Storm Track Auto Emergency Guide
By Tim Vasquez
Storm Track Online original
Storm chasing brings endless hours on the road, and odds are that you will be affected with a breakdown at some point. "Later" is not the time to get familiar with basic maintenance on your car! If you have a blowout on some abandoned farm-to-market road near Wheeler and find that your spare tire is flat, it is time to rethink your chasing priorities.
I strongly urge you to go to your auto parts store and buy a copy of a good repair manual for your car (such as Chilton's). This will help you through simple procedures and illustrate where certain parts are on your engine.
With that in mind, here are some basic but common solutions for solving most problems you're likely to encounter. If this doesn't help, open up the hood and look for any signs of damage or leaks. Always check your auto manual and follow all preventative maintenance procedures, particularly changing the oil and oil filter regularly!
Car will not start, engine does not even turn over
1. Dead battery. Check your headlamps or blow your
horn. Does anything work? If so, skip ahead. If not, it's
more than likely you have a dead battery. Here's where you'll
discover just how friendly the folks are out in west Texas.
Ask someone to help jump-start your car (this is when you WANT
to have jumper cables with you). Read your auto manual for the
full procedures on how to do this. Allow the engine to run at
least an hour before turning it off.
Car will not start, but engine turns over
1. Water droplets in the distributor cap.
All you need is a couple of them in there to keep the car from
starting. They can leak in by driving through large puddles or
can condense when driving from humid to cold air. You will need
to remove the distributor cap, dab the inside thoroughly with a
dry paper towel, and reassemble it.
The engine doesn't run anymore
Refer the section "Car doesn't start; engine turns over".
Vehicle gradually loses drive power, but engine runs fine
1. You may be leaking transmission fluid, due to a blown seal or some other problem in the transmission. You will need to stop before damage gets worse and add more fluid. Don't drive without doing this.
Alternator light comes on while driving
Your battery and alternator do virtually the same job, but the
alternator is what produces power when the engine is on, and it
recharges your battery for you. When the alternator light comes on,
the cause is usually one of two things -- your belt or your
alternator is broke. It also indicates that the battery is
being tasked with supplying all power for your car, something it
is not meant to do.
Oil light comes on while driving
1. You will cause irreparable damage to your engine if you keep
driving! STOP AND SHUT OFF THE ENGINE!
Your engine overheats while driving
1. Immediately turn off your air conditioner.
Flat tire or blowout
1. If you have only a minor flat, use your can of fix-a-flat.
This will inflate your tire, seal it, and get you on your way. When
possible, stop and have the tire inspected; you may have to get
a nail or some other object removed to prevent further damage.
I strongly suggest you carry one or more of the following items in your trunk. Out in the middle of west Texas you may be very thankful you had one of them!
This is the trunk of my 1986 Nissan Sentra. On the left is a bin containing oil, an emergency light, coolant, spare belts, and more. On the right is my toolbox, and in the back are my auto repair guides and jumper cables. Sure, my trunk isn't clean, but I'm prepared for those forgotten back roads.
Always check hoses and look for tears, bulges, or signs of fraying at connection points. If you're not sure, it probably needs to be replaced. This coolant hose is in good shape.
Corrosion on electrical connections is a major cause of mysterious problems. The wire brush at right comes in handy for cleaning most rust-covered connections. My battery posts here have a red tinge -- they are covered with a special compound that keeps scaly battery fume deposits from forming.
Check the "play" on your belts. They should strongly resist being deflected further than the width of your finger, but not immobile. Always do this with the engine off, unless you want to make a guest appearance on "Rescue 911", and if anyone's in the car, make sure they know not to turn the ignition.
Seek every opportunity to check oil levels. Here, the dipstick shows that I'll need to add another quart. Oil consumption rates help show the health of the engine. Oil on the dipstick should be syrupy and translucent, as shown here. When it becomes dark and tarry, you're overdue for an oil change.
Gapping the spark plugs is a handy skill to have and is quite easy. It will increase your mileage and help your engine run smoother. See your auto manual for details on how to do this. Remember not to overtighten spark plugs, and if they don't screw in all the way, never force them -- reinstall them and tighten again.