Sunday, November 22, 2015

Plano Model 620130 One Tray Tackle Box Review

I hope my search for a small, sturdy toolbox with a genuinely reliable latch is over, now that I've found the Plano One Tray Box. But first, let me ask you a question. What's just about the worst-case scenario a handyman can have with his toolbox? Right. He picks it up by the handle, the latch slips open, and the entire set of tools, sockets, screws, and so on spills out all over the ground--or maybe even into the mud or water.

Having said this, what is the worst designed, weakest part of most small toolboxes? Right again. It's the latch. Many, if not most, small boxes have questionable latches that seem to threaten failure even when the box is new. It's a plastic on plastic over lip sort of thing that barely engages. With a little wear and tear or a bit of inadvertence,  pop goes the toolbox.

I wandered the hardware aisles of Walmart recently, looking for a nice, small toolbox to replace a broken one. Most of the boxes were way too large. A few of them had good latches, but others had metal versions of the easy-pop design found so commonly. Those boxes in the size I wanted all had the easy-pop design.

Undaunted, I left hardware for the sporting goods aisles, where I found the Plano 620130 tackle box. It has a failproof latch with a metal bail that makes a very solid closure. The hinges will probably fail before the latch.


  • Light weight empty. It's amazing how many toolboxes are heavy when empty.
  • Rust proof plastic
  • Two lid compartments for small parts. Get access without the need to open the box.
  • One hinged tray rotates up and back with the lid. Extra dividers for custom sizing of compartments
  • Handle and hinge connections appear to be all plastic without metal reinforcement.
I will put this box into service immediately and will report use experience in an update soon.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Cuisinart DGB-900BC Burr Grind and Brew 12-Cup Coffeemaker Review

We set up this coffee maker to brew two cups of coffee by setting the Grind Control to 2, the Strength setting to Medium, using a paper filter, and using Sumatra coffee beans from Sprouts. We added 16 ounces of water, even though the coffee maker considers a cup to be 5 ounces (so we should have added 10 ounces of water).

The result was fabulous. The coffee was excellent. We look forward to  many great cups of coffee.

     + Set it up and it's automatic, grinding the beans just before it makes the coffee.
     + Use beans (which it will grind) or ground coffee (just set the grinder off).
     + During brewing, the coffee maker turns on a hot plate under the carafe.
     - The carafe design requires turning the carafe  almost completely upside down in order to pour out the last coffee. If you make just two cups, you must turn the carafe unusually far over to pour the coffee.

     * When brewing is finished, the machine turns itself off completely, including the hot plate. The carafe is insulated, so the coffee is expected to stay hot for hours.
     * The instructions recommend quite a bit of cleaning to keep the maker in its best working order.
     * Regardless of how many cups you set the dial for (which controls the amount of beans ground), the maker will run all the water you put into the reservoir through the brew cycle. So the amount of water should match the number of cups  you want to make.

Bottom Line:
Except for the coffee pouring contortion, we are delighted with this product. The three-year warranty is an encouragement, too.

Get this great machine from Amazon:

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Harbor Freight 7" Variable Speed Polisher Sander Buffer 60626 Review

My wife's car had some scratches in the paint, so I bought Harbor Freight's 7-inch polisher, sander, buffer advertises a variable speed from 200 to 3350 rpm. Unfortunately, the first one out of the box ran only at high speed. The speed selector knob had no effect. Fortunately, Harbor Freight was excellent in allowing me to do a no-questioins-asked swap for another of the same item (60626 is the item number). The second one works very well, with a large speed range (which could be the advertised 200-3350).

Do note the fine print on the box: "Polishing bonnet sold separately." So, in addition to the buffer itself, I got a 5-pack of fleece polishing bonnets and a bottle of the needed polish. Costs: Buffer, $30 (with super coupon); bonnets, $16; and polish ("fine cut cleaner") $15. Thus, an investment of $61 for the entire system.

The modestly helpful manual recommended using about two tablespoons of polish and starting the polisher flat on the surface at low speed. I followed these instructions and was amazed to see the scratches on the door and on the trunk lid disappear in just seconds. A little wipe up of the surrounding area and the job was done. The buffer did throw tiny droplets of polishing compound all over the car, so I had a bit of wiping up to do.

Included in the box are

  • a backing pad (that the bonnet stretches over), 
  • tools (a backing pad wrench and an Allen wrench to install the optional (but you really need it) D-handle, 
  • the D-handle itself, 
  • and an extra set of motor brushes.

The polisher will accept  a common extension handle in lieu of the D-handle.

For the first, light use, this polisher and associated items worked actually better than I expected. It certainly was faster, and I didn't leave swirl marks or do any damage to the paint. The key is to be gentle and not put very much pressure on the polisher.

Except for the need to make another trip to Harbor Freight to exchange the defective one, the experience was very good and I would recommend this solution to others.

Monday, September 7, 2015

TaoTronics TT-BA01 Wireless Stereo Transmitter Review

My wife wanted to listen to the TV (in the family room) while she worked in the kitchen. I had set up a wired speaker system that worked but left ugly wires hanging around. So, at her request, I hunted around for a wireless setup. The solution was the TaoTronics Wireless Stereo Transmitter and a Bluetooth speaker (see the review of the Venstar Taco Bluetooth speaker).

The TaoTronics TT-BA01 transmitter is a small unit, about two inches by one inch by a quarter of an inch. The transmitter has an attached dongle with a 3.5mm stereo plug. Also included in the package are a male USB to male micro USB cable, and a cable for adapting the 3.5mm male plug to a 3.5mm female stereo plug to dual RCA male plugs.

Setup was straightforward and easy. Just plug the transmitter into a USB port (on my cable company's box) for power and plug the RCA cables into the audio out plugs on the cable box. (The TT-BA01 has an internal battery for battery operation, but you can leave it plugged into the USB port and not need to worry about charging.)

Pairing with the Bluetooth speaker was easy. Just follow the instructions and be patient. The pairing required about 30 seconds (instead of the 6 seconds mentioned in the user guide). The TV sound is fine.

   + Listen to an audio source such as your TV either via TV audio out or cable box audio out or amplifier/receiver audio out.
   +The unit did not interfere with my WiFi network extender or with the Netflix programming. (I had read that a problem is sometimes encountered with Bluetooth and WiFi components interfering with each other because of a frequency conflict.)

   + If you turn the Bluetooth  speaker off, it will automatically re-pair with the transmitter when you turn it back on. However, re-pairing requires about 30 seconds, so you need to be patient.
   + There is a slight transmission lag with the audio, so that the Bluetooth speaker sound is just slightly behind the TV or source sound. Turning the TV down helps a lot. Otherwise, you'll have "stadium announcement" sound effects.s

In Sum:
So far this is a very good solution to the problem. The transmitter is compact, can run on an internal battery, and is advertised to work up to 33 feet. In my installation, it is about 20 feet from the speaker.

The TT-BA01 will turn any audio device with an audio out plug into a Bluetooth-compatible source.

Get it from
Bluetooth Transmitter, TaoTronics Wireless Portable Transmitter (Connected to 3.5mm Audio Devices, Paired with Bluetooth Receiver. TV Ears, Bluetooth Dongle, A2DP Stereo Music Transmission)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

US Traveler Rio Two Piece Expandable Luggage Set Review

Before our trip to Europe recently, I researched carry-on luggage carefully because of the new restrictions on size and weight allowed. The new restrictions include the carry-on, limited to 9 inches thick, 14 inches wide, and 22 inches tall, including wheels. One personal item (purse, laptop computer, backpack) is also allowed, but must be no larger than 9 inches thick, 17 inches tall, and 10 inches wide. Many of the current bags do not meet this (new) standard.

The US Traveler Rio Two Piece Expandable Luggage Set meets these size requirements for both pieces. We bought two sets of this luggage and discovered that the carry ons fit perfectly in both the smaller overhead bins of the Airbus A 320 (the bags go in sideways) and the Airbus A 340 (the bags go straight in lengthwise).

The bags feature the usual zipper pockets, sturdy frame (the carry on), tough fabric, and comfortable handles. The small, personal item bag features both a carry handle and a shoulder strap.

Carry On
   + Sturdy wheels, roll easily
   + Handle locks into several positions, depending on the angle you want to pull the carry on
   + Two outside zippered pockets
   + Sturdy handles
   + Expansion zipper (but may violate size limits if used)

Personal Item Bag
   + Shoulder strap adjustable for length
   + Shoulder strap has shoulder pad
   + External zippered pocket
   + Carry handles that velcro zip together
   + Capacious--room for lots of stuff

Carry On
   + No separate cosmetics pouch inside

Personal Item Bag
   + Shoulder strap is not removable

In Brief
Recommended. All four items (we bought two sets) served us well and after a couple of weeks' travel, are still in pristine condition. The current price of about $40 makes these sets a real value.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Eneloop Ni-MH Rechargeable AA Batteries Review

Panasonic has entered a new generation of rechargeable Nickel Metal Hydride batteries with the new Eneloop AA batteries. According to the label, they now provide 1900 milliAmp hours. I used to use alkaline AAs for my Canon Powershot SX120 IS, but they lasted only an hour or so the way I take pictures. So I bought some of these Eneloop batteries. They come pre-charged for immediate use, and they recharge fairly fast. But the best thing is that I can shoot a whole day or nearly a whole day on one set with my SX120,

Having just returned from a 12-day trip where I shot 2400 pictures with these batteries, I can recommend them warmly.

I ordered a set of four with the Panasonic BQ-CC17 charger and never looked back.  Great batteries, great performance, great price.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Gear Head Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard for Android KB7500AND Review

I needed a compact keyboard for portability and use with my Samsung Galaxy tablet. After a bit of research, I was interested in a small keyboard by Inland, but after looking it over, together with the other wireless Bluetooth offerings at the computer store, I decided on the Gear Head KB7500AND.

Connecting it to the tablet was fairly easy. When I turned the keyboard and tablet on, the tablet could not find the keyboard. Reselecting the "find Bluetooth devices" didn't help. But after exiting the settings and coming back in, the tablet found the keyboard immediately. Then the instructions worked fine (press the Connect button for two seconds, then enter the code number displayed on the tablet).

I downloaded the WPS office application and started using the keyboard right away. Typing is a bit awkward, but functional even for my large and somewhat clumsy hands.

+ The keys have an excellent tactile feel to them, making typing easier and giving a confident feel to the typing.
+ The keys are spaced apart much better than on the other keyboards I looked at.
+ The overall size is about 10.5 inches by 5 inches (about 27 by 13 cm), allowing it to fit handily inside the "personal bag" that airlines allow in addition to a carry on bag.

+ The keyboard is powered by two AAA batteries rather than rechargeable Li-ion batteries.
+ The batteries are included.
+ While typing does have that nice tactile feel, for a man's hands, the keyboard is a bit small. But then, that is the deliberate choice to get a compact item for travel and use with a tablet.

- My main complaint is that if you hold down a key too long, the keyboard pops up a menu of choices for special characters (such as accented vowels) that you have to wait for to close if you don't want one of the choices. My awkward typing is always popping up the menu for the letter a. So I'm having to type  more carefully.
- The documentation supplied with the keyboard is minimal. There is no information on the specialty keys. Instead, there is the cryptic line, "Note: Functions of the shortcut keys might vary on different tablets."
- Worse, the Gear Head web site ( does not list the keyboard as one of the company's products.

For a travel or vacation keyboard for your Android tablet, this is a good choice. I haven't tried it at 30 feet away yet, but at practical distances it's fine. Include this as a consideration if you need the solution it offers.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Maytag, Whirlpool Dryer Won't Tumble DE412 Repair

The symptoms were that the clothes didn't tumble even though the motor ran and the heating elements got hot. It didn't require Sherlock Holmes to conclude that we were faced with The Case of the Broken Dryer Belt.

Naturally, I watched a few YouTube videos about how to take apart the dryer and how to replace a broken belt. And then, having determined by visual inspection that the belt was indeed broken, I ordered a new one from Appliance Parts Pros.(This company's site, by the way, features many "how to repair it" videos. Very helpful.)

The videos showed how to put the new belt on by looping it around the drum and then fitting it around the motor pulley and the idler pulley--by reaching from the front of the machine. When the new belt came, it had similar instructions, with steps such as, "With your left hand, reach around near the fan and loop the belt over the motor pulley.  Then with your right hand, fit the belt around the idler pulley, etc. etc." These aren't exact words, but the task was impossible for my reach. And even if I could have reached, looping the belt around the set up by feel (you can't see back there) would have been a nightmare. I tried it. Worse, the diagram showing the belt path around the pulleys was a rear view, not a front view.

So after a few futile attempts at installing the belt per instructions. I decided to change solution paths. I looked in the back of the dryer, and, yes, it is true, there is a removable panel about 8" by 8" right where the motor and pulleys are. Removing this panel gave me access to the pulleys and made installing the belt very easy.

The test worked and now the dryer is in business again. Apparently, many Maytag and Whirlpool dryers, gas and electric, use this same belt and  have the same or similar belt paths around the motor and idler pulleys.

So, if  you have a broken belt, take a look at the back of the dryer for an access panel.

Maytag series 88, Model DE412 electric dryer broken belt repair.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

EforTek NP-FW50 Replacement Battery (2-Pack) and Charger Kit for Sony NP-FW50 Review

The EforTek NP-FW50 Replacement Battery (2-Pack) and Charger Kit for Sony NP-FW50 is a great way to get replacement batteries for the Sony A7II mirrorless camera and other Sony cameras that use the NP-FW50 battery. The original battery that comes with the camera has 1020 milliamphours of capacity. The Sony store offered to sell me a replacement battery for $80. On I found the EforTek bundle that includes two batteries of 1500 milliamphours each, a wall charger, an adaptor for European style plugs, and a car "cigarette lighter style" plug in for the charger. The cost was under $25 for the whole thing.

I'm currently running the camera on one of the replacement batteries, and it works fine.

It is said that the A7II is a battery hog, and so far this is indeed the case. So I highly recommend getting two or more spare batteries with charger if you own this camera. The batteries charge up pretty fast, too.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Netgear Wi Fi Range Extender N300 A3 Review

IF you have  WiFi items (TVs, Blu-Ray players, smart phones) throughout your house, but your cable company's WiFi router emits a weak signal, then the Netgear N300 WiFi range extender is for you. I have a cable company WiFi router in my upstairs office. In the office it puts out a great signal, but downstairs in the family room the signal is one iffy bar or less. So when we got a Blu-ray player with WiFi and tried to watch Netflix, is was Buffer city. Constant messages about not being connected to the Internet and so on.

So, after some research, I found this extender. Do note that there are three versions, all designated N300. The A1 version has a different packaging, The Best Buy nearest my house was selling the A1 l when I asked. Amazon is selling the A3, which is what I bought.

Wow. I plugged it into the wall outlet at the entrance to the family room, configured it, and presto, Netflix in the family room. Then I got a new Blu-ray player with WiFi also, so I moved the old player to the garage (next to the tv at the treadmill), and presto again, we now can watch Netflix while exercising. Then, finally, semi-forced by the cable company to get rid of the old analog TV in the upstairs bedroom, we got a new TV with built-in WiFi. Presto, even still yet once more again, we now can watch Netflix in the bedroom.

All this was made possible by this little signal amplifier. If you want to strengthen your WiFi service, this is the device.

There is even an app for measuring signal strength in various areas of your house Here are the results for the Netgear 300 measured along with the cable company's WiFi router in my office:

Cable WiFi:100%
N300 86%

Cable 62%
N300 88%

Family Room
Cable 22%
N300 100%

Cable 22%
N300 95%

Living Room
Cable 95%
N300 95%

Bedroom  2 (directly under office)
Cable 100%
N300 100%

Cable 35%
N300 95%

Cable 42%
N300 95%

Cable 35%
N300 75%

Setup was easy. The N300 creates a new WiFi hotspot named the same as your original, with the extension EXT added, making it easy to find and easy to distinguish from the WiFi system it is amplifying. So, for example, if your WiFi router network name is "NSA_Black_Ops," the N300 creates one named "NSA_Black_Ops_EXT." Use the same password that you use for your original WiFi setup.

I recommend this product highly. It's economical, unobtrusive (plugs into a wall outlet like a fragrance bottle), and powerfully effective.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Prosoft Engineering Data Rescue PC3

The external hard drive of a friend of mine fell off a shelf and the connecting cable broke off the connecting plug on the drive. We tried mounting the drive in a new case, buying an identical model of the drive and swapping the drive electronics. But, even though the Windows 8 (and also 7) operating system said the drive was operating normally, it would not mount onto the PC as a regular drive, such as Drive F:. We concluded that we needed data rescue services.

I contacted Gibson  Research and asked by email whether their product Spin Rite would be able to recover the data. They said no, but in a lengthy, helpful email they sent me the contact information for a number of companies and software applications that do what we needed. I looked at several data rescue applications, free and for sale, but most of the free ones had a limited 1 GB of data recovery. For a 1 TB, that's not enough. So, I researched the paid applications, using reviews from Top Ten and PC Magazine Editor's choice and came up with Data Rescue PC3.

Even though this is a $100 program, it's saving grace is that you can run it in demo mode to find out whether or not it will save your bacon.  We did and it could. So we purchased it and it worked.

If you need this program, be sure to turn off the sleep mode of your computer before you start. Data recovery for a terabyte requires 8 to 20 hours, and if your PC goes to sleep in 30 minutes, data recovery will stop.

My friend is very happy to get his 125,000 files in 7,500 folders back, and considers the cost well worth it. The user interface is fairly straightforward, making the software easy to use.

And a gold star goes to technical support. I called them three times to ask a question before I had purchased the product. Help came quickly  (on the phone waiting for less than a minute each time) and got the answers I needed. I emailed support once after registering and got an unhelpful answer, but they did respond promptly.

In a word, this is an effective product with great technical support. You can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars rescuing your "lost" data with this program. It's non invasive, too, meaning that it doesn't change any data on the drive you want to rescue.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Spa Leaking, Spa Pumps, Wet Ends, Seals, and Thinking Things Through

Recently, during a lunchtime conversation, a friend mentioned that his spa was leaking. He told me the repairman had quoted him $1000 to fix it because "both pumps were leaking." Since I had some experience with spas and pumps, I told him not only that "spa repairmen tend to charge a lot" but that pumps could be bought online for a lot less than $500 each. I did a quick look via Google and found some examples ranging from $180 to $280 each. (He didn't know the brand or complete specs of the pumps at the time.)

Now, here is the first lesson. The repairman had said the pumps needed to be replaced, and I didn't even question that at first. I just shopped for pumps.

Lesson #1: Think through someone else's diagnosis and proposed solution before you accept it.

When I did some more thinking, I realized that a leaking pump means that the shaft seal in the wet end has failed and that the pump motor itself is still fine, as long as it runs as it should. So, I did  some more research online and found some new wet ends for the pumps for about $70 each. I remembered replacing the wet end of a water pump once for about $50.

Lesson #2: Keep thinking and analyzing, even after you have apparently solved the problem.

While I was looking for a better deal on wet ends, it occurred to me that the real problem is that the shaft seal in the wet end was leaking, and that most likely the only thing that needed to be replaced was the shaft seal in each pump. A bit of research turned up prices for shaft seals in his brand of pump/wet end for about $8 to $16 each.

So, with plenty of You Tube how-to videos showing how doable the replacement of seals is, together with the free labor of a friend, we has reduced the cost of the repair from $1000 to under $40, even with tax and shipping--all by thinking things through.

But, you will say, what if you have no idea how spa pumps are constructed, so that you can think this problem down to a seal?

Lesson #3: Research the problem and get the knowledge that will allow you to think things through.

Rely on the experience of others who are familiar with the task you want to do. Check books (repair manuals) and web sites, of course, but why not go first to YouTube to see if someone has videoed the repair? I learned the technique of using two putty knives to free a sliding glass door from its rails that way. (The putty knives hold up the rollers so the bottom of the door can be pulled forward and out.)

Replacing the entire pump/wet end assembly would, of course, have solved the leaking problem, but that would be like replacing the entire car to solve a leaking radiator problem. Think granular; think down to the bottom. And save money.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Power Pressure Cooker XL Second Look Review

Now that I've had an opportunity to use the Power Pressure Cooker XL in various modes, I can offer a more experienced review.

My experienced judgment is--buy one of these pressure cookers. I've made soup, stew, cooked chicken, steamed vegetables, browned meat, and so forth. Here's what I like:

  • Unlike traditional pressure cookers, the Power XL does not emit steam during cooking. The pressure is apparently regulated by a temperature or pressure control that provides just the right pressure. If you don't want to wait until the steam pressure goes down as the unit cools, you can let the steam off manually at the end of the cook cycle.
  • The cooking timer is built in. No need to set a separate timer and listen for the beep before you take the cooker off the stove. Instead, you set the timer on the cooker and it automatically switches to Keep Warm when the cook time is over.
  • It's easy to clean. The internal pot comes out of the cooker shell and is non-stick lined. It can be put in the dishwasher or done in the sink.The internal pot is light weight and easy to handle.
  • It's really flexible. Cook rice, brown rice, roasts, stews, soups, vegetables (the steamer function works great).
I use the Power Pressure Cooker XL about once a week. It has always produced a great meal.

What I would change:
  • My greatest complaint is the lame and skinny cookbook that comes with the cooker. But it is the basic instructions that should be included. Example:
  • Be aware that cooking times listed on a recipe reflect the time to cook AFTER the cooker has been pressurized. The time needed for the cooker to heat up and produce enough steam to pressurize the vessel can range from a few minutes to 20 minutes or more. Thus, "Steam vegetables in 3 minutes," means 3 minutes after the 15-minute warm up to steam.
In a word, you need to experiment with settings and cooking times (using the adjustable time button) to get the results you want. I made a delicious beef stew by setting the cooker to 30 minutes.

I must say I'm glad I broke my old pressure cooker (handle), which had been in the family for at least 30 years. I am very happy with this cooker.

Full disclosure: I purchased the Power Pressure Cooker XL at retail (while looking for a conventional model), and at no point was given any incentive or asked for a positive (or any other) review. Your experience may vary.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

ShaveMate Titan 6 All-in-One Disposable Razor Review

For a great, close shave and the convenience of built-in shaving cream for vacation or business travel, you might want to consider the ShaveMate Titan 6.

I have always thought that more than two blades was a gimmick in razors, because my experience with 3, 4, and 5 bladed disposables was not good. Those razors scraped and dragged and then clogged, making it difficult to clean them. The six blades of the Titan 6, however, are quite a bit narrower than  the blades of the other disposable razors, and they are seemingly made of higher quality steel. If you shave everyday, you'll get a close, smooth shave and an easy-rinsing blade set. If you wait a couple of days to shave, you'll have a bit more skritchy shave, but ultimately still nice and close. The longer hairs do produce a bit of blade clog, however.

The shaving cream in the handle truly is "thick, rich" stuff, as the package says. It's the best shaving cream I've used in quite awhile. The downside is that, while the package says you'll get enough shaving cream for "a week or more," I got only four days' worth. However, it is likely that I am in the habit of using too much of the more watery stuff  I usually use. (That's probably why it comes in such a big can.) So, by carefully proportioning the amount of shaving cream you dispense, it is possible to get a week's worth from the razor.

After four shaves, I am still getting a smooth shave with the feeling that the blades are still sharp. My wife even commented that I managed to get the hair right under my nose shaved close, something that the other razors I've used weren't doing.

Price: A three pack of  Titan 6 razors is available on the company's Web site ( for $12 plus $3 shipping and  handling, making the razors $5 each. If you get 10 shaves from each razor, that's 50 cents per shave. By comparison, Harry's Razors sells 8 blades for $31, designed to last two months, which also comes out to 50 cents a shave. Also by comparison, Gillette ProGlide razors are about $5.75 each, A Schick Quattro handle and two blades is about $8, with disposables less. Costco recently offered 26 Gillette disposables for $20, implying that each razor was good for two weeks, making those 26 blades a year's supply. If one lasts for two weeks, that's about 5.5 cents per shave, nearly one tenth the price. So, all in all, the Titan 6, while not cheap, is within the ballpark of other premium razors.

Recommendation. The shaving experience is great, and the shaving cream, while it lasts, is superior. I would use the Titan 6 for a travel razor. My frugality makes me hesitate to make it a daily razor after the current, test model gets dull. I will be comparing various razors together with their costs in future reviews. So stay tuned.

Full Disclosure: I was given a sample of a Titan 6 by the manufacturer for the purpose of review.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Short Sticking Gas Station Scam and How to Avoid It

I was just checking the oil on my car when it reminded me of a gas station scam that has been played in the past. Now that so many gas stations are self-service, perhaps this scam is practiced less. But just for your information here is one way crooks will attempt to cheat you. It's called short sticking and is or was most common along interstate routes where drivers are covering a lot of miles in a day.

Short sticking. You're in the middle of nowhere when you stop for gas. You are delighted that this is a full-service gas station. The helpful attendant washes your windshield and checks your oil. Good thing, too, because you are a quart low. He shows you the dipstick and you can see for yourself that the oil level is at the bottom of the stick. Helpfully, the attendant sells you a quart of oil (at inflated prices--maybe twice what you'd pay anywhere else--but what can you do?) and installs it for free. He shows you the dipstick again and the oil level is right up where it should be. You drive away relieved and thankful that the problem was found and taken care of.

Rewind a minute. This scam is called short sticking because the attendant didn't put the dipstick in all the way, resulting in the appearance that the car was a quart or more low. But don't worry, the attendant didn't overfill your crankcase with superfluous oil. He sold you a can of imaginary oil, an empty can that he pretended to pour into your car. He's probably sold that can of imaginary oil to 36 people just today. And imaginary oil has a 100 percent profit margin.

How to prevent this scam. This scam is easy to prevent. (1) Check your oil each morning while on a long trip. Most modern cars don't use much, if any, oil these days, but you will feel more confident if you do check. (2) When confronted with a dipstick that shows your oil is low, say, "Really? Let's wait a minute for the oil to settle in the crankcase. On this car it can take a few minutes. And then I can check it again. No need for you to take your time. Thanks for your help." Note that this little speech precludes the attendant's comeback of "Don't you trust me?" and gives a perfectly good reason for rechecking the oil yourself.

Scam insurance. If you really want to be on top of the game, keep a quart or two of your car's oil in the trunk. If you're told you're a quart low, follow the script above, and add, "Luckily, I have some extra oil with me, so I can put it in if need be."

Useful learning. Learn these things about your car: (1) What type and grade of oil it uses (conventional, synthetic). (2) What viscosity (for example, 10W-30, 0W-20, 5W-20). (3) Where the oil filler tube is and  how to take off the cap. (4) Where the dipstick is and how to read the oil level.