Stopping a Runaway Car

CAR AND DRIVER TIPS — Tip #10- Stopping a Runaway Car

In recent months news reports have surfaced of runaway cars complete with grisly details of accidents that have occurred as a result. In some cases police dispatchers can be heard offering counsel to those who automobiles are speeding down a highway out of control.

Even now automobile manufacturers are at work correcting this problem that has involved many vehicles. In some cases the auto’s engine has dropped back to slower speeds allowing the owner to bring it to a halt. In other instances more tragic results have occurred. [Read more…]

CAR AND DRIVER TIPS — Tip #9 Courtesy Is Critical

Everyone who drives has had at least one run-in with a discourteous driver.  In recent years experiences such as these had led to a new phenomenon called “Road Rage.” Sad to say, awful experiences as a result of outrageous acts perpetrated against other drivers have resulted in damage to property, injury to drivers and passengers and even death.

As one who had plied the highways and streets for more than fifty-eight years,  and having been a former discourteous driver, I can say with assurance that courtesy is critical to being a good safe and, yes, happy driver. [Read more…]

Tip #8 — Using Motion and Road Grade to Benefit Your Passengers.

Have you ever ridden with someone who seemed to think his or her car was a wild bronco with the drivers only responsibility being to hold the reins? Its a fun experience only if you are a young kid and the driver has promised to let you drive next!

Most passengers in a motorcar, I believe, appreciate a driver who is thoughtful of them. In fact, I honestly believe safety itself is a good reason to practice smooth driving. In this day of gasolines astronomical price rise, I am sure your fuel efficiency will improve, too, with the mastery of some simple but important principles of smooth driving. [Read more…]

Tip #7 – Soft Ground

Two days ago I was talking to a tow truck driver about his volume of calls this time of year. He said, a common call he receives in early spring is from homeowners who get stuck in their own yards.

I had a keen interest in what he was saying because, at the time, I was one of his statistics. Let me tell you how it happened.

I had just picked up my wife from work and was approaching our driveway when I spotted a number of trash objects which had accumulated in our yard just beyond the drive. I casually pulled down to where they were lying and eased up beside them. After exiting the car and picking up the trash items, mostly paper things, I returned to the car and instead of backing away and onto the pavement, I decided to loop around and head back toward the garage. Mistake!!

My “co-pilot” remarked as I made my turn, “This might be soft here.” Her words were terribly prophetic! Immediately the car mired down in front. Our Buick has front-wheel drive and is somewhat heavy. After a couple of attempts to “rock the car out,” I quickly gave up.

I think Jane was somewhat surprised that I capitulated after so brief a struggle. Well, we have a tractor in the garage with chains on the wheels. Had I used it to pull us out the back yard would have been cut to ribbons with enough holes to bury all the neighborhood dogs. I decided that was out. Then too, rapidly shifting back and forth is tough on a modern automatic transmission; a bit of an expensive risk.

It looked like a good opportunity to apply Car and Driver Tip #3, “Winching Your Car Out.” But, alas, I was not on a lonely road in the middle of nowhere. I was “on display” about thirty feet from a busy street. My efforts would have brought in neighbor guys and others and we would all have been up to our ears in mud in short order.

Actually, I surprised myself even, at the ease with which I went into the house and called a towing service. When the wrecker arrived he pulled up adjacent to the car and unrolled his winch cable and quickly attached it to the back axle. He made it look surprisingly easy as he hooked the winch in gear and slowly “wound me out.”

As I handed him my credit card, it occurred to me that I could have done worse. I remarked to him: “The only thing more embarrassing than getting stuck in your yard would be to get stuck in your neighbor’s!” He agreed.

So, my driving tip today is simply this: always inspect, on foot, ground that might be soft before pulling into it. Especially avoid pulling the drive wheels over such ground unnecessarily.

Picking up those three pieces of trash cost fifty bucks. I could have walked for them a lot cheaper. And today, my back, feet and legs are sore from shoveling and tramping the holes back into shape for spring mowing. Watch those soft places!

Tip #6- Highway Safety at Intersections

Many highway accidents occur at rural crossroads. I, personally, exercise great caution at these very closely at all times. I consider this incumbent upon me as a responsible driver for the sake of my passengers, those I am approaching and myself. Let me tell you some of the precautions I exercise and then give you an illustration of how this saved me from a major accident on one occasion.

To begin with, I always drive with my left foot just above the brake pedal. The only exception I allow myself is if I am on a rural freeway where traffic is light.

Some young people have told me that driver education teachers advise against this practice, saying that, in an emergency, one is likely to slam down the feet on both the brake and the accelerator if both feet are available. Certainly that is a possibility but I can only relate that I have had to make many emergency stops, always using my left foot for braking and it has never happened to me.

I will, however, relate in this article how driving with the left foot over the brake pedal did, indeed, help save me from a terrible accident. Before I do so, I want to make a few additional safety observations regarding approaching a rural intersection.

Some drivers seem to drive with their observation limited, as it were, to a couple of feet in front of the radiator cap. In other words, they do not pan the view very far out in front of them. I believe this is a critical error that, sooner or later, will probably result in an accident.

As I approach a crossroad I watch the traffic approaching the highway I am driving. I quickly note who is obligated to stop. If it is the cross-traffic I watch the action of the other driver or drivers to observe whether they are slowing to a stop. I usually glance at them several times to verify that they are intending to stop.

If I am uncertain that they are stopping, I begin to feather the accelerator of my vehicle to gradually reduce speed, including dropping out of speed control. To be perfectly blunt about it, I make sure that if the approaching driver “blows” the stop sign or signal that it is his vehicle that is going to be hit, rather than mine. Over the years, there have been a few cases in which I have come to a crawl to be sure I have avoided an accident.

Great care needs to be taken that someone following you, if you slow down in the manner I have just described, does not create a rear-end collision. But, if it comes to it, you must avoid a frontal crash and let the driver behind you do his best to comply with the law of driving within the “assured clear distance ahead.”

Now for my illustration: Years ago I was driving, with my wife in the front passenger seat beside me one late afternoon. We were in southern Michigan on a four-lane unlimited access highway. The traffic flow was moderate in both directions with a grassy median between the lanes, two in each direction.

I was panning the crossroads during this drive and there were numerous ones. Suddenly, in my vision to my left I caught sight of a Ford pick-up truck approaching a stop. In the instant I had at my disposal I realized the driver might have his vision of me obscured to some degree by the traffic passing toward me on the opposite side. I was being especially cautious.

The posted speed on this stretch of road is 55 MPH. I estimate that my speed was about 50 at the time in question. I remember placing my left foot on the brake pedal with no pressure but with conscious recognition that I might have to stop.

Suddenly, the pick-up disappeared from the spot I knew he had to be to observe a stop. In a heartbeat I glanced in the mirror to be sure no traffic was close behind or passing me. At that moment I knew the truck had to be a second or so away from blocking up my path. I instinctively hit the brakes. I was driving a full-size Plymouth sedan, a car of nearly two tons.

The pick-up flashed out in front of me. A young man was at the wheel and his female passenger was there in front of me, just a few feet from the front of my car with only her door for protection. My car was now in a full slide but remaining in a straight run. To the credit of the offending driver, he “poured on the coal.” As we continued our slide I was gratified to realize we would probably hit the truck in the front part of the bed just aft of the passenger compartment. But, no, as Providence would have it, his speed and my sliding to a stop combined for the nearest miss I have ever seen or experienced.

The lesson: maintain eternal vigilance on the highway. The life of somebody’s sweetheart may be in the balance. It might be yours.

Drive safely!

Tip #5 – Driving on Ice and Snow

You have probably seen television pictures of what happens to some drivers at the first snow of the season. Often these pictures will be of incidents and accidents in southerly areas where drivers seldom experience ice and snow driving.

The other day I saw one such picture. A mid-size car was shown, driving at a high rate of speed, and just going into a full spin-around. The car went in a full 360 -degree spin and more. Meanwhile, a huge semi-truck rig passed the spinning car, also at high speed. Thankfully- no crash!

Some years ago, I had just left my place of employment and was driving slowly and as carefully as I could over a very slippery and snow-covered roadway, a freeway, north to my home. Suddenly, as though out of nowhere, a young man, a work companion of mine, blew by me in his late model car like I was stopped.

At that point, we were approaching a curve. The turn at this curve is to the left, about forty degrees. The young man who passed me was almost on the turn when I saw his brake lights come on. At that moment his car went into a skid as he fought the wheel to make the car turn left. In moments he spun around backward and went into the right side guardrail with a mighty crash. He was okay but his dignity and his car were much the worse for wear!

Here are the four rules I practice on ice and snow:
Rule #1: Drive no more than 2/3 as fast as you are sure it is safe to drive.
Rule #2: Drive without using the brake pedal.
Rule #3: Drive without using the accelerator.
Rule #4: Drive without turning the steering wheel.

You say, “That is silly, you couldn’t make any time at all driving like that!”

What I mean, of course, with my four rules, is that every function of normal driving is to be ABSOLUTELY MINIMIZED. And, by the way, you are not driving on ice and snow to make good time. You are driving to keep everybody alive and to get where you are going shiny side up.

Drive Safely.

TIP #4 – Dealing With a Flat Tire on the Highway

In years gone by, the situation on the highway was much different than it is now. As a young sailor, I hitchhiked many hundreds of miles. Later, driving on the open highway, when I had a problem, I wasn’t greatly alarmed. Even with my family with me, I felt little sense of danger.

Things are different these days. To be sure, there are many “Good Samaritan” folk on the roads today and some of them have helped me. I have helped others over the years. But, due to an increased crime rate and a very independent public, hurrying on their way, a car problem on the open highway can be a serious matter.

Though automobiles are much more dependable these days and problems fewer, a flat tire is still not an uncommon experience. Here is how I recommend such a problem be handled. If you are a man in good health and acquainted with you car and tire changing techniques you may not want to follow my advice here. But for older folk and women traveling alone, here is what I recommend.

When you have a car disabled with a flat tire you can, of course, pull to the side of the road, place a white cloth out your window or raise your car hood and hope for help. If you have a phone with you, then you can try to contact a tow truck or gain help some other way. Here is the problem: While you await help, you do not have your choice as to who stops and offers “assistance.”

If it is nighttime or on a lonely stretch of highway, you may be in some danger. I do not recommend that you remain stopped and wait for help. Most highways, particularly major ones, have a wide paved berm. Often they are striped to indicate that they are to be used for emergencies only. When you realize you may have a flat tire, of course, you will want to pull safely to the right onto the berm and, with your emergency flashers activated, carefully inspect for the problem.

As an alternative to simply waiting for someone to appear who may or may not have your best interests in mind, when you have a tire problem, here is what I have taught my wife to do: With your emergency lights activated and staying well clear of the driving lane, drive your car very slowly to a point you are sure is safe to exit the car. You may ask, “Won’t that ruin the tire?” Yes, the tire, in such cases is finished. However, very often driving only to a stop from highway speeds on a flat tire will already have ruined the tire. You and your safety are more important than a $50 tire.

If you sense you are far from an interchange where you may obtain help, you may have to drive some distance on a flat tire. The two most important things are: 1) Drive very, very slowly. Two or three miles per hour is still progress. Any schedule you previously had is now a thing of the past. Your present safety is the issue. 2) Be absolutely sure you do not interfere with traffic in any way. Your full and most vigilant attention must be given to this emergency driving. Stay as far from the driving lane as you can.

If you encounter a law-enforcement officer during your emergency drive, he or she will offer help which you should accept. If you are approached by someone appearing to be law enforcement but with a vehicle that is not so marked, I would, myself, not stop. Anyone can buy a flashing red light. Unfortunately, there are criminal-types who masquerade as “helpers” who ply the highways for victims. Rather than being one of them, it would be better to look unappreciative to a well-meaning stranger, if it comes to that.

“But I could damage the wheel rim too, couldn’t I?” Yes, you could but unless you had to drive a good number of miles, you can control the car at very slow speeds without much collateral damage. For my part, I would greatly prefer a ruined tire and a damaged rim to what might happen should my wife stop and ask help from the wrong person!

Drive safely!

Tip #3 ” Winching” Your Car Out


The tragic death this past week (December 6, 2006) of Mr. James Kim of Oregon gives focus for a suggestion you can use to save yourself when your car is stuck in mud or snow.

After several days of waiting at the site of their automobile at a road junction where its wheels had become stuck, Mr. Kim struck off across country for help. He walked about nine miles but became lost and his body was later found less than a mile from the family car. James’s heroism is most commendable, of course. His family is justly proud of his sacrifice.

From the numerous news reports and photos I have studied, I believe the Kim family could have extricated themselves from the dire situation in which they found themselves, using only the things they had at hand.

The Kim family had the car’s jack which they obviously used because they burned, one by one, the car’s tires to attract attention. Oddly enough, their jack was the key to their own rescue, in all probability.

This is what you should attempt to do to get your vehicle onto solid footing. Carefully survey the situation around the car, paying close attention to the most likely place into which you will try to maneuver your car to get it out of its stuck condition. You can use the jack as a kind of “winch” to “walk” the car out of the mud, snow, etc. Determine the closest point to which you intend to move your car, especially the drive wheels.

Assuming the footing for your car’s jack base is firm enough to support the weight of the car, position the jack at the recommended jacking point nearest the wheel that is stuck. If the car is on a grade, a chunk of wood or other object should be placed on the grade side of a wheel at the opposite end of your vehicle from the wheel you are jacking. The shift lever should be put in “neutral.” If the jack’s base starts to sink into the ground as you jack, let the car back down and find twigs and small stones or other objects to place under the base to support it.

There is an element of danger in what I am suggesting so great care for yourself and your passengers should be observed at every point. After all, this is an emergency measure of last resort.

If you have one or more able-bodied passengers with you, their help can be crucial to your success. Before you begin jacking, position all those passengers side by side so they can push your vehicle in the direction you need to go. Have them take a firm stance with feet and legs away from the car as much as possible. Now begin raising the car on the jack.

Raise the car as high as you can as you extend the jack out. The vehicle will become somewhat unstable as you raise the car. When you have reached what you believe to be the highest point you can safely raise the car, pull the jack handle from the jack carefully and join your passengers on the side of the car (or front or rear, depending on which way you intend to go). On a given signal push the car off the jack using as much force as possible. With a little practice the car will move over on the stuck end anywhere from a few inches to maybe a foot.

Retrieve the jack and begin the process all over again. You may need to improvise, even to the point of jacking the other end of the car and pushing that end toward your desired safe point. This process is slow, but it will work.

Some years ago, I pulled off a paved road to turn around in an area I thought was “high and dry.” I was wrong and found myself stuck in mud about fifteen feet from the dry road. I began the process I have described above. After about an hour of working I had moved the car approximately four feet. In another two hours I would have reached dry ground.

During my work to extricate the car a truck passed by and, seeing my difficulty, the driver used a tow cord and from the dry highway, pulled me out.

I believe the Kim family could have saved themselves by using this self-winching method I have described. They had time, reasonable weather in which to work, an operable automobile and plenty of wood and limbs around them by which to create a base over which to move the car.

Why not copy this article and put it in your car’s glove compartment and then hope and pray you never have to use it. But, if all else fails you can!

Tip #2 – Acceleration and Stopping

Over the years of my driving career, now spanning well over five decades, hundreds of cars have passed me in parallel lanes in order to speed to the traffic signal ahead. Arriving there, the drivers await the instant the light changes to green in order to heavily accelerate toward the next light. Not good!

As you drive in such conditions, it is good to scan the panorama ahead. There are ample opportunities to save money as well as to drive with an increased measure of safety. Watching the traffic flow will allow you to adjust your acceleration with a view to using the accelerator and brake pedal lightly and sparingly. With a little practice you can accomplish this with scant notice to those driving near you. I assure you, however, that your gasoline bill will be an object of notice. It will go down.

There are additional benefits too. Every use of the brake pedal puts a measure of wear on the brake system. “Stopping on a dime” is expensive. Most brake shoes or pads wear more quickly on the front wheels. Crunching stops carry with them a demand for more braking power. Such stops wear brake surfaces far more than more gradual ones. Allowing yourself to drive with such habits costs money. Perhaps more important, it lulls the driver into forgetting that driving in such a manner on slippery surfaces can easily result in an accident.

Actually, what I am suggesting is merely an extension of an existing traffic law within most states. It is called “driving within the assured clear distance.” It is unlawful to drive, ever, in a manner such as to be unable to bring one’s vehicle to a safe stop due to the lawful actions of other drivers moving before you. “Jack rabbit starts” and spectacular stops will eventually lead such a driver into an unsafe situation that will probably result in an accident.

Finally, there is another benefit. Your passengers will enjoy their ride with you as you drive in a consistent manner that displays care, smoothness and predictability. On the other hand, we have all probably had the misfortune to ride with a driver whose habits throw his passengers around on the seats and lead to “white knuckle” experiences.

Try driving for a week as though there were eggs atop your accelerator and brake pedal and see if you don’t experience a pleasant difference. I’m sure your regular passengers will!

Tip #1- Tire Pressure

Tip #1- Tire Pressure

You can be sure fuel prices will never be a real bargain again such as we have known here in America for the past many years. Oil rich countries will see to that. Therefore, we need to be wise stewards of the use of our vehicles.

Let me give you a tip on what I have done to add a touch of economy to my fuel usage. The discount houses such as Wal Mart and Meijer, carry small air compressors for inflating tires. A fairly nice one costs about $18.00. I bought one and have put it to good use.

About every six to eight weeks, I attach it to the cigar lighter in the car and use it to adjust the air in the car tires. It comes equipped with a built in gauge that allows it to shut down when the compressor has inflated to the level you desire.

You can use your auto manual to look up the recommended tire pressure for your tires. If that doesn’t work, call a tire shop indicating the size of your tires (printed on the tire wall) and they will give you a recommended pressure for setting the gauge on your tire compressor. I usually set mine a pound or two higher to allow for any air that escapes when you disconnect the inflation head from your tire. ( Typical tire size: P 205-75-15.)

Any tire shop can verify that a contributing factor to poor gasoline mileage is under-inflated tires. Also, the tires themselves wear out more quickly when under-inflated. If you do your homework here, you can save the price of the inflation compressor in a year or less. Not only that, but the compressor has a build-in trouble light you are sure to need sometime. Don’t spend when you can save!