In just about every single year of my life I have witnessed at least one car related roadside emergency a day, sometimes to the tune of several a day during hectic times like holidays in the cities of Miami and Orlando. What qualifies as an auto event? Here are the most common in my experience:
By far the most common Roadside Emergency I see is a loss of tire pressure due to a blowout or a leaking tire. The best way to prepare for when this eventually happens to you (and trust me when I say it will happen to every single driver at least once in their lifetime behind the wheel, if not more) is to take thirty minutes out of one day and take a look at your spare tire. Your spare tire is your very good friend, because it is your lifeline. Once you open your trunk, clear out whatever crap is covering your tire and have it in front of you, we are going to check for several very important things: Is it filled to adequate pressure? Do you know how to determine what “adequate pressure” is? Can you tell if there a leak? If the pressure is satisfactory, can you change the tire onto your car?
Seen this before?
First, you must check the pressure of your tire by twisting off the valve cap. There is only valve on the tire so it won’t be hard to find, but when twisting off the little cap just be sure you don’t twist off the whole valve. Sometimes people lose their caps, so if the valve doesn’t have a cap on it then the tire will most likely be low pressure, as the cap is designed to keep air in. Now in order to check the pressure you will need a simple pen gauge, which you can get as cheap as a dollar or less at any Auto Store. You can also use electric air pumps sold at auto stores, or the pumps labeled AIR at gas stations, both of which will automatically read the tire pressure when you plug them into your valve opening.
This is what your valve looks like!
How do you determine what normal pressure is once you’re checking? You will have to read the side of your tire and look for a number with the letters PSI next to it. Factory standard for my cars is usually around 32 PSI, but don’t be lazy by assuming a tire pressure is 32. Many tires have standard pressures that vary by as much as 10 PSI or more, and going over this limit can be deadly to you. How? Tires are liable to explode violently if overfilled, and can launch rubber and shrapnel with enough force to kill you. If death by tire is not how you want to leave this world then visit your nearby Auto Shop and have one of the workers there help you find your standard factory pressure. Different tires have different pressures, so if you use several different tires on each car or even the different wheels of the same car, be sure to check the pressures for each. Be aware that if they are different you will encounter problems in driving and unequal wearing on your car.
Now that you’ve checked the pressure you should fill the tire to that pressure and not over by more than a few PSI at most. Are your tires filling normally? Is your tire pressure staying full? Some people may find that after a few days in their trunk, their tire loses pressure. Losing pressure over great spans of time, such as months on the road or at home, is perfectly normal. But losing significant amounts of pressure within a week or even a day is not normal, and may indicate a nail in the tire or a leak that must be located at your local tire shop, or by you with some water and laundry soap (use laundry soap only, since it doesn’t bubble from mixing like dish soap, and it allows the escaping air to form bubbles that you can see and use to seal up whatever hole is in your tire with a kit or you can have a professional do it, which would be wiser and safer).
The final step is to get outside and see if you are capable of changing your own tire. Although there are all kinds of varieties of tools to elevate your car, the basic tools and processes remain the same. I recommend that every person who drives a car finds either an auto mechanic or an experienced and qualified friend to help and instruct them in the safe use of a jack and in the proper way to change a tire. For the sake of information I will explain the overall process: You must first get under your car with a lifting jack (usually included in your car) and use the owners manual to find the contact points, or the locations on you car that are safe and stable for you to use to elevate your car. Once you find these points,learn to use your jack, and use the jack to lift the car up off the ground. Once the car has been lifted at a point near the faulty tire, you simply use the tire iron like a lever to twist the tire screws out of the tire. You lift the tire off of the axle of the car, then replace it with the spare tire and screw everything back on TIGHTLY. You don’t want any play whatsoever in the tire screws, since having them come off could mean the tire coming off in the middle of driving. I don’t need to explain to you why this could lead to your death. Please be careful when you change a tire, secure it tightly, and when you’re all done bask in the accomplishment of having changed your own tire.
What if your problem is simple a nail in the tire on the side of the road, and no spare is available? You can carry a very simple tool known as a tire patching kit, which essentially fills in the hole in the tire long enough for you to get to an auto shop and get a spare. This is relatively inexpensive and easy to use, and you can carry it with you in your car in case of an emergency, or in the case that you are not in the physical condition to change your own tire (such as handicapped or elderly persons).
Out of Gas
Some people absolutely love to drive. Some of them love it so very much that they can’t be stopped to fill up their tank of gas to continue driving. I have to say I see one of these people walking up the highway shoulder every few days, and inside I shudder thinking of the walk they face in the heat to the gas station against traffic. There is one solution to this (aside from filling up your tank regularly that is) and this solution is affordable and safe. What you have to do is go onto Amazon or your favorite online retailed and find yourself a gas can, but NOT the kind made out of plastic that you buy at Walmart. What you’re looking for is called a Type II can (which is slightly more expensive than a Type I can, but is also much safer than the Type I). A Type II is different from your average gas can because it has a spring loaded valve that closes up tight and doesn’t let any vapors escape the can. It allows pressure to build within the can if the gas gets hot, and prevents them from sparking or escaping. It also has a second valve aside from the pour valve (thus the name Type II) which allows excess pressure to safely escape and not to pray up at you or out when you use the gas can. It also has a flame arrestor screen, which means if you’re stupid enough to get it lit somehow it will most likely stop the flame and save your life. Look for the ones with all these features, and if you would like the integrated pouring spout that should also be part of the type II (type I usually comes with a simple pouring funnel that can get very messy).
Don't let this be you...
If you’re storing gas in your car or hot garage this is the ONLY way to store it safely, as plastic cans will degrade over time and puff up without handling the pressure well. And be sure that if you’re storing the gasoline you add a stabilizing agent to it to keep it usable. An application of Sta-bil will keep your gasoline good for up to a year, and a double dose will keep it for up to two but that is pushing it. You should burn off extra gasoline once a year at least, otherwise it may clog your engine and cause harm in your vehicle.
For those who see this as an unneeded precaution: This is second only to flat tires, and if you think it won’t happen to you just think of all the things in your life you have tried to prepare for, only to have them go wrong anyways. Having a gas can in your car is the ONLY fail-safe way to not be stranded on the road in a potentially dangerous or life threatening situation (such as a snow storm without heating, hot weather without water, or a dangerous neighborhood without a means to defend yourself). Think of your family and any others that may be traveling with you, and how they might be in danger if you were suddenly stranded on the road.
Have you ever been in such a rush that you forgot to turn off your headlights as you left the car? A lot of newer models protect against this from accidentally happening with auto-shut off lights, but many people driving cars older than 5 years old (and even some newer models) can still have a battery failure happen due to the lights being left on for several hours.
The only solution for a battery that has died is to use jumper cables. Buy yourself a set at a nearby auto store, and be sure that if you own a truck or pickup you will need a larger thickness of wire on the jumper cables to effectively jump your car (which means they will have a smaller gauge, and also a larger price tag). If you use a full size or smaller, or even an SUV then feel free to get the cheapest set you can use with a clearly marked positive and negative node. Make sure that the car jumping yours is OFF. Be sure to set them onto your car (dead car) first, and then to touch the negative (ground) node on the other working car first and then attach the positive lead. You will take them off in a different order (take off the positive first, and then the negative). Remember to never let the two cables touch, or they will spark and potentially cause damage to you or your car. Now that the cables are attached, its time for you to crank the working car and allow it to “charge” your battery for a little while. After a period of about 5 minutes, crank your car and keep your car running! Do not turn it off or it may not restart. The action of having your car on actually charges the battery, and without that additional juice you will most likely need another jump.
The Order of Connections to follow
But what happens if your car keeps consistently shutting off? Or if even jumps don’t get it to start? Most people don’t know until it happens to them, but even if cared for properly and never left running, your battery will eventually die given enough time (usually 1.5 – 2 years of normal use). When it is totally dead, that is the end of your battery and there is nothing anyone can do about it except install a new one. This is a situation where you are going to have to call a friend and take a trip to the auto store, or invest in a roadside assistance program.
This is the worst of all the 5 most common, and I would say that there is absolutely no common solution I can offer here. Reasons are few and far between for Engine Failures, with the only common thread being the result: Stuck on the side of the road. All I can offer in this case is a few universal pieces of advice that you should ALSO apply to all these other situations involving roadside events of any kind:
- Pull over safely to the side of the road and get as much space between yourself and traffic as possible so that you and your loved ones can exit the vehicle out of harms way. (If you are caught in a middle lane and cant pull over fully yet, please turn on your hazard lights and try to safely make your way out of the road because the road is a DANGEROUS place to be)
- Keep safety equipment packed in your trunk. This should include either triangular hazard signals, flares, or roadway hazard lights to indicate you are in the road or shoulder and to keep high speed traffic away from you and your family.
- If you plan to work on your vehicle or near it, please buy a simple reflective safety vest like those worn by night time construction workers. These are available at any Home Depot or online.
- Keep Roadside Service numbers programmed into your phone before an accident so that you can call them when you have an emergency.
- Keep a car cellphone charger at all times. Without your cell phone you are a sitting duck.
You are coasting along in your car, enjoying the radio on a warm summer day. Although you may not notice it, your heat gauge climbs steadily. There could be a number of very wrong things happening here, but the end result is mostly the same. Your car will stop running, most likely start fuming smoke, and possibly your engine block will melt along with its components. There is even a possibility of a fire, leading to a very nasty High Risk situation you don’t want to be in. Where does all of this start and how can you prevent it?
This, like engine failure, is never a one shot kind of deal. It is one of the most common, and costly failures that send people to mechanics to get their radiators replaced or repaired. Sometimes its as simple as a leak in the radiator, which you will know immediately because there will be radiator fluid (essentially antifreeze) leaking under your car, which can be bright green, blue, pink, or even yellow or orange. Any of these colors indicate a leak which can easily be patched. If you don’t have the money to get it patched or replaced, you can take the cost effective method: Water. Lots and lots of water. Carry gallon jugs of water and regularly dump them into your radiator as you travel, being very careful not to burn yourself and careful not to let the system overheat as you go. This is highly inconvenient but will get you by until you save enough to fix your radiator. If you take this option please filter your water, since the highly mineralized waters of some states will RUIN your radiator as they evaporate within it and leave behind mineral deposits.
Another possible problem is the engine fan, which will require replacing. If your car only heats up when you stop, and then cools down as you move, its an issue of the engine fan not drawing hot air into your radiator to cool it. The only solution in this case is to get to an auto shop as soon as possible, without melting your engine block in the process and with as few stops as possible. The best way to safely navigate without stopping often is to stay in the right lane so your engine block doesn’t melt. If it gets too hot, take a right turn, continue down until you can make a u-turn or left of some kind without waiting at a light, and then take a right to continue down the road you wee previously traveling. Again this is tedious but should get you as far as an auto shop. Again, the only one surefire way to cover all possible problems coming from overheating is to invest in a nice AAA membership (or an equivalent).
Treat your car as your moving home away from home! Why? Because if you are like other modern Americans you are spending over 25% of your working life in your CAR. The only place you spend a near equal amount of time is your bed. When a quarter of your time is spent on the road, that means a quarter of your life experiences during that time will also be on the road. Will you be prepared when one of these events occurs, and will you be able to have the equipment needed to stop and help someone?
My final advice on Roadside Emergencies: Carry one spare of your most important toiletries so you can always be prepared if you have to stay somewhere unexpectedly, or if you are caught in a jam and have to stay at a hotel or even just freshen up on a long trip. ALWAYS have a bag or travel pack complete with:
- Raincoat (weather and wind breaker)
- Jacket (a size fitting you and your spouse, for cold buildings or cold nights)
- Umbrella or Poncho
- Napkins / Towel Roll
- Sunglasses (polarized)
- Convenience Package: Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, PeptoBismol Tablets, Nail Clipper, Eye Drops, Lighter, etc. This is your custom little package of needs on the road, and the most common needs for other people. Other things to include might also be Midol (for any women in your life) and even Pads (I mean feminine hygiene pads, they also double as trauma wound dressings in an emergency).