Re­cov­er­ing from high­way break­downs

If your car quits mid-trip, pull safely off the road and ap­ply last-ditch so­lu­tions

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - AUTOS - By Brian Turner

IT can hap­pen to the best of us, no mat­ter how new or ex­pen­sive or well-main­tained the ve­hi­cle we’re driv­ing.

We’re cruis­ing along with­out a care in the world and sud­denly the check­engine light comes on, or a ter­ri­ble noise starts em­a­nat­ing from un­der the car, or we sim­ply start to slow down as we fran­ti­cally scan the road ahead and traf­fic around us look­ing for a safe place to land.

As do-it-your­selfers, what can we han­dle on the road­side and what’s the safest way to pro­ceed? First, get safely away from traf­fic. If Mur­phy’s Law is to ap­ply (and it al­ways seems to), we will be stranded at the most in­con­ve­nient time on the busiest multi-lane high­way on the planet with the high­est num­ber of com­pact-eat­ing trucks speed­ing in the right-hand lane (at night, dur­ing a storm).

The point is that un­less you can get your ve­hi­cle a safe dis­tance from traf­fic and in a highly vis­i­ble lo­ca­tion, you should not at­tempt any re­pairs or di­ag­no­sis, but in­stead should activate your ve­hi­cle’s four-way flash­ers, pop the hood to in­di­cate a break­down and get you and your pas­sen­gers to a safe place while await­ing road­side as­sis­tance.

If you have a safety light or tri­an­gle, now would be the time to de­ploy it (to the rear of the ve­hi­cle, far enough back to pro­vide suit­able warn­ing to ap­proach­ing traf­fic).

If traf­fic is light and your ve­hi­cle is well re­moved from mov­ing ve­hi­cles, stay­ing in the car may be the safest thing to do, but if traf­fic is heavy and closer, you may be wiser to wait out­side the ve­hi­cle.

Never stand be­hind or in front of your ve­hi­cle in cir­cum­stances such as this.

Turn your front wheels to the right to pre­vent the ve­hi­cle from be­ing pushed into traf­fic in the event of a rear-end col­li­sion.

Here are some of the top rea­sons for road­side break­downs, with a few tips on how to get things go­ing again.

Failed bat­tery: If you’ve pulled off the high­way for a re­fu­elling stop and went to restart the en­gine only to be greeted by a quiet click and noth­ing else when you turn the key, chances are pretty good the bat­tery has failed.

Bat­ter­ies, even the most ex­pen­sive and ad­vanced, are sel­dom good for much more than three or four Cana­dian win­ters.

What catches most people by sur­prise is that more bat­ter­ies fail dur­ing the hottest days of sum­mer than the cold­est days of win­ter.

Most ve­hi­cles will run on their charg­ing sys­tem af­ter boost­ing, even though the bat­tery is dead.

If you can beg or bor­row a boost from a pass­ing mo­torist, you can get back on the road to the near­est au­to­mo­tive re­tailer for a test and bat­tery re­place­ment if needed.

Bat­ter­ies usu­ally will give some ad­vance warn­ing of their ap­proach­ing demise through a sim­ple load test that most shops will do for a min­i­mal fee. If you’re head­ing out for a trip with a three- or four-year-old bat­tery, get­ting it tested be­fore the tour can save you a lot of headaches.

Flat or dam­aged tire: This used to be a no-brainer if you had a spare tire, but many ve­hi­cles are com­ing with­out the fa­mil­iar spare these days due to au­tomak­ers try­ing to re­duce on-board mass to im­prove fuel econ­omy.

If you have a spare and you’re go­ing to try to make the swap, make sure your ve­hi­cle and the jack are on firm, level ground.

Never plant a jack on gravel or soft sur­faces. Check around for a piece of solid, flat wood or a con­crete paver to place un­der the jack in these cases.

Loosen the wheel nuts be­fore tak­ing the weight off the wheel and never jack the ve­hi­cle any higher than you have to.

Keep an eye on the jack as the ve­hi­cle rises to en­sure it isn’t tilt­ing or lean­ing to the point of fail­ure.

Those ve­hi­cles that don’t have spares usu­ally will sup­ply an elec­tri­cal air com­pres­sor or an aerosol can of tire in­fla­tor/sealant.

Fuel prob­lems: Run­ning out of fuel is still high on the all-time list of ve­hi­cle break­downs, and if your en­gine starts to sput­ter as you sud­denly re­al­ize the gauge nee­dle is headed for the base­ment, gen­tly swerv­ing the ve­hi­cle from side to side with the steer­ing wheel may get you a few hun­dred more me­tres, as this will slosh any re­main­ing fuel up to the fuel-pump pickup.

This can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween land­ing in a safe road­side stop and be­ing caught in a heav­ily trav­elled lane.

Older ve­hi­cles can ex­pe­ri­ence fu­elpump fail­ures that will show al­most the same symp­toms as run­ning out of fuel.

If the fuel pump has failed, the en­gine will crank with­out a hint of want­ing to start, and if you open the hood, you won’t be greeted by a strong smell of fuel.

A lot of failed fuel pumps can be brought back to tem­po­rary life with a strong smack on the bot­tom of the tank.

It can dis­lodge the brushes on the elec­tric fuel-pump mo­tor when they’re stuck.

If you can reach the tank’s bot­tom, slap it hard sev­eral times with the palm of your hand, then try to restart the en­gine.

If you need a longer reach, a broom makes a handy per­suader. If the ve­hi­cle starts, head im­me­di­ately to the near­est ser­vice cen­tre or at least to a safe place to wait for a tow.

Oil prob­lems: If your ve­hi­cle’s en­gine comes to a halt be­cause it ran out of oil, there is prob­a­bly lit­tle you can do on the side of the road to get things go­ing again.

If you are driv­ing an oil-burner, you should have a few spare bot­tles in the trunk.

When en­gines were pri­mar­ily made of cast iron, they might restart af­ter a seizure caused by lack of oil af­ter they were al­lowed to cool down and more oil was added. But with to­day’s ex­ten­sive use of alu­minum and light­weight al­loys, it’s un­likely you’ll re­vive one on the side of the road.

Al­ter­na­tor/starter fail­ures: A fu­elin­jected en­gine re­lies too much on elec­tri­cal power to run very long with an al­ter­na­tor that’s not putting out any power.

The first symp­tom of fail­ure is usu­ally the bat­tery warn­ing sym­bol light­ing up on the in­stru­ment panel.

When this hap­pens, if your ve­hi­cle is still run­ning, turn off all un­nec­es­sary elec­tri­cal ac­ces­sories and head to the near­est re­pair cen­tre, high­way exit or road­side stop.

When it does fi­nally conk out, you can breathe some tem­po­rary life into it by recharg­ing the bat­tery with a boost or bat­tery charger.

In good tem­per­a­tures, this can take sev­eral hours and may only get you a short dis­tance down the road.

If the starter has failed, usu­ally in­di­cated by a loud click and noth­ing else when the ig­ni­tion key is turned, you might be able to coax one more start out of it by rap­ping it with a ham­mer.

If your ve­hi­cle is equipped with a man­ual trans­mis­sion, you can al­ways try to re­cruit enough burly vol­un­teers to give you a push for a bump start.

Once the ve­hi­cle is rolling, with the trans­mis­sion in first gear, clutch de­pressed and key in the run po­si­tion, let the clutch pedal out sud­denly to force the trans­mis­sion to crank the en­gine.

Be po­lite and give your push­ers some ad­vance warn­ing so they don’t end up flat on their faces.

TAN­NIS TOOHEY / POSTMEDIA NET­WORK INC.

Keep your car in tune and check it reg­u­larly to avoid be­ing stuck by the road­side.

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