Get the best grill for your money

Given all the new gas grill styles and features, it just might be time for you to ditch your old flame, says Consumer Reports.

"Construction quality varies widely among the models we tested," says Cindy Fisher, Consumer Reports' test engineer for grills. "Some are wobbly and made of lower-quality parts, while others feel solid from the lid down." Her advice? Be sure to look at a grill's construction before you buy.

Consumer Reports offers this overview of what to consider.

-- $400 or Less

In this popular price range, you'll find grills in every size, from portable to large. But don't expect extra features. And though Consumer Reports' testing shows that price isn't a predictor of performance, it is often tied to quality of construction. So think twice about a large grill that costs just a few hundred bucks.

Construction. Not all stainless steel is created equal. To keep prices down, manufacturers tend to use thin-gauge stainless, which can make for a flimsy grill. Trading stainless for a well-made model that's painted or porcelain-coated enameled steel might get you a longer-lasting grill. Inspect the grill. The parts will usually be bolted together, not welded, so make sure connections are snug. The fewer the bolts, the better, because they can rust. Heft the grates and check what they're made of. Porcelain-coated cast iron can chip and rust.

-- $400 to $700

You'll find all the sizes except portables here, including a much wider selection of large grills. Be aware that a big and bulky grill doesn't necessarily have a large cooking surface.

Construction. Expect a sturdier grill, perhaps one with welded joints. A quick look will tell you if they're welded or bolted together. The more stainless a grill has, the more the grill costs, usually. Heavy stainless or cast-iron grates should be the norm, so pick them up and make sure they have a nice heft.

Check the burners with the same thing in mind: They should be heavier than the ones on cheaper grills. Keep an eye out for a grill with a 10-year warranty -- you'll start to see them at this range.

-- $700 to $1,000

Expect the small to large grills in this price range to be well-built. Here is where you start to find features touted to make grilling easier.

Construction. Go with a stainless-steel cart with an enclosed cabinet and, if possible, drawers. All the visible seams should be welded to provide a clean look, and the cart should be sturdier than thin-gauge painted-steel carts assembled with nuts and bolts. Grill carts should have metal casters rather than plastic ones.

-- $1,000 and Up

You'll find more large grills to choose from and a wider selection of features. As for quality, Consumer Reports notes that you can expect grills in this range to last for many summers to come.

Construction. Expect heavier-gauge stainless steel and more of it. Insist on top-notch fabrication with seamless welds -- nothing should be shoddy. Heavy-duty grates are the norm. And a must.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

How to keep driving skills sharp

Americans love to drive. More than 75 percent of adults carry a driver's license, including 40 million who are 65 and older, according to Consumer Reports.

But driving is more than just a passion or a pastime: It's a lifeline. Studies show that giving up driving increases a person's mortality risk and makes seniors more likely to land in nursing homes and suffer from depression. Yet the average American man outlives his ability to drive by six years, and the average American woman by 10 years.

Eventually, physical or cognitive limitations (or both) make driving safely difficult or impossible for most older people, compelling them to hang up their car keys for good. The problem is that most of them have no other way of getting around.

Consumer Reports lists these programs that can enhance your abilities and increase safety behind the wheel.

-- CarFit

This free nationwide educational program developed with AAA, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association helps seniors see more from the driver's seat.

During a 20-minute drive-up appointment (usually held in parking lots at senior centers, hospitals and public parks), specialists train drivers to adjust mirrors and seating height, and to find the correct distance from the pedal and steering wheel to give them the clearest possible sight lines and safest position for driving.

Will CarFit keep you safer? The jury is out on this one, said Dennis McCarthy, a professor and senior driving researcher at Nova Southeastern University who stages CarFit programs in Florida. But it does teach senior drivers the benefits of being properly positioned in a car and puts them in contact with experts who can answer questions and suggest a check-in with a physician or an ophthalmologist if one is needed. The program's website, car-fit.org, includes a searchable calendar and map (the Eastern states are particularly well-covered) with listings for about 300 events per year.

-- AARP Driver Programs

Last year, AARP led continuing driver-education courses for 360,000 classroom participants and another 130,000 participants online, says Kyle Rakow, the vice president and national director of AARP Driver Safety. State regulations shape the curriculum and course duration: Four to eight hours is a typical length.

The fee is usually $15 to $25, and the car insurance savings can be considerable: 10 percent in a few states, including New York and Georgia.

"Individuals walk in for an insurance discount and walk out a much safer driver," Rakow says. (Most states allow insurance companies to set their own incentive rates; not all give credit for the online version of the course.)

Are safety-course graduates less likely to be involved in crashes than other older drivers? Probably not, according to a handful of studies collected by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. But participant surveys show that these programs prompt seniors to reflect on their driving knowledge, skills, risk factors and performance.

Classes can be found on the AARP website, aarp.org/findacourse.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

How to save time and money food shopping

Consumer Reports asked experts as well as its Facebook followers for their best time- and money-saving food shopping tips. Here are the results.

-- Look high and low. You'll find the lower-cost generic versions of cereal, cake mixes, paper goods and other high-turnover staples on the very lowest and highest supermarket shelves. Retailers charge manufacturers a fee to be at eye level.

-- Use discount apps. Two that Consumer Reports likes are Ibotta and Flipp. Both coordinate your store loyalty cards with current discounts and coupons. With Flipp, you scan the app with the market's checkout scanner to apply savings at the point of sale. With Ibotta, you select rebates in the app and photograph your receipts to import savings to an Ibotta account. Savings are transferred to a payment app, such as PayPal, or a gift card.

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-- Get navigation help. Some store loyalty club apps let you locate items by aisle, which can help you avoid crisscrossing aisles -- and avoid more temptations. At major chains, the Flipp app can do the same.

-- Keep a calculator handy. Unit price shelf stickers under each product can help you compare. But if the store doesn't have the stickers -- only nine states require them -- use your smartphone's calculator. Divide the price by the number of units in each package you're comparing. If, say, one soda's price is per fluid ounce and the other's is per liter, ask Google how many ounces are in a liter and do the conversions.

-- Ask for a rain check. When a sale item is sold out, ask a store employee for a rain check -- a paper IOU -- that you can use like a coupon when the item's in stock.

-- Go with store brands. Consumer Reports' trained tasters have found store brands with quality equal -- or superior -- to that of brand-name items, at prices usually 15 to 30 percent lower. That's because generics are sometimes made by the same companies that make the big-brand foods.

-- Use a cash-back card. Consumer Reports' Credit Card Adviser Comparison Tool found great potential savings from the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card, which pays back 6 percent on the first $6,000 in groceries each year, as well as 3 percent on gas and department-store purchases and 1 percent on other purchases. It also returns $150 if you spend $1,000 in the first three months. A user spending $200 monthly on gas, $500 on groceries, $100 on department-store buys and $300 on other items would save $583 in the first year of card ownership and $1,449 in the first three years, even factoring in the $95 annual fee.

-- Shop at quiet times. According to a survey by the Time Use Institute, a consulting company, the busiest time on weekdays is from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. and the least busy is before 8 a.m. and after 6 p.m. On weekends, the peak shopping time is from 11 a.m. to noon.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

Supermarkets’ changing landscape

Food shopping has undergone a revolution as consumers demand local produce, organic choices, low prices and more convenience, according to Consumer Reports.

To respond to our evolving food-shopping tastes, supermarkets are offering novel formats, products and services. Consumer Reports offers this overview:

-- Smaller footprints. Rather than taking a one-store-fits-all approach, some grocers are hypertargeting a single customer type and scaling back in size as a result. Those new locations offer a more "curated" experience -- say, selling just a few choices of organic olive oil instead of many -- saving shoppers the work of distinguishing among brands.

To attract time-pressed millennials, Whole Foods has opened new Whole Foods Market 365 stores in four U.S. locations. The smaller-format stores feature primarily Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value products. Focusing on the higher-profit store brand and managing fewer square feet could also help the company's profit margins, notes Asit Sharma, senior consumer goods analyst at the investing website Motley Fool.

Aldi is a fast-growing, no-frills vendor that operates stores about one-third the size of a typical American grocer. It sells a limited selection, mainly of private-label goods; Consumer Reports' readers rated it highly for competitive prices.

-- Local farm partnerships. Many supermarkets have added locally grown produce sections. Dierbergs, which debuts in Consumer Reports' ratings this year, is one example. The family-owned chain, with locations mainly in Missouri, shows a photo gallery of local partner farms on its website. Readers gave the quality of Dierbergs' local produce top marks.

-- Meal kits without the wait. To compete with online meal-kit vendors, Giant Food Stores, based in Pennsylvania, offers fresh meal kits through its partnership with the Peapod grocery delivery service. Each $15 box comes with enough premeasured, fresh ingredients to make two servings following a provided recipe.

-- Home delivery. Responding to the threat from online grocers, many chains now offer this amenity. Safeway charges $13 to deliver orders of less than $150 and $10 for orders of $150 or more. Kroger and Wal-Mart have begun testing door-to-door delivery in certain locations, with Wal-Mart using the delivery service Deliv and car services Lyft and Uber. Publix is testing home delivery in certain areas of the Southeast.

-- Curbside service. Wal-Mart offers a "click and collect" system called Online Grocery Pickup in more than 30 states: Consumers buy online and drive to a Wal-Mart store to pick up their bagged orders at designated times for no fee. Kroger's ClickList service, available in about 300 locations, works the same way. Patrons pay a $5 pickup fee, waived for the first three instances. AmazonFresh is experimenting with curbside pickup in two Seattle-area locations. The retailer plans to expand the service to Amazon Prime members without requiring an additional AmazonFresh membership fee.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

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