Keep vehicle prepared for a safe getaway
By MARTY CLEAR
Published April 16, 2006
A well-maintained and well-stocked car could be the difference between life and death if a major hurricane strikes.
If you have to evacuate, you'll probably be in heavy traffic for many miles, as Texas evacuees learned last summer in Hurricane Rita, when they sat in gridlock for three days on interstates. Mechanics and tow trucks will be busy and assistance may be almost impossible to come by. Here's some advice from AAA Auto Club South, emergency management directors and local tire and auto parts dealers:
CELL PHONE: Make sure it is well-charged before you evacuate. You can get a cell phone charger that plugs into the car's cigarette lighter and charge the phone while you drive. (Tip: Even if you stay at home, this can be a lifesaver if the power is out for a long period and your cell phone dies. Charge it in the car.)
ROUTINE MAINTENANCE: Take care of routine maintenance: oil changes, belts, hoses, fluids, tires. The last thing you want is to call for emergency road service during an evacuation because a tire goes flat or a belt gives out.
TIRES: Make sure they are properly inflated and have good tread, including the spare. It's basic advice, of course, but it's especially important once the rainy season starts.
It's best to keep a full-size spare, but a doughnut is adequate. In fact, in an evacuation, a doughnut may be preferable, because you may need every square inch of trunk space for other emergency supplies.
JACK: Make sure you have a working jack and lug wrench, and make sure you know how to use them to fix a flat tire. A couple of cans of Fix-a-Flat or a similar product, a tire repair kit and a small air pump that plugs into your cigarette lighter will cost only a few dollars and won't take up much trunk space. There's likely to be a lot of debris on the road during a hurricane.
GAS CAN: Carry an empty gas can in case you run out of gas. Note the word "empty." Avoid the temptation to drive around with a full can. The danger from fumes far outweighs the advantage of a few extra gallons.
FULL TANK OF GAS: During hurricane season a full gas tank can be your best friend. When a storm draws near, gas stations will be jammed with people trying to fill up. Heavy weather can prevent tankers from resupplying the state's fuel supply and there may be spot shortages, or at least the rumors thereof, as there were in Hurricane Frances in 2004. It doesn't make sense to drive around trying to find an open gas station as a hurricane bears down. When you notice the gauge dipping toward half-full, pull in and fill up.
JUMPER CABLES: Be careful if you have to jump a battery in a storm. If the ground is wet, working with electricity is especially hazardous.
GARAGE DOOR: If the power is out, electric garage doors won't work. Learn how to open your door manually. If you don't have the strength to do this, park your car outside. But that leaves it vulnerable to windborne debris, which can shatter windshields or dent your car.
DRIVING THROUGH WA-TER: Avoid driving through deep puddles if at all possible. Water doesn't have to be especially deep to do damage. If it reaches the middle of your hubcaps, it's probably deep enough to get into your exhaust system or even into your car's interior.
It will usually go higher inside your engine compartment than outside your car, because it's an enclosed space. The fans on your engine can spray water around and foul your spark plugs or cause short circuits.
If your car stalls because water gets into the engine, or if it is flooded while it's parked, don't try to start it. Have the car checked by a mechanic to make sure there's no electrical damage and that air bags are operational. Replace all the vehicle's fluids.
[Last modified April 13, 2006, 16:10:11]
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