I spent most of my 20s as an auto technician in oil change shops helping people maintain their cars. Changing oil and auto fluids, mounting, rotating and balancing tires, and overall vehicle cleanliness were second nature to me — right down to hanging the little pine tree air fresheners… unfortunately it wasn’t to a lot of my clientele. I soon got a blinding understanding of how many people were totally unprepared for disaster in their vehicle. Oh, the stories I could tell.
If disaster were to strike, and you had to get in your car and leave right now, how long would it take you? What would you have to grab on the way out the door? What if you’re already in your car when disaster strikes? Would you be ready? These 4 simple tips for vehicle preparedness could save your life!
Tip #1 – Never Let Your Gas Tank Get Below Half-Full
In our family, it has become a habit to keep our gas tanks over half full. There’s an urban legend that says your gas mileage drops when you’re at 1/4 of a tank, so we’ve always figured it helps out gas mileage. Whether or not it actually does doesn’t matter to us, we always know we’re not going to run out. Also, we never have to pay an arm and a leg at one time to fill our tank.
But what’s the survival advantage? If you’re in an emergency situation at any time, you know you can probably go wherever you need to go without having to stop for gas. It’s also not one of those situations where you have to stop to get gas before you actually “get on the road.” If SHTF were to go down, and you had to bug-out somewhere right now, and you were sitting on empty, you’d have to get gas before you did anything else. You’ve already put yourself 15-30 minutes behind schedule getting wherever you have to go. Now you’ve compounded the emergency with added stress.
Then you have to think about things like a massive power outage. If the power’s out, the pumps won’t work. No pumps, no gas, and you’re stuck like Chuck.
The bottom line here is keep your gas tank above half a tank. Even if you’re tired after a long day, and you see that you’re going below half of a tank, stop anyway. Get your tank full, and rest easy knowing you don’t have to stop in the morning. Just in case, though, get yourself a 1 gallon gas can to keep in your car.
Tip #2 – Keep Your Car Maintenance Up-to-Date
During my time working in and running oil change shops, I saw a lot of problems with cars that stemmed directly from people failing to maintain their vehicles properly. The biggest problem is when you haven’t performed any maintenance on your car, the problems arising in your engine, transmission or other car part may not be evident until after you get the maintenance done.
For example, if you have a car with high mileage, and you haven’t been changing the oil regularly, you may not know there’s a leak somewhere until after you get your oil changed. Why? Well, the carbon build-up and metal shavings in the oil tend to block minor oil leaks. Once the oil has been changed, and you run your engine for a few days, you may notice the leak. The new, fresh oil will collect the old gunk and wash it away from the leak site causing oil to drip from one area or another, or worse — from multiple locations.
The same can be said about your transmission, differentials, and radiator. Look in your owner’s manual to see the recommended mileage to get your oil changed. Typically it will be every 3,000 – 5,000 miles. Find a mechanic or lube shop that you trust and build a reputation with the technicians and the manager. Get to know them like you get to know your doctor. The more you talk with them and learn from them, the better they will take care of you down the road. If you do your maintenance yourself, keep track of when you do your maintenance.
In an emergency situation, a poorly maintained car may break down before you get to where you’re going. Now you have to find a ride the rest of the way and figure out how to get your car back to your mechanic’s shop, pay for expensive repairs, and then figure out how to get home. Emergency effectively expanded exponentially (say that five times fast).
Change your fluids, keep your tires aired up, rotated and balanced, and change your air, oil and fuel filters regularly. Not only will your vehicle last you a lot longer, but you’ll get better gas mileage too. The resale value on a well maintained vehicle with records kept will also be much higher than one that hasn’t had the oil changed in 2 years.
Tip #3 – Be Aware of Your Surroundings
People usually talk about this the most around the holidays, specifically to women, but it should be important to everyone 365 days a year. Car jackers are coming up with new and creative ways of getting you out of your car while the keys are in the ignition. People put fake $100 bills on the back window or under the passenger side wiper blade. You get in your car, start it up, and then you see it. You put the car in park, get out (leaving the door open) and run around to get what you think is an easy payday. Meanwhile, the culprit is already sitting in your driver’s seat, locking the doors and driving away with your car (and most likely, your purse, too, ladies).
Pay attention to everything. When you’re approaching your car (even in your own driveway), walk around your car so that you can see all sides (it wouldn’t hurt to glance at your tires, too, to be sure you don’t have a flat). Peer into your back seat, look at your windshields and mirrors before you get in. Then, when you get in, lock the doors immediately. Don’t open the door or roll down the window for someone you don’t know. Never, ever get out of the car in an unfamiliar area. I know that sounds awful paranoid, but if more people were more aware, less people would have horror stories to tell about their car being stolen.
Tip #4 – Keep an Emergency Survival Kit in Your Car
By now, you’re used to hearing about 72 hour kits, bug-out bags, go-bags, GOOD bags (Get Out Of Dodge), INCH bags (I’m Not Coming Home) and EDC bags (Every Day Carry). You should be familiar with the basics of what to put in an emergency survival kit, but you need to also think about being inside your car, the dangers of driving, and what might happen if you have a wreck.
Cell phone chargers, jumper cables, road flares and an emergency escape tool should all be on your list. Of course you’ll want water (both for drinking and possibly pouring into your radiator), a change of clothing and some spare cash handy. We usually keep $10 – $20 in a hidden spot in our vehicles. You will also want to think about the season. You might not need 3 blankets in the summer time, but you shouldn’t be without them in the winter. If nothing else, you should always keep one or two of these mylar emergency blankets in your car.
Common Sense Vehicle Preparedness
Probably the biggest thing to remember is that common sense should get you out of any situation. Knowledge weighs nothing, remember? Know the route you are traveling daily, and be even more aware of your surroundings in unfamiliar places. Keep your car maintained and some tools handy just in case. And ALWAYS keep your phone charged and near you. If nothing else, 911 is only 3 numbers to dial.