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The absence of working air compressors and gauges plus the exorbitant cost to use is a disgrace and a discredit to the oil companies for this essential safety device. It should be a requirement for all gas stations to provide air at no charge. – David

That dollar to fill up your tires pays for an air compressor that works more often than it doesn't, says a company that maintains them.

"Years ago, gas stations used to have garages attached and when the compressor stopped working, there was a mechanic who could fix it," says Frank Merrill, vice president of sales with AIR-serv Canada, which supplies and services some 6,000 coin-operated air compressors at gas stations across Canada. "Now they're mostly convenience stores with gas bars, and when the compressors stop working, the cashiers don't know how to fix them."

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The cost of the machines and maintaining them means working air pumps are increasingly tough to find at gas stations, Merrill says. Even if the machines are working, the hoses are taken inside so they don't freeze. "People get frustrated and say that air is free, and it is – but the machines and repairs aren't," he says. "Keeping your tires at the proper air pressure is essential for safety, but so is power steering fluid, and that's not free either."

AIR-serv's machines cost around $3,000 each, he says.

"When it's cold like this, our compressors are outside, so they do go down, but we get called and repair them." says Merrill. "Does it mean every service station will have a working machine when you need it? No, but the next one down the road probably will."

Merrill says about half of his customers donate revenue from the machines to a charity they choose.

"Last year, Petro-Canada donated $100,000 to the Canadian Paralympic team," Merrill says. "If a company takes part, we require that they donate at least 10 per cent of their revenue, no less."

HOW MUCH IS THE DAMAGE?

If you get into a minor accident where no damage has occurred but you share information and the other driver files a claim, is your own insurance company obliged or allowed to tell you the amount that the other person is claiming? -- Jonida, Toronto

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You insurance company probably doesn't know how how much the other guy is claiming, and even if they knew, they couldn't tell you, says the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

"For privacy reasons, they can't tell you, but they probably don't know," says IBC Ontario spokesman Pete Karageorgos. "The insurers won't exchange information that's not relevant to the claim."

Ontario has no-fault insurance. As long as both sides have valid insurance, each driver goes to his own insurance company to make a claim.

"The dollar amount isn't relevant," Karageorgos says. "What matters is the facts of the collision, who's at fault and whether each side has valid insurance."

The amount of the other driver's claim won't affect your insurance rates, Karageorgos says.

"The amount of the claim doesn't matter," he says IBC. "If a claim costs $100, $1,000 or $100,000, in the scheme of things that's the same."

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So what does matter the most to your insurance company? Who's at fault in the collision.

If your insurance company decides that you are 25 per cent or more at fault, then they can raise your premiums, even if there was no damage.

This can happen even if the other guy didn't make a claim.

Your insurance company is allowed to hike your rates just because you told them about the accident.

Still, Karageorgos says it's a good idea to tell your insurance company if you've been in a collision.

"Even if there's no damage or you decide to settle it privately, they still have two years to make a claim," he says. "And if your insurance company never heard about the collision in the first place, how likely will they be to help you?"

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If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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