It’s foolhardy to head out in a poorly maintained vehicle in the dead of winter, of course, but even vehicle owners in temperate zones need a car care check as the days grow shorter. Regular, routine maintenance can help improve your gasoline mileage, reduce pollution, and catch minor problems before they become big headaches.
Before you do anything else, read your owner’s manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommended service schedules. Get engine performance and drivability problems — hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc. — corrected at a reputable repair shop. Cold weather makes existing problems worse. Replace dirty filters, such as air, fuel, and PCV. A poorly running engine is less efficient and burns more gasoline. As the temperature drops below freezing, add a bottle of fuel deicer in your tank once a month to help keep moisture from freezing in the fuel line. Keeping the gas tank filled also helps prevent moisture from forming. Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your manual — more often if your driving is mostly stop-and-go or consists of frequent short trips. Regular oil and filter changes is one of the most frequently neglected services, yet one that is essential to protect your engine. The cooling system should be flushed and refilled as recommended. The level, condition, and concentration of the coolant should be checked periodically. A 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water is usually recommended. Do-It-Yourselfers: Never remove the radiator cap until the engine has thoroughly cooled! The tightness and condition of drive belts, clamps, and hoses also should be checked regularly by a professional technician. The heater and defroster must be in good working condition for passenger comfort and driver visibility. Replace old blades regularly. If your climate is harsh, purchase rubber-clad (winter) blades to fight ice build-up. Stock up on windshield washer solvent — you’ll be surprised how much you use during the winter months. And don’t forget to always carry an ice scraper. Have your battery checked. The only accurate way to detect a weak battery is with professional equipment. However, most motorists can perform routine care: Wear eye protection and protective rubber gloves. Scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections; clean all surfaces; retighten all connections. If battery caps are removable, check fluid level monthly. A word of caution: Removal of cables can cause damage or loss of data/codes on some newer vehicles, so always check your owner’s manual first. Be sure to avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid. Inspect all lights and bulbs. Replace burned out bulbs; periodically clean road grime from all lenses. To prevent scratching, never use a dry rag. Clouded lenses can be refinished by many service outlets or by using a DIY kit found in major auto parts outlets. Exhaust fumes inside your vehicle’s cabin can be deadly. Have the exhaust system examined for leaks and problems while the vehicle is on a lift. The trunk and floorboards should also be inspected for small holes. Worn tires are dangerous in winter weather. Examine tires for remaining tread life, uneven wearing, and cupping; check the sidewalls for cuts and nicks. Check tire pressure once a month, letting the tires “cool down” before checking the pressure. Rotate as recommended. Don’t forget to check your spare, and be sure the jack is in good working condition. Under-inflated tires or poorly aligned wheels makes your engine work harder and thus use excess gasoline. Have your brakes checked periodically for safety and to prevent costly repairs that can be caused by neglect. The transmission is often neglected until a major failure. Routine checks and fluid changes at prescribed intervals can prevent very costly repairs down the line. Always carry an emergency kit with you: extra gloves, boots and blankets; flares; a small shovel and sand or kitty litter; tire chains; a flashlight and extra batteries; and a cell phone and extra car charger. Put a few “high-energy” snacks in your glove box.
Millions of Americans recognize that dogs are wonderful companions and often bring their favorite furry friend along on road trips, day trips and day-to-day errands. However, in a vehicle, this can mean added distractions for the driver and added dangers for all passengers, including pets. Drivers distracted by dogs, many don’t realize it According to a survey 29 percent of respondents admit to being distracted by their dog while driving, however 65 percent have participated in at least one distracting behavior while driving with their dog:
More than half (52 percent) have pet their dog while driving 17 percent allowed their dog to sit in their lap 13 percent of drivers admitted to include giving food or treats to their dog 4 percent acknowledged playing with their dog All these behaviors can distract the driver and increase the risk of a crash.
An overwhelming 84 percent of survey respondents stated that they have driven with their pets on a variety of car trips however, only 16 percent use any form of pet restraint system when driving with their dog. The use of a pet restraint system can aid in limiting distractions and help protect your pet: Restraint systems that limit a pet’s ability to distract the driver, restrict pet movement in the crash, and mitigate crash forces, such as those utilizing seat belts, are best to use. A car’s airbags can prove deadly to a pet. Restraining a pet in the back seat is safest for pets. Padded harnesses with sturdy connectors and straps are available to connect to a vehicle’s seatbelt or LATCH system. Both hard- and soft-sided crates can be used in vehicles, but should always be strapped down. Pet car seats or basket-style holders can be used with smaller dogs. A wide variety of barrier systems are available to fit various makes and models of vehicles. These can be helpful in reducing doggie distractions, but do not offer protection during a crash.
I recommend that pet owners restrain their pet inside the vehicle not only to avoid distraction, but to protect the animal and other passengers in a crash. So, each and every time you travel with your dog, just as you put on your seat belt when you hit the road, be sure you do the same for your canine companion.
Feeling sleepy is especially dangerous when you are driving. Sleepiness slows your reaction time, decreases awareness and impairs your judgment, just like drugs or alcohol. People who are very sleepy behave in similar ways to people who are drunk. The impact that this has on traffic safety should not be underestimated.
To remain alert and avoid drowsiness: Getting plenty of sleep (at least six hours) the night before a long trip; Traveling at times when you are normally awake, and staying overnight rather than driving straight through; Scheduling a break every two hours or every 100 miles; Stop driving if you become sleepy; someone who is tired could fall asleep at any time – fatigue impacts reaction time, judgment and vision, causing people who are very sleepy to behave in similar ways to those who are drunk; Not planning to work all day and then drive all night; Drink a caffeinated beverage. Since it takes about 30 minutes for caffeine to enter the bloodstream, find a safe place to take a 20-30 minute nap while you’re waiting for the caffeine to take effect; Avoid sleepy times of day. Take a mid-afternoon nap and find a place to sleep between midnight and 6 a.m.; and Traveling with an awake passenger.
Symptoms of sleepiness include but are not limited to: Having trouble keeping your eyes open and focused; The inability to keep your head up; Daydreaming or having wandering, disconnected thoughts; Drifting from your lane or off the road, or tailgating; Yawning frequently or rubbing your eyes repeatedly; Missing signs or driving past your intended exit; Feeling irritable and restless; and Being unable to remember how far you have traveled or what you have recently passed.
Every fall, over 55 million children across the United States head back to school. With 13 percent of those children typically walking or biking to their classes, Drivers should be especially vigilant for pedestrians before and after school hours. The afternoon hours are particularly dangerous – over the last decade, nearly one in four child pedestrian fatalities occurred between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Slow down. Speed limits in school zones are reduced for a reason. A pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 25 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling just 10 mph faster. Come to a complete stop. Research shows that more than one-third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or neighborhoods. Always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before proceeding. Eliminate distractions. Research shows that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of crashing. And children can be quick, crossing the road unexpectedly or emerging suddenly between two parked cars. Reduce risk by not using your cell phone or eating while driving, for example. Reverse responsibly. Every vehicle has blind spots. Check for children on the sidewalk, in the driveway and around your vehicle before slowly backing up. Teach your children to never play in, under or around vehicles. Watch for bicycles. Children on bikes are often inexperienced, unsteady and unpredictable. Slow down and allow at least three feet of passing distance between your vehicle and a bicyclist. If your child rides a bicycle to school, require that he or she wear a properly fitted bicycle helmet on every ride. Talk to your teen. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, and nearly one in four fatal crashes involving teen drivers occur during the after-school hours of 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
As children take to the streets on Halloween to trick-or-treat, their risk of being injured by motorists increases greatly. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that Halloween is consistently one of the top three days for pedestrian injuries and fatalities, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that children are four times more likely to be struck by a motor vehicle on Halloween than any other day of the year. Because excited trick-or-treaters often forget about safety, motorists and parents must be even more alert. Here are some tips for helping keep young ones safe on Halloween:
Slow down in residential neighborhoods and obey all traffic signs and signals. Drive at least 5 mph below the posted speed limit to give yourself extra time to react to children who may dart into the street. Watch for children walking on roadways, medians and curbs. In dark costumes, they’ll be harder to see at night. Look for children crossing the street. They may not be paying attention to traffic and cross the street mid-block or between parked cars. Carefully enter and exit driveways and alleys. Turn on your headlights to make yourself more visible – even in the daylight. Broaden your scanning by looking for children left and right into yards and front porches.
Ensure an adult or older, responsible youth is available to supervise children under age 12. Plan and discuss the route your trick-or-treaters will follow. Instruct children to travel only in familiar areas and along established routes. Teach children to stop only at well-lit houses and to never to enter a stranger’s home or garage. Establish a time for children to return home. Tell children not to eat any treats until they get home. Review trick-or-treating safety precautions, including pedestrian and traffic safety rules. Make sure Halloween costumes are flame-retardant and visible with retro-reflective material.
Be bright at night – wear retro-reflective tape on costumes and treat buckets to improve visibility to motorists and others. Wear disguises that don’t obstruct vision, and avoid facemasks. Instead, use nontoxic face paint. Also, watch the length of billowy costumes to help avoid tripping. Ensure any props are flexible and blunt-tipped to avoid injury from tripping or horseplay. Carry a flashlight containing fresh batteries, and place it facedown in the treat bucket to free up one hand. Never shine it into the eyes of oncoming drivers. Stay on sidewalks and avoid walking in streets if possible. If there are no sidewalks, walk on the left side of the road, facing traffic. Look both ways and listen for traffic before crossing the street. Cross streets only at the corner, and never cross between parked vehicles or mid-block. Trick-or-treat in a group if someone older cannot go with you. Tell your parents where you are going.