By Alex Perdikis
You don’t like to think about experiencing a driving emergency but every driver deals with some kind of unexpected event over the course of a driving career. It could be something as minor as a flat tire or something more frightening like being stranded on a snowy highway for hours.
“It’s important to prepare yourself mentally and physically beforehand to handle emergencies both large and small.” — Alex Perdikis
Before You Rev It Up: Get Ready
Mother Nature, other drivers and odd events can put you in a place you never imagined. But, before you head out on the road, there are steps you can take to increase your safety even if the unexpected happens.
First, evaluate your car. Are you keeping up with routine maintenance? Examine the following checklist and take care of anything you’ve neglected.
- Check your tires. Are they inflated to the correct tire pressure recommended for your make and model? Have you had the tires rotated? Are your tires worn? Do they need replacing?
- Check the belts and hoses. Maintain and replace engine belts as needed.
- Check your wiper blades. Replace if worn.
- Check all vital fluid levels. Maintain proper levels and fill when required.
- Check all lights, including headlights, turn signal lights and taillights.
- Check your battery and connections. Replace the battery if you notice slow engine cranks, you see leakage or, as a general rule, replace every three years.
- Check your spare tire. Is it functional? Do you have all the necessary equipment you need to change a flat if you have to?
The next step in your preparedness plan is to pack an emergency kit to keep in your vehicle. You can purchase pre-made kits, but putting one together yourself has its advantages. You’ll know exactly what’s in your kit if you put it together yourself and you’ll be able to customize it to fit your individual needs. Here’s a basic list of items to pack:
- First Aid Kit: Again, you can purchase pre-made kits or put the kit together yourself. Include band-aids, hand sanitizer, antiseptic, antibiotic ointment, cotton balls, gauze, insect spray, tweezers and an Ace bandage. If you have specific medical requirements, include a supply of medications you’ll need if you’re stranded for a long period of time.
- Fire Extinguisher: Choose an easily packed extinguisher with a small footprint.
- Car Essentials: Include jumper cables, ice scraper, cat litter for traction and road flares.
- Flashlights and Extra Batteries: You can’t have enough light if you’re stranded in the dark.
- Drinking Water and Non-Perishable Snacks: Choose high-calorie snacks that’ll keep you warm and full.
- Toilet Paper and Baby Wipes: Both help you stay clean and are multipurpose.
- Blankets and Extra Clothing: Stay warm and dry with warming blankets and extra clothing.
- Cheap Cellphone and Charger: Purchase an inexpensive prepaid cell phone and keep it active to use in an emergency.
Pack your emergency kit in a clear plastic box, preferably a box that lets you pack everything in a single layer so you don’t have to rummage around to find something. Make sure the lid is secure. Keep track of what’s in your kit and replace outdated or used items as soon as possible.
On the Road
The car’s in great shape and you have your emergency kit packed up. Before you head out, make sure your phone is fully charged. Check the weather reports. Is there snow or heavy rain in the forecast? Get gas before heading for the highway if your tank isn’t full. Mentally prepare yourself for the road conditions you’ll encounter.
Unfortunately, you can’t plan away every scenario. Imagine you’re on a jam-packed highway and up ahead there’s an accident or a road closure. If you find yourself trapped between cars on a highway, you may be in for a long haul. Or you may, for whatever reason, find yourself in at the side of the highway awaiting rescue. What should you do?
- Let someone know where you are. Call work if you’re late, family members to let them know where you are and report your situation to law enforcement.
- Turn the car off. If you know you’ll be stuck for hours, don’t waste gas idling. Only turn the car on for heat as needed until traffic is moving again.
- In snow? Check your tailpipe. If your tailpipe is obstructed, carbon monoxide can leak into your car and kill you. Clear any snow or ice from your tailpipe. It’s a simple check that can save your life. Check periodically to watch for ice formation or blockages.
- If you’ve been forewarned about icy or snowy road conditions, choose your path wisely. In some cases, using local roads instead of the highway is a better choice. If you drive on the highway in snow or ice, leave yourself plenty of room to navigate if traffic stops. You may be able to turn around or get off the highway at some point, but if you tailgated and are packed in tight with other vehicles, you’ll be stuck for awhile.
As always, follow the directions of law enforcement. With preparation and a little patience, a vehicle emergency can be managed, you’ll come out just fine and you’ll have a great story to tell.
Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.