A colleague was sharing her recent experience of driving over a curb which lacerated her tire. She called AAA, and a tow truck driver towed her car to a repair shop.
While riding in the tow truck with the driver she shared an interesting conversation about how the majority of the calls the driver responds to are from stranded motorists who could have prevented their situation with a modicum of planning and foresight. And common sense.
Here are five things her tow truck driver said he wished all drivers would be mindful of to help them avoid the hassle of having to have their cars towed.
1. E does not mean Everywhere
When your fuel gauge is on E, stop and get gas. Better yet, he advised, get gas when you have a quarter of a tank left. First, running out of gas can be unsafe in today’s cars because when the engine quits so does your ability to steer the car. He added that running out of gas can be damaging to your engine too because the sediment that settles to the bottom of your gas tank can get sucked into the engine and possibly cause the fuel line to freeze. Fixing that is a lot more expensive than a tank of gas.
2. If your Check Engine light comes on…
…check your engine. The driver emphasized that this distress call represents the majority of calls he receives. He likened the Check Engine light to a toothache. If you ignore it, it can get worse, cause more problems, and potentially be more expensive to fix. This type of call could almost always have been avoided in the first place, he added. If your Check Engine lights illuminates, he advised, first pull over in a safe place and check to see if your gas cap is loose. (A loose cap sends an error message to the car’s computer.) If the gas cap is loose tighten it and continue driving. The light should eventually go off. If it does not, get your engine checked by a qualified mechanic as soon as possible.
3. Locking your keys in the car
Who has not forgotten their keys, misplaced them, or locked them in the car? The tow truck driver offered what he referred to as a “no brainer” solution that costs less than $5.00. He suggests purchasing a magnetic key holder and affixing it underneath the rear bumper of your car. This simple device can save you the time and headache of having to call AAA, or the expense of summoning a locksmith.
4. Dead battery is easy to prevent
The tow truck driver said that when he tows cars with a dead battery, the owners will often seem surprised that the battery died. He said he usually askes them one question, “Have you noticed your car has been hard to crank or turn over lately?” That is the first sign that you need to replace your car battery. There are other signs too, but they may not always indicate a battery drawing its final few breaths. They are worth mentioning: an engine that cranks but won’t start; an engine that starts intermittently; an engine that has trouble starting in cold weather; having to have the car jumped frequently. If you see any of these signs, take your car to have the battery’s charge tested. If the voltage is low it’s time for a new battery.
5. Worn tires need replacing sooner than you think
If you have a penny you can ascertain whether your tires are worn or bald. Place your penny head first into some of the tread grooves on your tire. If you see the top of Lincoln’s head, your treads are shallow and worn and probably need replacing. Bald tires are particularly dangerous because of the potential for shredding and blow outs, which can cause an accident. And they are more likely to hydroplane in wet weather. Additionally, when there is less tread there is less traction to grip the road when braking and in wintry weather. For less than $5.00 you can purchase a tire tread depth gauge to more accurately measure your tread. A tire is considered bald when one or more of the treads shows 2/32 of an inch. Interestingly, consumerreports.org considers tires unsafe before you can see the top of Lincoln’s head. They say that tires can give up a significant amount of grip even at the halfway point, and they suggest replacing your tires when the tread reaches 4/32 of an inch.
“Move over/slow down”
It’s the law in North Carolina to move over and slow down when you see an emergency vehicle with lights flashing on the side of the road. If you’re on a four-lane highway you are required to move to the inner most lane of that highway. If you’re on a two-lane, road you’re supposed to come to either a complete stop, go left of center, or reduce your speed. This tow truck driver had been a firefighter before he decided to drive a tow truck as a result of an injury he suffered while fighting a fire. He said sometimes being on the side of the road with cars and trucks whizzing by too closely can be more frightening than running into a burning building. At least there’s some predictability in fighting fires. With all the distracted drivers on the road, he said he never knows when someone might crash into him because they are distracted.
I hope you have learned as much as I did from this tow truck driver’s experiences and common-sense advice. While there will always be emergency situations that may call for a tow truck, at least these five non-emergency situations can sometimes be prevented with a little planning.