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Driving & Maintenance

Car Troubles

Flat Tires and Blowouts

If a flat tire or a blowout happens, get a firm grip on the wheel, brake gently, and pull to the side of the road where the surface is even and hard enough to support your car when it is jacked up. Before jacking up the car, loosen the lug nuts. Then follow the directions in the car owner's manual. Make sure the car stays balanced.

Overheated Engines

This is caused by many things-a leak in the radiator or hoses, a bad water pump or thermostat, or a broken fan belt. Learn where your thermostat needle usually stays so that you can tell when the engine is getting too hot. If the car is hot from being overworked, you can do several things:

  • stop and shift into neutral 
  • turn off the air conditioning 
  • turn on the heat and open the car windows
  • increase engine idling speed when stopped
  • pull off the road, turn the engine off and let it rest

If you have reached the danger point on your indicator or steam is rising from the hood, pull to the side of the road and turn the ignition off.  Do not remove the radiator cap while the engine is  still warm. The contents of your radiator are pressurized and can severely burn you.  Once the engine has cooled, check the coolant level. If it is low, add coolant not water. Water is bad for your radiator and cool liquid added to an overheated engine could cause the engine block to crack.

If the radiator will not hold coolant, look for breaks in the hoses or radiator leaks. If this is a problem, try to temporarily repair it and go immediately to a service station. Never drive and overheated vehicle--this could cause severe and expensive engine damage.

Dead Batteries

Dealing with this emergency is simple, but dangerous. If you are going to jump start your car, do not smoke and always use eye protection. Follow these steps in order:

  1. Attach one cable to the positive terminal of the dead battery 
  2. Attach the other end of the cable to the positive terminal of the working battery
  3. Attach other cable to negative terminal of good battery 
  4. Attach last clamp to the engine block of the stalled engine. Do not attach it to the negative post of the dead battery
  5. Start the car with the good battery
  6. Start the car with the bad battery
  7. Remove clamps in reverse order.

Fires

Fires are generally caused by a fault in the electrical system or a leak in the fuel system. Do not confuse a fire with an overheated engine.  If you suspect fire, pull off the road, turn off the ignition, and get everyone away from the car and as far away as possible.  Call the fire department.  If the fire is not located near the gas tank, you can try to put it out. Do not attempt to put out a car fire with water, since this may only spread the flames.

Lug Nuts

If you notice a wobble or hear a rattle from your wheels, you may have a loose or missing lug nut. Immediately pull off the road to check or tighten it.  If you have one or two missing, drive to the nearest service station. If there are more than two missing, take one or more from another wheel and have new ones put on right away.  If you cannot use any from another wheel, do not drive your car because the wheel might fall off.

Loss of Oil Pressure

This may happen because the oil level is low or the oil pump is not working. Pull over and check your oil level. Add more oil if necessary. Otherwise call a mechanic because it can permanently damage your engine.

Throttle Sticking

If your throttle (gas pedal) sticks while driving, try to pull the pedal forward with your foot. If this does not work, shift into neutral and carefully coast to a stop. Do not continue driving if the problem is not fixed.

 

Hazardous Weather

TIP: When there is inclement weather, make sure you find out about school closing announcements.

Ice and Snow

  • Leave plenty of distance between you and the next car
  • Make sure all lights and windows are clear 
  • Slow down before reaching a curve. Turn gradually, moving the steering  wheel carefully 
  • When stopping, especially on ice, pump the brakes to maintain control. In a stick shift vehicle, downshifting can help slow the car, but take extra caution to maintain control.

Rain

  • Watch for flooded roads. When driving through a puddle go very slowly as to not throw up water on the engine. If your car stalls in a puddle, try to move it to the side of the road and wait for the engine to dry 
  • After moving through water, brakes may loose their stopping power. Apply them lightly to dry them out.

Hydroplaning

If you start to float on a wet road, take your foot off the pedals and hold the steering wheel firmly and straight until the tires touch the ground again. To prevent hydroplaning, reduce speed, don't tailgate, keep a firm grip on the wheel, and keep tire pressure high.

Fog

Always use headlights. Low beams are usually recommended, but check between low and high beams regularly to see which offers better visibility.

Wind

Always be alert, maintain a steady grip, and be prepared for the effect of strong gusts.

Be Prepared

The following are some items you might want to have on hand in your car for emergencies:

  • flashlight with good batteries
  • ice scraper
  • can of oil
  • fire extinguisher
  • spare tire in good condition
  • spare fuses
  • first aid kit
  • flares or reflective lights
  • jack and lug wrench for changing tires
  • pair of pliers
  • empty containers
  • flat head and phillip's head screwdrivers
  • adjustable wrench
  • electrical and duct tape
  • a sturdy wire (hanger will do)
  • jumper cables
  • sandpaper (to clean battery terminals if the car won't start)
  • pocket knife
  • a white rag or flag to signal for help
  • sand or kitty litter for extra traction in snow or ice
  • small shovel
  • owner's manual