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Defensive Driving Tips

Years ago I took a Defensive Driving Course and many of the techniques stuck with me. Indeed, some of them probably kept me out of serious accidents. Here are a few of the common sense tips I learned:

  1. When traveling on a 4 lane or wider highway always stay in the right hand lane (at least in the good old USA) unless you are passing someone.

If an oncoming car loses control, and swerves across the median, the chances are that he will hit a vehicle in the left lane before hitting one in the right lane. So the right lane is the safest place to be. Always play the odds in your favor.

Along the same lines, if you're traveling in the left lane and someone coming towards you swerves across the line, you have very little time to react. This is how head-on collisions occur.

Curves are especially dangerous in this respect. The next time you are traveling around a curve on a road where there is no median, look at how worn the center line is. This is from cars crossing over into the oncoming lane. Be cautious, and stay to the right, especially on curves.

  1. When traveling on a multi-lane road always give yourself maneuvering room in case another car looses control. Don't drive along right next to another vehicle, especially big trucks. One false move and you could get tangled up under the wheels of an 18 wheeler.

The idea is to always have an escape area, or a space to the front, rear and sides of your vehicle. That way if something goes wrong you have a place to maneuver into to avoid crashing.

  1. Distance between you and the vehicle in front of you is absolutely critical. You must be able to maneuver, under control, if something happens to the vehicle in front of you.

This is especially true if you are traveling in the rain or snow. Allow yourself additional space if the road conditions are bad, because you can't stop as fast as you normally could.

When road conditions are bad you don't want to be in the position where you have to make a panic stop, because then you will lose control of your vehicle. You must be able to slow down gradually and under control.

If someone behind you gets impatient and passes you, simply back off and put an appropriate distance between you and them. It could save your life.

  1. Be very cautious at stop signs and traffic lights. Whenever you take off from a stop sign or a traffic light after stopping, always look for oncoming cars that may be turning in front of you, and for cross traffic from both directions on the street you are going to cross. Don't assume that someone is going to stop just because they have a red light or a stop sign. Don't pull out in front of them until you are sure they have committed to stopping or yielding the right-of-way to you.

Also, when you are driving down the road always be on the look out for drivers who may not stop at side streets or intersections where they have either a stop sign or a red light. When you see someone approaching, slow down and be ready to stop just in case they don't....and when slowing down always be aware of how close cars behind you are. You don't want to slow down too quickly with someone on your rear bumper.

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Maintenance is the key to a trouble-free vehicle

Most people take pride in owning a reliable, attractive car or truck. The key to keeping a vehicle dependable and aesthetically pleasing is a normal maintenance regimen. To some, taking their vehicle to the car wash every two weeks and to the quick-lube joint every 3,000 miles is their idea of routine maintenance. But cars and trucks need more than this to maintain their showroom appearance, to continue to run correctly, and to optimize the factory's safety features.
The car wash is a marginal way to keep a vehicle clean when you're in a hurry, but personal hands-on time is also necessary to protect the paint and to check parts and fluids. Most of the products discussed here are already in many people's garages. If not, you can obtain everything you need at the local auto parts store.

Belts & Hoses
Before starting any long trip or after every 50,000 miles of use, check all of the engine's accessory belts. Today, many cars are equipped with a serpentine belt that runs all of the accessories, so if that belt breaks, you can lose your power steering, water pump and charging system immediately. Inspect the engine and look at the belt (or belts) to see if there is visible damage, abnormal wear or small hairline cracks. Replace any belt that shows signs of wear. Even if a belt appears to be in good condition, it should be replaced every 50,000 miles as preventative maintenance.
Like belts, radiator and heater hoses are also made of rubber. Their condition should be checked periodically. Both the upper and lower radiator hoses can rupture from internal pressure and age without the driver knowing it. When that happens, the coolant spews out, and the engine can seize from excessive heat buildup.
In general, inspect all hoses for wear, including hairline cracks and soft, bulging spots. Hoses that come in contact with brackets or other metal parts are prone to wear in these areas. Even if the hoses pass visual inspection, we recommend changing all the water hoses every 50,000 miles.

Brakes
Your vehicle's most critical system is its brakes. Many people never look at the master cylinder until they have brake failure. In late-model vehicles, the master cylinders are often made of semi-opaque plastic that allows inspecting the fluid level without taking off the cover, as is the case with cast-iron master cylinders.
In addition to checking fluid level, look for leaks where the brake lines attach to the master cylinder and where the master cylinder bolts to the power booster. If you see signs of brake fluid, tighten the fittings using a line wrench on brake-line nuts to prevent against rounding off their shoulders. If the master cylinder is leaking at the rear, replace it.

In the interest of safety, periodically get under the vehicle and inspect the rubber hoses that go to the wheels for excessive wear or cracks; replace these hoses as necessary. Finally, check brake shoes and/or caliper pads regularly. Worn pads can damage the brake rotor or drum, turning a simple maintenance job into an expensive replacement procedure. For vehicles with disc brakes, replace the pads with whatever style the manufacturer recommends.

Lubrication
Adequate lubrication is one of the key factors in keeping your engine running well. The fluid level should be checked weekly, and the oil should be changed frequently (every 3,000 miles in older engines) to keep it clean. The most common effect of neglected oil inspection is an engine seize or some other type of catastrophic failure. Checking the oil level is a lot more convenient than replacing and engine.

Consult your owner's manual regarding oil-change intervals and lubricant specifications. We recommend using synthetic oil because it resists degradation better than conventional oil and stays cleaner longer. If you choose to use standard fossil oil, check your owner's manual for the recommended viscosity in various weather conditions. Temperature seriously affects your oil and its lubricating effectiveness, and using the incorrect weight—such as straight 30-weight in winter in cold country—can be harmful to the internal parts you're trying to protect.

Degreasers
Your engine compartment can be kept looking as good as the day you purchased the car by cleaning it once a month. Degreasing can be done when you wash the car.
A variety of engine cleaning products works extremely well, and some household degreasers are also effective. Spray the product on and let it soak in, then hose off the chemicals to reveal a sparkling-clean engine compartment. Your local auto parts store will have several biodegradable cleaners that are environmentally friendly. Read each label for the correct way to use the product prior to purchasing it.
As a side benefit, leaks and other problems are easier to spot in clean engine compartments.

Wash & Polish
All of the automotive paint manufactures have to meet current EPA standards, so automotive paints have been evolving over the past several years. New vehicles are painted with urethane products and most factories use two- and three-stage paints. As a result, it's important to use car-care products that are designed for these finishes. Carefully read the label prior to buying the wax or other surface treatment to assure paint compatibility.

Between wax applications, an instant-detailer product will supply a "wet" look to your finish as well as helping to protect it from the elements. If your finish is smooth and clean, use a pure carnuba wax with no cleaners. Read the label and follow the directions for the best results.

Glass Care
There's nothing worse, or more dangerous, than looking out of a dirty windshield. Dirty glass deflects the light and can make visibility dangerous at best, impossible at worst.
Many products do an excellent job of washing your windshield, and it's always advisable to wipe the product off with a paper towel that doesn't leave lint or streaks. Consider cleaning your windshield every morning, or at least use your automatic windshield washers before departing.
For surface scratches, glass-polishing products can usually make the windshield appear as good as new. Also, small rock chips and cracks can be sometimes successfully filled with resin repair kits from the auto parts store. Alternately, automotive glass shops and mobile-repair services can fill small chips and cracks so that they virtually disappear.

Wipers & Washers
The windshield wipers and washers are obviously very important parts of your car, and they need periodic maintenance. Windshield wiper blades should be replaced once a year to maintain a perfect seal against the glass. (Hardened rubber can scratch the glass surface and will not remove water effectively.) When replacing wiper blades, make sure that the refills are the exact same length as the OE ones. This will prevent metal-to-glass contact and the serious scratching that usually results.
The windshield washer reservoir should also be checked and filled with a cleaning product, not just water. Periodically use the washers to make sure they're functioning properly. Clogged squirt nozzles can be cleaned by clearing them with a small-gauge wire. If the problem is the electric pump on the washer-fluid reservoir, replace the pump. Driving in slushy snow or muddy rain can impair vision and require frequent use of the washers. Don't neglect this safety item.

Lights
Another safety-related aspect that should be checked periodically is the light system. With the exception of the bright-white halide-gas headlights on expensive new sports cars, many automotive lights are just bulbs, downsized versions of the ones in your house. As such, they do eventually burn out.
Periodically check the lights to make sure they're all working. Turn on your emergency flasher and see if all four lights flash. Then individually try the right and left turn signal to make sure they are working front and rear. Ask a friend to apply the brakes to see if the brake lights are functioning. Obviously, it's extremely dangerous to drive a car with faulty brake lights.
If any of the lights aren't working, replace that bulb. If the brake lights aren't working first check the bulbs, then the brake switch. If your dash lights are not functioning, check for burned out fuses, or for defective bulbs in older vehicles. For passenger safety, make sure that the courtesy lamps illuminate. Don't forget any underhood bulbs as well as the trunk lamp.

Interior
The interior of your car is not a storage area for empty cans and old french fries. It should be clean and well maintained. The carpets should be vacuumed, and the vinyl should be coated with a protectant periodically. For cloth interiors, many products are available at your auto parts store for shampooing and stain removal. Leather interiors require special conditioners to keep the skins soft and pliable.
Always read the application directions on the container. With today's technology, almost any type of interior problem can be solved with a specific cleaner. Always read the label and follow the directions exactly for optimum results. Sometimes surface preparation is required prior to applying stain remover or using other interior chemicals properly.

Joints
Although the undercarriage isn't as easy to inspect as the rest of the vehicle, it's just as vital. Underneath, all moving parts should be inspected and lubricated every few months. Areas to be particularly concerned with are driveshaft U-joints and, in front-wheel-drive cars, halfshafts and CV-joints. If you use a quick-lube place for oil changes, ask to have these joints inspected and lubed in conjunction with the oil change.
Fluid leaks are not only messy, they can be the warning of a larger problem to come. Have your wheel bearings inspected and repacked every 20,000 miles and all under-car fuel lines and brake lines looked at as well. It's easy to forget what you can't see, but some of the most critical items are underneath your car.

Tire Care
Many companies now offer spray-on tire-care products. Some people prefer the glossy-black look while others like a more natural semi-gloss black. Common soap pads can be used to clean white letters and to remove the brown brake dust from the sidewalls.
Most people are well aware that tire failures can be fatal. With this in mind, get in the habit of visually inspecting daily for sidewall bulges and checking air pressure at every gas stop. After all, a tire pressure gauge is a lot cheaper than a new set of tires.
Proper inflation pressure makes tires last longer, and it also improves the vehicle's fuel economy. Assuming that the wheels are properly aligned, under-inflation causes the tires' shoulders to wear faster than the centers, and over-inflation makes the center strips go bald earlier than the shoulders. Your owner's manual will recommend the correct pressure for your vehicle.
Assuming that the vehicle is aligned properly, inexpensive tires should last in excess of 30,000 miles; expensive brands often go over 50,000. Conversely, worn tires may work okay in dry weather, but they can become downright dangerous in the rain. Periodically inspect the sidewalls for cracking or splitting. Old tires, even with low mileage, can be dangerous because the rubber cracks and hardens over time. Any tire over five years old should be changed. Bottom line: Blowouts can be fatal!

Wheels
These days, almost all new vehicles (with the possible exceptions of econo-boxes and heavier-duty trucks) are factory-equipped with alloy wheels. Some of these wheels have a natural finish, some have a natural finish with a clear coating and some are powdercoated. Regardless, all eventually get caked with disc-brake dust and road grime.
At the parts store, it's important to select a cleaner that's designed for your wheel type. For example, clear-coated wheels should be cleaned with a different cleaner than natural-finish alloys or steel wheels. Check with your manufacturer for your specific wheel type and select the appropriate product.

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