Save $$$, Easily Change Your Car Cabin Air Filter Yourself

I have done various maintenance and repairs on my cars over the decades. Usually, they turn out to be harder and more time-consuming than I thought. Changing the engine oil and oil filter has become genuinely harder since the oil filters have migrated deep up under the engine, where it is hard to access them without putting the car on a lift, and disposing of a milk jug of used oil has gotten more difficult.  I used to be able to easily change out a light bulb in the headlight, but the last car where that needed doing required you to take apart much of the front end of the car to get at the headlight. However, I recently found that changing the cabin air filters in my two vehicles (van and sedan) is so easy, I wish I had started doing it years ago.

Why Change the Cabin Air Filter?

The cabin air filter filters the air coming into the passenger section of the car. It knocks out road dust and pollen, and other bits of whatever that might get sucked into your air system as you are going down the road. So, it protects your and your family’s lungs as well as the components of the air handling system. Typical recommendations are to change out the filter about once a year or every 15,000-20,000 miles.

The photo below shows the cabin air filter I just pulled out of my van after maybe 2 years and 25,000 miles, next to a relatively clean filter. Obviously, I let this one go a bit too long: it is grey with dust/dirt, and partly blocked with plant debris.

I have not been quick to change out these filters because garages or dealers often charge something like $80-$100 for this. And until recently, I never considered doing it myself, because for some reason I thought it was a hard job. I had read of people having to contort in unnatural positions with heads inserted under dashboards as they disassemble layers of car to get at the filter.

It Is (Often) Super Easy to Change a Cabin Air Filter

It all depends on where the filter is located. For most models of cars, you can find guidelines on line, including YouTube videos. There are some models where you indeed may have to unscrew a cover plate somewhere below the dashboard to expose the filter. But in most cars, you remove the glove box to expose the filter. That may involve undoing come screws or a snap or strut, and squeezing the edge of the glove box inward. For my Hondas, all I had to do was empty the glovebox, (authoritatively) squeeze in the edges, and the glove box pivoted down, and behold, there was the filter in its little holder. Then slide out the holder, pull out the old filter and put in the new filter (purchased at AutoZone for $20 each), slide the holder back in place, and finally tilt the glovebox back up until it snapped in place.

Ten minutes max, easy-peasy. Obviously, this saved money, but it also felt empowering. I highly recommend trying it.

Why are desktop computers so cheap?

I recently bought a used desktop computer for what seemed like next to nothing. $240 for a machine more powerful than my much-more-expensive 2019 MacBook Pro, most notably due to its 32GB of RAM. Desktops have always been cheaper than equivalently powerful laptops, Windows computers cheaper than Macs, and used computers cheaper than new, so this isn’t totally shocking. But the extent of the difference still surprised me. For instance, buying a new desktop from Dell with similar specs to the used one I just got would cost $1399.

So why is the used discount so big right now? My guess is that its one more knock-on effect of work-from-home. Remote work has been the most persistent change from Covid, and there’s been a huge decline in the demand for office space, with occupancy rates still half of pre-Covid levels.

This means that offices are on sale relative to their pre-Covid prices. Office REITs are down 37% over the past year even after the Covid-induced drop of the previous two years. So it makes sense that all sorts of office equipment is on sale too. Offices tend to be full of employer-owned desktop computers, but when employees work from home they typically use their own machine or a company laptop. That means less demand for office desktops going forward, and a big overhang of existing office desktops that are being under-used. Employers realizing this may just sell them off cheap. Several things about the refurbished desktop I bought, such as its Windows Pro software, indicate that it used to be in an office.

Complacency and American Girl Dolls 2

It’s time to revisit American Girl Dolls and the Saturn V rocket. The trending topic among millennials is the new “historical” American Girl doll who lives in the year 1999.

Previously, I blogged about the historical Courtney doll from 1986 in “Complacency and American Girl Dolls.” I used Courtney’s accessories to illustrate stagnation in the physical environment (within rich countries) of recent decades. Courtney has a Walkman for playing cassette tapes and she has an arcade-style Pac-Man game to entertain herself. I pointed out that ’80’s Courtney had to be given the World War II doll Molly just to keep life interesting.

What do Isabel and Nicki have a decade later in 1999?  

They have a personal CD player and floppy disks. It’s cute and the toys will sell. However, it does not seem like innovation has introduced many new capabilities. Isabel can listen to music through her headphones and be entertained on screens, just like Courtney could.

Isabel eats Pizza Hut and has dial-up internet access. There is no sense of sacrifice or expanding the frontier. The world was settled, and history had ended.  

What counts for adventure in 1999? Shopping vintage clothing. Just like Courtney, Isabel revisits the past to get a sense of purpose or excitement.

This is Isabel’s diary. Having nothing to do besides look at clothes from past decades, she obsesses over status. Presumably “Kat” complimented her hat in person. Facebook didn’t start until 2004, so Isabel is not worried about “Likes” in social media.

So, what did I do with my kids for their school break on Presidents’ Day?  We went to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center to see the Saturn V rocket.

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Average US Consumption: 1990 Vs 2021

On Twitter, folks have been supporting and piling on to a guy whose bottom line was that we are able to afford much less now than we could in 1990 (I won’t link to it because he’s not a public figure). The piling on has been by economist-like people and the support has been from… others?

Regardless, the claim can be analyzed in a variety of ways. I’m more intimate with the macro statistics, so here’s one of many valid stabs at addressing the claim. I’ll be using aggregates and averages from the BEA consumer spending accounts.

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EWED Recommends Gifts 2022

Every year I request posts about stuff the writers actually use. My logic is that a great wave of stuff-buying is coming, so let’s try to highlight the good items and reduce holiday waste.

For Children

James recommends buying a whole bounce house. It might seem like something you could only afford to rent once a year, but the price of buying one you can use at home is now less than $300. In a big room, you can even do this indoors. Be the Christmas hero. Check on the space requirements.

I recommend two games that help kids learn to read. These are a great complement to Kindergarten or 1st-grade reading assignments. With enough confidence, you can convince kids that these games are toys and not “a book?”.

Sight Word Swat

Zingo sight words

SPOT IT is a card game that takes up almost zero space in the house or car. No reading or numeracy required and yet fun for adults!

Phantom Toll Booth A book for school-aged kids.

Little Tikes Easy Store Picnic Table with Umbrella, Scott says it’s worth the price if you have young kids around the house. Let them do messy food or activities there.


Sounds like a good gift for adults who like to cook. Scott found a relatively affordable Black Rice.

Office to Garden

Compressed gas for computer maintenance. See Scott’s explanation on PC care.

Velcro Cut to Length – Zachary suggests: “Do you have a phone charger beside your bed that keeps falling on the ground? Just Velcro it to the nightstand lamp and it will stay exactly where you want it.”

Minute Soil is better than the dirt you have. This makes growing plants more fun and easier. Sounds like a great gift to wrap up for someone who likes gardening.

Set for Life

I agree with Zachary that cordless men’s hair clippers are a great investment.  

Barge All Purpose TF Cement Rubber – Praise from Scott: “Unlike most “superglues”, it will work on rough or porous surfaces, including situations like leather where flexibility is needed.”

Qwix Mix windshield – Windshield wiper fluid concentrate that is easy to store at home for when you need it.

Stoner Car Care 91154 10-Ounce Tarminator Tar, Sap, and Asphalt Remover Safe on Automotive Paint and Chrome on Cars, Trucks, RVs, Motorcycles, and Boats

Lastly, Mike has some correct life advice. Give yourself what your future self would want. For example, if you enjoy video games but don’t exercise enough, then try setting up an exercise bike right in front of your video games. That way you’ll get your cardio in and not have regrets the next week.

Must-Have Practical Gifts

My wife and I have different preferences for the kind of gifts that we like to receive. She likes earrings, flowers, massages, and electronics. I like hand tools, power tools, and any other item that makes domestic life more efficient. I can really appreciate a nice new pair of dockers or a button-down.

If you have a dad, husband, or anyone else in your life who appreciates practical gifts, then this list is for you. Below are four gift ideas that are sure to make the practical person in your life very happy – even if they may not be what you would want to receive. I’ve personally vetted all of the below items, so I can attest to the satisfaction that they are sure to provide that hard-to-shop-for person.

1)  Custom Length Velcro

Is your life in disarray? Are your cords and chargers in disarray? Then look no further. Nothing compares to the knowledge that the nest of cords behind your wall unit is no more. Use Velcro to bind and truncate your computer cords and your kitchen appliance cords. Do you have a drawer or box full of tangled extras? Velcro is nice because you can cut it to your custom length and reuse it with minimal loss of life. You can also use it in electrical applications or in the cabin of your vehicle. Do you have a phone charger beside your bed that keeps falling on the ground? Just Velcro it to the nightstand lamp and it will stay exactly where you want it. AND, because it’s reusable, you can easily remove it and keep the cords in your luggage nice and compact.

2) Minute Soil

Growing stuff is hard. But flowers, greenery, or even vegetables are nice. Yes, I’m basically recommending that you give someone dirt. But it’s awesome dirt. There’s this stuff called coconut coir. It’s coconut fiber that’s been compressed into a small disc or brick that’s ideal for shipping and delivery. Just add water and you’ve got some fancy dirt just waiting for an application. Coconut coir is all plant-based material, drains well, and it’s easy to store. You may not think of dirt as something that has a shelf life, but regular potting soil can definitely grow some unsavory things if you let it sit for long enough. Coconut coir is the solution to all of your spur of the moment small-scale horticultural endeavors.

3) Qwix Mix

Shipping items to our homes has been a game changer for shopping. But home delivery is not sensible for low priced heavy items like some liquids. My family was frequently running out of windshield wiper fluid and we’d end up stopping at a grocery store and overpaying. But no more! Qwix Mix is a windshield wiper fluid concentrate. Just an ounce in addition to a gallon of water saves us unplanned trips, high prices, and the storage cost of purchasing gallons of fluid ahead of time. I can’t vouch for the de-icing formulation, but the southern climate formula does exactly what it’s supposed to do.

4) Ufree Hair Clippers

Since the Covid recession, many of us have taken up our hand at cutting hair at home. For a while, we were borrowing a neighbor’s clippers. They were loud and had a short cord. But I’ve since purchased Ufree clippers and they are so much more convenient. They’re quiet, cordless, charge with a USB cord, and have a battery level display. But the battery lasts so long that you don’t even need to think about it. This kit comes with a beard trimmer, several guards, and a cape (throw the cape away, it’s bad). The clippers are metal and have some heft to them. Several colors are available – they come in black, silver, and gold finishes. But how can one not choose the gold ones?

That’s my list of great gifts for practical people. IDK your gift limit, but if you buy all 4 of these gifts you’ll spend about $100. That might leave room left over for stocking stuffers and chocolate.

(We’re not paid for any of these recommendations. But using our links is always helpful.)

How to Magnetize a Screwdriver (So It Holds onto a Screw)

This is an economics blog; here is a life hack that can save you some money, and maybe time.  It can be really helpful to have your screwdriver magnetized, so a screw will stick to it. This past weekend I helped someone repair a microwave door, and for re-assembly I had to get a screw into its hole, where its hole was recessed in a narrow space where I could not have held the screw with my fingers whilst starting it with the screwdriver. So it was very helpful to just stick the screw on the end of the tool, and (carefully) insert the tip of the screw into its threaded hole and just start turning. Likewise, it was helpful in disassembly to be able to draw a screw out with the magnetized tip.

You can go buy a set of magnetized screwdrivers from Amazon. But these get mixed reviews and of course cost money and shipping delay and now you have more screwdrivers to store. A comment in one of the Amazon reviews clued me in that you can easily magnetize a screwdriver which you already have. Here is how:

( 1 ) Start with a strong magnet – – maybe a single magnet that you happen to have, or make a stack of say five medium sized disk refrigerator magnets. Techies can remove magnets from an old speaker or hard drive.

( 2 ) Using only one end (pole) of your magnet, draw it along the  screwdriver shaft, from the top or middle out to the end, always in the same direction. Do this maybe four times, then rotate the screwdriver a quarter turn, then make another four strokes, and so on for all four sides of the screwdriver. You’re done.

I did this, and it worked great. A couple of further comments – – first, if there is no rubbery coating on your magnet and you don’t want to scratch up the finish on your screwdriver, you could put a single layer of  masking tape or painters tape on the part of the magnet that is scraping along the screwdriver. Second, the hard steel of the screwdriver is not a great permanent magnet. You might need to do this again in a year, and you will never get a really strong magnetic effect (this may be why there were some complaints on Amazon). Also, if you give the screwdriver some sharp taps (or drop it on concrete floor), it can rescramble the magnetic domains and lose  magnetic orientation in the steel, so again you’d have to repeat the treatment.

You can also magnetize a screwdriver by wrapping a coil of insulated wire around it, and hooking the wire up to a battery. Also, you can make the screwdriver magnetic temporarily by sticking a disk magnet on the shaft.

I suppose you could bring your magnet to your friend’s house and process his or her favorite screwdriver next time you go over for some other reason. Or you could make magnetized screwdrivers for gifts.

Some references:

Bonus hack: How to Sanitize Face Masks

Now we are back to being able to buy KN95 and (even better) KF94 face masks, if a mask gets too breathed in, we can just throw it out and get a new one. But if for some reason (a new pandemic apocalypse like 2020?) you need to disinfect a face mask, there are ways.

Most flu and coronaviruses cannot live indefinitely on a dry surface. So one approach is simply to put each mask in its own dry paper bag (to prevent contact with more virus particles) and leave in a dry, preferably warm place for 3 days.

If you are in a hurry, apparently heating for 60 minutes at  the oven at 70°C (158°F) will also do the trick.


Can You Use an Expired Home COVID Test?

Using a COVID test is a fairly serious matter – the results of such tests drive decisions on staying home and isolating or not, which in turn affect the spread of the virus in the population. I am known to use medicines that maybe expired six months earlier, figuring that the med will still be say 80% effective, but for a COVID test I want it to be as accurate as possible.

We all have on our shelves boxes of rapid COVID tests which were send out by the government in the first half of 2022. Most of these tests had nominal six-month lives, so according to what is stamped on the box, they are expiring right about now.

But wait – – that six-month life was just a (conservative) estimate from back when the tests were manufactured. For about a dozen out of the original 22 approved tests, subsequent data has shown that the tests remain accurate for longer than six months. Typically, the approved life is extended an additional six months or more. So before using or throwing out a box whose stamped expiration date has passed, go to this FDA link. You can quickly find your brand of test. The instructions for using this site are:

To see if the expiration date for your at-home OTC COVID-19 test has been extended, first find the row in the below table that matches the manufacturer and test name shown on the box label of your test.   

  • If the Expiration Date column says that the shelf-life is “extended,” there is a link to “updated expiration dates” where you can find a list of the original expiration dates and the new expiration dates.  Find the original expiration date on the box label of your test and then look for the new expiration date in the “updated expiration dates” table for your test.   
  • If the Expiration Date column does not say the shelf-life is extended, that means the expiration date on the box label of your test is still correct.  The table will say “See box label” instead of having a link to updated expiration dates.  

A couple more notes re COVID Tests:

( 1 ) The tests do detect the omicron BA.5 subvariant, which has driven much of the infections lately. However, if you have been exposed to COVID, the new recommendation is to take three (instead of just two) tests, at least 48 hours apart. (If you take the test too early, not enough antigen has built up to detect, so you might get a false negative).

( 2 ) Although the initial federal program for free tests has expired, there are several ways to still get free tests. Any health insurer will pay for them, as will Medicare. And there are other venues for uninsured or low-income people. See this article.

Joy Recommends Stuff for Kids 2022

I recommend two games for teaching kids to read their “sight words”. In early school grades, learning sight words can mean doing boring homework or rote memorization of flash cards. Instead use

Zingo Sight Words


 Sight Word Swat 

These are both fun interactive games that will get kids reading and talking about sight words. Zingo Sight Words is easier, so I recommend starting there. It’s a lot like bingo with a fun plastic dispenser. Kids can do the matching task to win the game even if they are not yet confident with reading.

Sight Word Swat is a little more advanced but good for expanding vocabulary past the first 50 words. It’s fast paced and fun. Someone yells out a word and then two players compete to “swat” with a plastic mallet the correct “fly” that has the word. Also, if the kid isn’t competitive, they could swat the correct word without time pressure.

Next, I’ll recommend a game that will not remotely feel like an educational exercise. “Spot It” is a genius card game. The tin is small, so you can store it easily and travel with it. The game is easy to teach to new friends because it’s just matching visual patterns. Spot It requires zero reading – not even reading numbers. So, a kid as young as 4 could potentially jump in and start trying to get matches. One of the great things about Spot It is that you play a series of mini games. It’s not the nightmare of a Monopoly game that could take multiple days to finish. So, if you are a parent with limited time to spend on card games, you can parachute in and out quickly.

All of these items are under $20 and potentially all of them could make fun holiday gifts, although your mileage may vary for gifting books and getting smiles. Personally, I bought the sight word games when we needed them for learning instead of trying to make them Christmas gifts.

I had been looking forward to reading the Phantom Tollbooth with my kids for a long time. This is the kind of book that you should read as soon as they are ready to understand most of the action, but not before. If too much is going over their heads, then it isn’t fun. In my case, this book prompted a lot of questions and great conversations with the 7-year-old. The book will teach kids a lot, but if you keep your tone light it feels like just another adventure story.

Some Random Gifts (Maybe for Yourself) To: Clean Sap/Tar Off Car, Clean Dust from Inside PC, Eat “Forbidden” Black Rice, Glue Almost Anything

I reviewed some of my smallish purchases of the past several months, and noted some ones that I still feel very good about, because they worked so well. I will share these here, along with appropriate Amazon link. These may be practical gifts for family/friend, or may be something you’d like to get for yourself.

( 1 ) Stoner “Tarminator” to safely remove sap and tar from car.    In search of shade in the searing summer heat, we sometimes park under a pine tree, which can drip sap on the car paint and windows. Removing the sap without harming the car finish is not so easy. The internet pointed me to this product, which has performed well. I spray some on a little folded part of a paper towel, and rub at sap with that. Stoner Car Care 91154 10-Ounce Tarminator Tar, Sap, and Asphalt Remover Safe on Automotive Paint and Chrome on Cars, Trucks, RVs, Motorcycles, and Boats, Pack of 1

( 2 ) Compressed gas to blow dust off laptop heat exchanger.  I got a warning message on my laptop that the fan was not functioning properly, and needed immediate attention. I think by that they meant the machine was overheating. It turns out that in your laptop there is a thick copper heat conductor that runs from your hot processing chip to the fan outlet on the side of your computer. The fan sucks air from the bottom of your PC, and blows it across a heat exchanger attached to the heat conductor. In time, dust can build up on this heat exchanger, and block the airflow.


The “right” way to address this problem is to disassemble the laptop to expose this heat exchanger from the inside (as shown in picture above), and peel the lint off. Problem is with my particular PC, it is a huge, perilous task to do this disassembly. The internet told me of a hack solution, which is to shoot cleaning gas into the heat exchanger from the outside, to knock off at least some of this lint. See this YouTube video by “Ultimate DIY” for the technique. It seemed to work for me – I got a can of cleaning gas (below), shot it into my PC side outlet vent in various spots, and have had no fan or overheating warnings since. (I also tweaked my standby power settings so the fan does not run all day if I am not using the PC).

Falcon Dust, Off Compressed Gas (152a) Disposable Cleaning Duster, 1, Count, 3.5 oz Can (DPSJB),Black

( 3 ) Barge “rubber cement” to glue almost anything.  This stuff sticks really well – spread a thin coat on both surfaces, wait 10-15 minutes, press together, and leave for a few hours. Unlike most “superglues”, it will work on rough or porous surfaces, including situations like leather where flexibility is needed.

Barge All-Purpose TF Cement Rubber, Leather, Wood, Glass, Metal Glue 2 oz

( 4 ) Indulge in nutty taste, impressive appearance, and health lore of black rice. A couple of years ago I got some so-called “forbidden” (black) rice from an Asian gourmet outlet. (At one time this rice was so prized it was forbidden for anyone but the emperor to eat it).  It tasted great, but was ruinously costly. I have found similar rice on Amazon, imported from Italy. No cooking directions on the box, so here is what worked for me: Add 1 cup rice to 2 cups boiling water, simmer 20 minutes, and strain off excess water. Try it once:

Black Rice, Premium Quality, Product of Italy, Venere, All Natural, Ancient Grain, 1.1 lbs, Riso Scotti

( 5 ) Small indoor/outdoor play/crafts table with bench seats for 2-8 year old kids. This has worked well, especially for otherwise messy foods and activities. Give it away when your kids are done with it. See picture below. The sides and benches fold in, under the table, for storage or transport. Includes optional shade umbrella. Avoid the smaller version of this table, it would get outgrown immediately.

Little Tikes Easy Store Picnic Table with Umbrella, Multi Color, 42.00”L x 38.00”W x 19.75”H