Carpool Lane

January 29, 2009

In order to encourage people to share their car, Authorities implemented the carpool lane.  The rule is simple:  if you are 2 people or more, you can use the carpool lane (left hand side lane) during the comuting hours (5am – 9am) and (3pm – 7pm).  One exception to that rule is if you drive an hybrid car.  To take benefit of that exception, do the following:

  1. Purchase a Honda Insight, Honda Civic Hybrid or Toyota Prius. These are the only hybrid vehicles currently permitted in California.
  2. Fill out DMV REG 1000 form to apply for an HOV lane sticker for your hybrid. Your vehicle must have valid license plates before applying.
  3. Include the $8 fee.
  4. If you live in the Bay Area, you must also have a Fastrak transponder for bridge crossings to qualify for this sticker. See How to Register With Fastrack for more information. You will need a receipt from Fastrak to submit along with your DMV REG1000 form. If you have a Fastrak already, you must exchange it for a Hybrid Fastrak prior to submitting to DMV.
  5. Place the stickers on your car in the designated places.
  6. Save time by driving in the diamond carpool lanes and diamond freeway entrance lanes.

Tip: DMV will issue a limited number of these stickers, so you might want to get yours right away.  Also consider driving electric or compressed natural gas vehicles, which have fewer emissions than hybrids and also qualify for the HOV lane.



August 23, 2006
 Buy Back Guarantee

When you buy a used car, you want to avoid potential problems: totaled and rebuilt? Flood Damage? Odometer Fraud? 

a)      If you buy from a private: Order a CARFAX Vehicle History Report. It will protect yourself against buying used cars with costly hidden problems. CARFAX searches its nationwide database and provides a detailed vehicle history report in seconds. It will costs you $24.99 for unlimited vehicle history reports. Just enter your VIN (Vehicle identification Number) on the website. 

b)      If you buy from a dealer, always ask to see the Carfax report. They will show it you for free.Carfax is a very trusted provider of vehicle history information. Their unique database contains more than four billion records. They receive information from thousands of public and private sources including all Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMVs) in the
United States, as well as many vehicle inspection stations, auto auctions, fleet management and rental agencies, automobile manufacturers, and fire and police departments.
What can you see on a Carfax Vehicle History Report (see here for an example)?

  • The ownership history
  • Problems the car had (fire/flood/…)
  • Odometer rollback check
  • Accident check
  • Frame damage check

Our experience: When we were shopping from one dealer to another, we always asked to see the Carfax report. It was useful to check because dealers don’t tell always the truth. For example, we didn’t want to have a previous rental car. We were interested in a car but were worried why the car was only 1 year old and had a huge mileage of 25,000 miles. The dealer lied and told us that the car was not a previous rental car. I asked to check it on the Carfax and indeed, he was not telling us the truth!! So be careful and always ask the Carfax report.


Driving License

July 30, 2006

Driving license (DMV): It is necessary to get an official driving license of the State of California because it is considered as a valid Identification Card.

  • Get first your social security number before passing your theoretical exam. See section Administration-DMV for more explanation about SSN requirements.

  • When you make your home here or take a job and you want to drive in California, you must apply for a California driver license within 10 days. Visitors over 18 years old with a valid driver license from their home state or country may drive in California without getting a driver license as long as their home state license remains valid.

  • Get an official driving license of the State of California before buying a car because insurance companies will not insure you with a driving license from your home country.

  • Tip: If you are in a temporary house/appt and don’t know yet your definitive address, give to the DMV the temporary address and don’t tell them that you will move because otherwise they will slowdown the process.

  • Written traffic laws and sign test. There are 36 questions on the test. You have three chances to pass. Review the California driver handbook.

Tip: If you don’t have time to review the handbook, we suggest you to make the sample tests as most questions are recovered.

Tip: If you prefer, you may pass the written in your language instead of English. See if  your language is available.

  • Driving test: If you have a driving license from your home country, you don’t have to take driving courses. Some tips:

    • Respect very carefully the stop signs and speed limits (especially nearby schools!).

    • When changing lane, amplify the following steps: signal, look in all your mirrors and glance over your left or right shoulder.

Practical rules on the road

July 30, 2006
  • You can make a right turn against a red light

  • You must enter the bike lane for the turn when you are making a right turn and are within 200 feet of the corner or other driveway entrance.

  • Exits on the highways are street names.

  • Carpool lane: You may use a carpool lane if your vehicle carries the minimum number of people required for the carpool lane or you drive a low-emission vehicle.
  • Road signs are clear street names are posted up high, with the name of the street going in the same direction as the road itself.

  • Parking at colored curbs:

    • Red: no stopping, standing or parking

    • White: Stop only long enough to pick up or drop off passengers or mail.

    • Green: Park for a limited time. Look for a sign next to the green zone or for the time painted on the curb.

    • Blue: Parking is permitted only for a disabled person.

  • Tip: Always have cash with you when you cross bridges entering into San Francisco. You may not pay with credit cards.

  • Tip: If you are stopped by a policy vehicle, don’t go out of your vehicle and put your hands on the steering wheel.


July 30, 2006
  • Pay before filling your tank. If you want to fill completely your tank but don’t know how much it will be: give cash and you can ask money back if you gave too much. Mostly, you can also pay with credit card.

  • 1 gallon = 3,785 l

Rent or buy a car

July 30, 2006
  • Rent: 
    • Attention: Most indicated prices don’t include sales tax and insurance.
    • There are 4 types of insurance which can combined:
      • L.D.W. (Loss Damage Waiver) or C.D.W. (Collision Damage Waiver) : covers vehicle’s damages (theft, fire, accident,…) even if it’s your responsibility but doesn’t cover damages to a third party.
      • L.I.S. (Liability Insurance Supplement): this insurance is a third party liability protection. We strongly advice to take this one.
      • P.A.I. (Personal Accident Insurance) : provides accidental death benefits and emergency medical expense benefits. 
      • P.E.C. (Personal Effect Coverage) : covers personal belongings stolen in the car.
    • Tip: If you have a Visa card , you may be eligible for a Auto rental collision damage waiver benefit.
    • Tip: If you already own a insured car in the US, check with your car insurer because mostly you are also insured for a rental car.  We are insured with Allstate and we rented a car in Hawaii. We didn’t need to buy insurances from the rental company as we are already covered by our car insurance.

  • Buy:
    • The values of cars of different makes, model and years can be found in the “Blue Book”.
    • New vehicles: shop around as various dealers will give you different prices and deals and bargain the price. The dealer takes charge of the registration of the car (the license plate belongs to the buyer). During the acquisition, “the bill of sale” will be put back to you by the salesman.
    • Second-hand vehicles:  You can find them on craigslist or dealers. You need following documents:
      • Bill of sale
      • Title or pink slip
      • Certificate of smog check – After the purchase, you will have to go to “Motor Vehicle Department” to register the vehicle. If you buy a second-hand vehicle, note that the registration which is supplied by the garage is valid only thirty days during which the owner should register the car with the DMV.
    • Tip: don’t forget to deal with your insurance company before to buy the car. Insurance companies will ask you your social security number and your Californian driving licence.
  • What we did and why: We bought a second-hand vehicle from a dealer. We choose a vehicle with low mileage and only 1 year old, so we can still benefit from the manufacturer warranty.  We shopped around (nearly 15 dealers) as prices varied to 15% from one dealer to an other. We bargained more than 4 hours.

Car insurance

July 30, 2006
  • If you own a car, auto insurance is not just an option-it is a legal necessity.
  • Auto insurance provides property, liability and medical coverage:
    • Property coverage pays for damage to or theft of your car.
    • Liability coverage pays for your legal responsibility to others for bodily injury or property damage.
    • Medical coverage pays for the cost of treating injuries, rehabilitation and sometimes lost wages and funeral expenses.
  • The California State Automobile Association (C.S.A.A), part of American Automobile Association (A.A.A.) is very popular and is offering great member benefits.
  • Tip: You have to get your social security number and Californian driving license as insurance companies will not insure you otherwise.
  • Tip: Bundle your car insurance and homeowner’s/renter’s insurance in the same company. You can save up to 20%.
  • What we did and why: we subscribed for a car insurance and a renter insurance with Allstate. The bundle of both insurances saved us 5% on renter’s insurance and 10% on car insurance