Hello again, DriveitHOME friends. As you might remember, my hobby is assisting stranded motorists, which I have done free-of-charge more than 2,000 times. I want to empower drivers to prevent and contend with breakdowns. My book, Roadside Survival: Low-Tech Solutions to Automobile Breakdowns, is full of easy-to-read advice for all drivers—parents, you’ll find tips to pass along to your teen and learn a thing or two yourself. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
In my last post, we talked about tire-related issues, which affect 75 percent of the motorists I have helped. But what about the remaining 25 percent?
Here are the other four most common causes:
- The car runs out of gas
- The engine has overheated
- The car cuts off or will not start due to a dead battery or loose connection
- The driver is locked out
These all seem like issues that are easy to avoid with common sense, but they happen more frequently than you’d think. Here are some quick tips for your teen driver:
- Don’t play “chicken” with a low gas tank. Refuel when the tank is ¼ full. If the gauge is broken, get it fixed. Meanwhile, keep track of miles driven since last fill-up by re-setting the car’s trip odometer after refueling.
- Stow an empty, approved 1-gallon gas can, which can be filled and returned by a police officer, Good Samaritan or your teen at the nearest gas station. Make sure you keep a funnel along with the can to prevent spillage.
- After running out of gas on the road, which is usually level ground, most drivers pull over to a shoulder, which is often not level. This causes added fuel to pool in the tank away from the fuel line to the engine. My solution—which I’ve used some 30 times—almost always works: “rock the car” by jumping on the open passenger side door frame. This causes added fuel to slosh in the tank and find the intake as the driver tries to start. If alone, your teen can “rock the car” and then try to start the engine.
- Check engine oil and add it if the level is low. Look for signs of engine overheating: “hot” reading on temperature gauge, smell of steam or burning oil or white exhaust. Ensure the engine has sufficient coolant and that hoses are not soft. If you have overheating indicators, or if you are in any doubt, take the vehicle to a mechanic as soon as possible. Overheating can ruin an engine. Engine oil and filters require periodic changing; suggestion: every 5,000 miles, or as your car’s operator manual advises.
- Check the battery connections monthly. They should be tight and not be moveable by hand. Tighten as needed and keep the correct size “combination” wrench handy in the vehicle. Loose connections often cause weak starts and engine cut off.
- Keep 20-foot long jumper cables in the car. Make sure your teen knows how to use them to jump-start an engine and charge a dead battery from another vehicle’s alternator.
- Stash a key for the driver door (NOT the main key needed for the ignition) under the vehicle in a key box equipped with magnets. You can find this at your local hardware store. Attach the box to a flat vertical steel surface without rust insulation. Such keys, available at new car dealers for about $10, can ensure access even when the car’s battery is dead.
- Keep a cell phone and its 12-volt charger in the glove box (of course, it should not be used while your teen is driving). Map apps are great, but it is always a good idea to have a road atlas in the car. If you are far from home and your phone’s GPS isn’t working or can’t get a signal, the atlas can help you can describe your location accurately.
I hope these simple tips will help keep your teen—and you—from becoming stranded. In my next post, I’ll talk in more detail about safety and low-tech solutions for drivers who break down, so they don’t become stranded.