Whether on a vacation trip on just going to the store for milk, there's not much good to experiencing a mishap that leaves your car immobile by the side of road.
Dozens of impacts can lead to a breakdown. Accidents happen. The ignition burns out. A shroud of fog rolls in. Or, to great embarrassment, the highway patrol catches you speeding at 56 mph while Sammy Hagar's "I Can't Drive 55" blasts on the audio system.
Yet these incidents are out of your hands, something only a technician would diagnose, an act of nature or a behavioral slip-up.
They aren't the kind of cases the driver could avoid through regular maintenance, being aware of warning signs or realizing that some parts should only be treated by someone with a special computer and an IT degree.
The automotive layman can deal with a few accessories once learning a few tips, applying elbow grease and using common sense. They involve such disparate accessories as tires, batteries and brakes that are crucial to the car's operation, can be fixed or monitored closely and likely won't burn a hole in the motorist's pocket keeping them in tip-top shape.
Here's a closer look:
Tires. "Your tires have a tough gig. From maneuvering around potholes to navigating through bumpy construction zones, your tires take it all on just to get you from point A to point B. Sometimes they make it out unharmed… other times, not so much," Firestone pointed out on its extensive "complete car care" blog.
The website cites at least five reasons for flat tires They include bad road conditions such as uneven paving, potholes and debris that can damage tires. Another trouble area involves heat, such as summer temperatures that cause the internal pressure to expand. "Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems measure your tires when they become underinflated – not overinflated – so don’t wait for your dashboard light to pop on like it tends to do on cold winter mornings," according to the blog.
Valve stem leakage can be a "culprit" and not as easy to notice as a hole in the rubber. "The valve stem is the part of the tire that you unscrew when adding air. Any damage or even dirt on this small piece could cause your tire to lose air until it’s completely flat," Firestone noted. A repair shop can inspect, fix or replace the stem.
Once in awhile, the tires fail due to normal wear and tear, the tire company says. "As you drive, the tread on your tires gradually wears down. This can make your tires more vulnerable to the typical hazards of daily driving – in other words, more likely to go flat," it said.
The driver can take preventive steps to reduce wear such as avoiding fast stops and starts and making sure the tires are at the recommended pressure. Regularly rotating the tires ensures they aren't always in the same spot and susceptible to more or less wear depending on road conditions or on the bump-altered direction of the wheels -- which should be aligned on a regular basis.
Brakes. Motorists can often tell something's wrong with the brakes when they don't seem as responsive or are squishy. They also can be notified when a computerized brake light on the dashboard comes on.
"Ignoring this dashboard light could prove to be downright dangerous. After all, the purpose of a warning light is to alert you to an issue you might not notice otherwise," Firestone explained.
The issues can range from seemingly minor to serious. For instance, the parking brake could be engaged, and can be released with the pull or lowering of a handle. At the same time, driving with the parking brake on can damage the pads and rotors.
A more problematic warning is the brake fluid is low. "A red light that flashes on and off could signal low/almost empty brake fluid, but also a serious issue with the brake’s hydraulic system. If the light comes on and stays on, you could end up with a potentially catastrophic (and costly) brake failure," according to Firestone.
Another serious warning is malfunction with the anti-lock brake system, which helps prevent the wheels from locking up and tires from losing traction in slippery situations. A shop can perform a diagnostic test to see if it's an electrical malfunction with the brake light or an ABS problem.
A lesser but still important issue is the brake light bulbs burning out. "To check for this problem, have a friend stand where they can see the back of your car as you press down on the brake pedal. If both bright red brake lights aren’t coming on, you’ve identified the problem," the tire company said.
Batteries: There are "warning signs that may indicate your battery is on the fritz," Firestone pointed out.They include a slow engine crank when the ignition start is sluggish and takes longer than normal, the check engine light coming on when the battery is weak, a low battery-fluid level, a swelling and bloating battery case, a battery leak that causes corrosion build-up around the + and - cable connections, and old age -- check batteries at least at the three year old mark.
Batteries can be kept charged up while traveling, which save times and money, by driving faster than 60 mph.One injury-avoiding tip when charging a car with manual cable: "don't connect the black cable to the negative terminal, as that could also cause an explosion," Firestone warned.
Motorists can clean the car battery, say in the spring, so that it will last longer. Tools and accessories should include latex gloves and safety goggles, an adjustable wrench and a wire brush and baking soda, water, and a towel.