakota’s State Bank has been a big contributor to the way they’ve weathered the recession, so it was big news when Oregon started looking at a version for our state.  This article described North Dakota’s successful system and how it might translate here.  We also created a special page for an Oregon Bank, where you can get more detailed information and find out how to get involved in creating one here.

One of our June Feature articles opened with this quote from Sun Tzu: “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.”  When you’re buying a new car it’s a battle between yourself and the salesman and the salesman holds all the cards… unless you’re prepared.  We gave you everything you need to win the war; even ways to cut the dealer completely out of the equation.

Also in June, Tom Dwyer Automotive was the target of an investigative report.   Fortunately, we came out OK.  Calvin Good used our shop as the subject of a college paper on a local business that “makes a contribution to the sustainability and health of the local region.”  We have to write quite a bit about ourselves for various purposes, but it’s nice to see what we look like to someone on the outside looking in.

July featured a report on Phame Academy’s 2011 musical “Grease”.  Portland-based Phame is the only program in the country providing a full art and music curriculum for people with physical and developmental disabilities.  Now entering its 27th year, Phame is gearing up for their 2012 production of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”.  Don’t worry- we’ll keep you informed as the date gets closer.

We encourage all our clients to use synthetic oil, so in July we asked “When will you make the switch to synthetics?” We hope it’s soon, because synthetics are better for you, your vehicle, and the planet.  If you read this article you’d know why!

Summer means summer camps, and in 2011 we found one that stood out.  Youth Empowered Action Camp (YEA) is an Oregon camp whose mission is to empower youth with knowledge, skills, and confidence to address social justice issues.   We later found out that people actually read this newsletter when one of our clients told us she had sent her daughter to this camp based on our article. (And she reportedly had a great time!)

August gave us a chance to share one of the things that make our Sellwood neighborhood so special.  The Sellwood Passport event is a scavenger hunt through the businesses, shops, and restaurants throughout our neighborhood.  Visitors get a “passport” full of special offers from one business, then take the passport to the rest of the area businesses to get free stamps.  Valuable prizes are awarded to the people with the most stamps.  Passport will be going on again in 2012, and Your Car Matters readers will be in the know when it comes up.

As gas prices did their yearly summer jump, people started asking if there was anything they could do to increase their gas mileage. When we’re asked about this we have one major piece of advice… keep your vehicle in top running condition.  That means major things like keeping your engine in top shape, but also little things like keeping your tires properly inflated.  There’s no silver bullet to make a SUV get 60mpg, but we gave you 19 ways to help squeeze a few more miles from your tank.

Our Courtesy Shuttle is one of the most popular features of our shop, and many of the conversations between clients and our shuttle drivers become newsletter articles.  One client told us about two little known programs that can help reduce your student debt.  Income Based Repayment (IBR) and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) can radically drop the amount that you eventually repay.  With 2010 average student loan debt over $25,000, there were a lot of people who were very interested in this particular article.

September was an opportunity for us to do something a little different when we were asked to be on the organizing committee for “Moving Planet- Portland”, Portland’s contribution to the yearly global 350.org event.  We did a radio spot on KPOJ for the event (something we do for many of the groups or events we support), and our September newsletter was devoted entirely to issues involving climate change and ways we as individuals could help stop it.  Our main Feature was about the event itself, but we also had Features on the science of climate change and calculating your carbon footprint.  (Here’s a chance to tell you about our one-of-a-kind Carbon Neutral Program, which offsets your vehicle’s carbon production and saves you 10% off labor on all your work here at the shop.)  But we didn’t just stop with three articles… Tom’s Tidbits and Keith’s cartoon were both on global warming.  Shop Talk explained our PPO (Portland Pollution Outreach) Certification, Health Notes talked about the effects of climate change on your individual health, Drew’s Kitchen gave us a low-carbon-footprint recipe with links to locally grown food, and our Book Spotlight was about “Global Warming, The Complete Briefing”, one of the most comprehensive guides to climate change available anywhere.  Even our PopCorn Shorts section had articles on Links Between Climate Change And Extreme Weather and a New Oregon Electric Car Company.  We wrapped it all up with a completely unbiased News To Make You Furious article called “They’re Not Wrong, They’re Lying!” about the climate change denial machine.  We probably didn’t end global warming in September, but it wasn’t because we weren’t trying!

In October we were privileged to sit down with Brad Witt, one of the candidates for the Congressional seat vacated by David Wu and his tiger suit.   Brad came up from Oregon sawmills to become the Secretary-Treasurer of the Oregon AFL-CIO and the representative for Clatskanie in the Oregon State Legislature.  He talked with us about the role of money in politics, how to balance business and the environment, and much more.  Although Brad lost the primary battle to Suzanne Bonamici, he still retains his Legislature seat and we can expect to see more from him in the future.  This was the first opportunity for Your Car Matters to talk with a political candidate, but it won’t be our last.  We have two more interviews scheduled for the first part of 2012, but you’ll have to check back to see who they’re with.

October also gave us a chance to make things right with an article on the Local Energy Assistance Program (LEAP), a Portland plan for energy security in the event of a major disaster in the city.  Our first LEAP article focused on one small and quirky part of the plan but didn’t give an accurate idea of what the overall plan was about.  We did a much longer, more accurate article to clear things up.  As much as we try to be accurate with our reporting we do occasionally make mistakes, but you can trust us to clean them up as soon as we know about them.

November saw a small group of people gather in Zuccotti Park in New York to protest against the abuses of Wall Street.  Their action of civil disobedience quickly spread to hundreds of cities in the US and around the world.  With the mainstream media portrayal of the Occupiers as misfits and malcontents, we sent our own reporter to the Occupy Portland encampment to check out the situation.  You may not be surprised that his view didn’t match the mainstream, but you may be surprised at the people he found.  The Occupy movement was one of the watershed events of 2011, and far from being over its effects are only beginning to be felt.  We built our own Occupy Webpage in support of the movement, and we’ll continue to report on it as it grows.

Some things we write about are important and some things are useful, but sometimes we write about things that are just cool.  Robots are just cool.  Our November article on Robots brought you self-replicating robots, robotic swarms, robots that are indistinguishable from real people, and 12 other completely amazing stories.  If you missed it before, don’t miss this chance to get to know our future overlords!

They aren’t robots, but our final November article introduced you to four people who work like finely-tuned machines.  Our team of Service Advisors gives advice in your interest because they’re paid on commission, and they give you top-of-the-line service because they work for Tom Dwyer.  This article gave you the inside story on how to get the most from their years of knowledge and experience.

In December we brought you news on our latest endeavor, Tom Dwyer Movie Night.  On every third Thursday of the month, we’ll join Economic Fairness Oregon, We Are Oregon, Jobs With Justice, and SEIU Local 503 to bring you a movie to enjoy that night with something to think about the next day.  We started off warm-and-fuzzy for the Holidays with “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”, but January will feature “Network”.  Check out our Movie Night Page to see what else we have in store for you in 2012.

Although this December has been scarily dry and warm for Oregon, the tips in our “Two Critical Areas Of Concern For Winter Driving” article can still help you out.  Your coolant system and battery keep you on the road reliably, and following the simple steps in this article will keep them in top operating condition.

Our last Feature article of the year was a warning about the 2012 Defense Authorization Bill, and the provisions that allowed indefinite detention without trial for anyone, anywhere in the world, including American citizens, that the President declares to be a terrorist.  We can all rest easy, though, because President Obama promised not to sign the legislation.  UPDATE: President Obama signed the legislation on New Year’s Eve.  We can all rest easy, though, because President Obama promised not to use the new powers.  Stay tuned for more updates in 2012, because if the real media won’t cover it then by God, Your Car Matters will!

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