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Time savers also add convenience

1. Get a dishwasher that makes a difference. A creaky old dishwasher that doesn't work well is almost as bad as no dishwasher at all. If cereal bowls and dinner plates keep coming out flecked with bits of food, plastic containers never quite dry and you have to shout to make yourself heard when the machine kicks into high gear, it might be time to consider an upgrade.

2. Pump up your Wi-Fi. Is your house bigger than your Wi-Fi network? It's a common technology challenge: The signal doesn't reach your home's far recesses -- say, the basement or one of the kids' rooms. To solve it, consider one of a new generation of routers from Eero, Luma, Google and others, all of which employ mesh networking. Simply place multiple routers around the house, and the system will create a single network that extends Wi-Fi coverage without clipping bandwidth. A set of three Eeros is claimed to cover up to 4,000 square feet, well over the size of the average American house. You can buy the units individually, but if you want the benefits of a mesh network, you'll need more than one.

3. Create the perfect laundry room. If your washer and dryer are still parked in your basement, it's time to bring them out of the shadows and into your main living space. Position the laundry area near a kitchen or bathroom, and you should be able to share plumbing lines. For electric dryers, you'll need to put in an outlet with a dedicated 30-amp, three- or four-wire circuit. Gas dryers will need to be supplied with a gas connection and vented outdoors. The project might set you back a few hundred dollars, but in addition to making life much more convenient, the investment could pay for itself if and when you sell your home. In a 2016 survey of homebuyers by the National Association of Home Builders, a dedicated laundry room was No. 1 on the list of most-desired home features, considered essential or desirable by 92 percent of respondents.

Of course, a laundry room is only as good as the appliances you put into it. Consumer Reports says the mark of a top dryer is its ability to dry items without overcooking them, plus convenience features such as easy loading and unloading.

4. Banish dust bunnies. There's something cool about coming home to a spotless floor. A robotic vacuum will help create that sense of well-being by scooting throughout your home sucking up dirt and other surface debris while you're out living your life. Consumer Reports notes that you'll still need a full-sized vacuum for deep carpet cleaning, but today's top robotic vacuums are more powerful than ever and better at navigating your home than in the past.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

How to protect your privacy on your phone

Happy birthday, iPhone! Ten years ago, Apple's iPhone was born, launching a smartphone transformation that changed the way consumers use and depend on their devices.

And mobile apps can make your life a lot easier. They tap into the information stored on your smartphone to remind you about appointments, find stores and restaurants near you or tell you whether there's heavy traffic on your commute. But that convenience comes with a price: the loss of some of your privacy, according to Consumer Reports.

Information about your location, activities and accounts is being shared with the app makers' computers. It can then be used for marketing purposes, be sold to other companies or even be stolen if the app -- or the app makers' servers -- are hacked.

"Apps may request administrative privileges to your data, and those privileges could be used by the app later on, or by some malware, to steal your personal information," says Ed Cabrera, chief cybersecurity officer at TrendMicro, a digital security company.

For instance, a game may have access to your phone app so that it knows when to pause for incoming calls. But that access may also allow the app's maker to listen in.

Fortunately, there are easy ways to limit the intrusion while still getting the benefit of the app itself, Consumer Reports says. The first step is to delete any apps you no longer use, because data is still being shared with the app's maker. Then go through the remaining apps and adjust the privacy settings on each one.

As a broad rule, give the app access only to information you know it really needs. Does your calorie-counting app ask to know your location? Try shutting that off to test whether it can still function the way you want it to.

For Facebook, Consumer Reports suggests turning off access to your phone's calendar, contacts, microphone and location data. But leave on access to the camera if you want to post your photos.

Like other social media services, Facebook also has its own unique settings for privacy and security, which can be accessed online or from inside the app. Facebook's settings include topics such as "Who can see my stuff?" and "Who can contact me?" (For more strategies, go to Consumer Reports online, at CR.org/66privacy.)

Here's how to check -- and change -- the app settings on your phone:

Android Phones

1. Go to Manage applications or Applications under Settings.

2. Make sure the All Apps tab is selected.

3. Scroll down to and click on the app you wish to change. (This menu also contains the Uninstall button, which will delete the app.)

4. Click on Permissions.

5. Switch off permissions that seem unnecessary.

iPhones

1. Open Settings.

2. Scroll down to your app.

3. Click on it to open its permissions menu.

4. Switch off permissions that seem unnecessary.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

Take your tire tread seriously

Too many drivers don't think about their tires until they have to swerve or brake suddenly, or they have a flat -- often with serious consequences. About 9 percent of vehicle crashes are tire-related, according to estimates from a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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But many could be prevented just with proper tire maintenance, according to Consumer Reports, so it's important to inspect your tires every month for wear.

To gauge tread depth, all you need is a quarter. Put George Washington's head into one of the big grooves. If the top of his head is flush with the tread, you have about 1/8 inch of tread left, meaning you have some grip remaining for rainy or snowy conditions. That's the time when you should start shopping for new tires. If you can see space above Washington's head, you may need to replace your tires immediately.

Be an Informed Buyer

Before you start shopping, Consumer Reports suggests knowing these tire basics:

-- Tires carry a speed rating, usually from S (112 mph) to Y (186 mph), with some winter tires having a lower speed rating. That indicates the tire's maximum speed when carrying a load. Higher speed-rated tires tend to have better grip and handling but wear out sooner, generally making them more expensive.

-- Tires come in a variety of sizes, so it's important that you get the right one for your car. On the side of each tire are numbers like this: 215/60R16. The 215 refers to the width of the tread in millimeters; 60 is the ratio of sidewall height to tire width; and 16 is the size of the wheel in inches. Most cars also list this on the driver's doorjamb.

-- Online retailers usually offer some of the lowest prices, but you may have to pay for shipping the tires to you, plus installation and balancing costs.

Local car dealers and tire retailers may match those prices or give you a deal on installation. Keep an eye out for promotions, too, including manufacturer rebates and sales.

-- Price varies by size as much as by brand and model. Expect to pay more for larger tires.

Tire Value: Why Type Matters

Each tire type has strengths and limitations.

-- All-season tires are made to perform well in a wide range of conditions and achieve a long tread life.

-- Performance all-season tires tend to grip better and provide better handling -- but sometimes at the expense of longevity.

-- UHP all-season and UHP summer tires deliver the ultimate in road holding but have an even shorter tread life.

The general rule is that higher-performance tires cost more and wear faster, leading to a greater cost per mile.

But Consumer Reports says it's usually best to stick with the type of tire that came on your car when you bought it. Downgrading to another tire type to save money could hurt your car's braking and handling performance.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

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