Common Roadside Jams, and How to Get Out of Them
Thank you to Valvoline for sponsoring this feature- Getting Your Hands Dirty: Engine Work The Way It’s Meant To Be
Any guy can find himself broken down or otherwise stuck on the side of the road. And while he may be adept at dealing with engine and car problems in his own garage, this article will focus on some of the mishaps than can happen away from that safe haven – from fixing a flat, putting a temporary fix on an overheating engine, to figuring out why the hell your car just won’t start.
Summer is coming, with its host of overheating and tire-related problems, just in time for America to hit the roads and go sight-seeing.
Car problems are a whole lot easier to take care of in the big city, where a trained professional is always a few short blocks away. Getting back on the road when this happens in America’s more scenic (remote) locales, however, is an adventure in its own right.
Here are some of the more frequent emergencies that might befall you while on your journey, and how you can handle them.
Your car’s cooling system gets hot under the collar
So you get caught on one of those blistering days and the engine temperature light is staring angrily at you. The first thing you can try is to slow down, roll down your windows, turn off the AC and turn on the heater full blast. This may not be comfortable, but it should draw heat away from your engine and help restore it to a safer temperature. If you do this and your engine still overheats, you are going to have to pull over and take the following course of action:
Make sure you are safely away from the passing traffic, and turn off the engine, and turn on your flashers. In cases where you are pulled over to the side of the road, it is a good idea to have a set of road flares to alert drivers to vehicles and people in the emergency lane.
Slowly pop the hood, and carefully sneak a peek, while looking out for hot steam or water spray. Check your coolant level in the overflow tank at the side of the engine, and if the level is low, add more coolant to the overflow tank with a 50/50 antifreeze/water mix. However, do not remove the radiator cap until your car cools down. Your coolant system is under pressure and you can get burned by spraying coolant.
If there’s a leak, can you tell where it’s coming from? If you find a leak in the upper radiator hose, you might be able to patch things up temporarily. If the hose is leaking near it’s end, you can cut the leaking part off, and re-clamp the hose in place. Regardless of the fix, you’ll need to replace the lost coolant.
Proceed on your way again slowly. Should the engine temperature light comes on again, stop and let things cool down, and repeat, until you get to a repair shop.
Your car battery is no longer in the land of the living
You’ve pulled over, and snapped a number of great Instagrams of the great outdoors, all by your lonesome. When you return to old reliable, turning the key does nothing. Maybe you’ve got a dead battery. You can either start walking, or take things into your own hands, if you’ve come prepared.
First you need to figure out if a dead battery is the reason why your car isn’t starting. If the engine makes a cranking noise when you turn the ignition, then the battery is not dead. If you turn the keys and the car does nothing or just clicks, then your battery is dead.
This is a time where the foresight to always carry jumper cables comes in handy. If you currently do not have jumper cables in your car, then you should go out and get some.
Try to flag down a kind stranger or a friend with a car to help you out. Once you both are parked safely with your cars close together and pop the hoods. Take your jumper cables, making sure the connectors are not touching each other, and connect the red (positive) jumper cable to positive terminal on the dead battery. Then connect the red (positive) jumper cable to the working car’s positive terminal of the battery. Once that is done, connect the black (negative) clamp to the negative terminal of the good battery. Then take the negative (black) clamp and connect to a clean, unpainted metal surface in the engine bay away from the dead battery. Do not connect the negative clamp directly to the negative terminal of the dead battery, as this could lead to an explosion.
If you’re going out into the wilderness in a car with a questionable battery, consider purchasing a battery booster. These little darlings are new to stores, and let you “jump” your own car when needed.
Once you are connected, start the car with the good battery and allow it to run for 2 to 3 minutes and then start the car with the dead battery. When your car finally cranks, allow it to continue running as you remove the cables in reverse order. (Dead battery black → Working black → working red → Dead battery red). Allow your car to run for at least 30 minutes so that it can recharge itself. If your car proceeds to lose charge, you may need a new battery or potentially a new alternator.
One of your tires is hissss-tory
Few things can make you feel more helpless on the road than getting a flat tire. It literally takes the air out of your day (or night). If you are all alone, you can either figure out how to swap out that spare, or can it.
Cans of tire sealant be stored in your car can save the day year-round. Simply pull over safely, remove your tire’s valve stem cap, screw the can onto the stem, and let it fill up your tire. When you can hear the can no longer filling your tire, unscrew the can and replace the valve stem cap.
Once you get the stem back on, get on the road immediately, because the product needs to circulate throughout the tire to work properly. Get to a tire shop immediately, and make sure you tell the repair technician that you repaired your flat tire with an aerosol, so they can depressurize the aerosol from tire properly.
Note: If your care has a Tire Pressure Management System (TPMS), check your car’s user manual or manufacturer’s website to see if you can use an aerosol to fix a flat tire.
Your car’s lug nuts just won’t let it go
Want to take the old-school route and change out that flat tire yourself? Why not, after all, that’s what the spare is for, right? A common problem, especially with cars driven in humid environments, is stuck lug nuts. Here’s a technique to loosen things up...
Place that lug wrench on a nut and point the crowbar end parallel to the ground, pointing to your left. Carefully hold the side of your car, and stand on the end of the wrench. If your weight doesn’t make things budge, make the wrench effectively longer (which adds more leverage) by slipping a section of thick pipe over its end, and try the standing option again. If you have a can of spray penetrating in the car, that can also help get things moving.
Car repair kit: The essentials
Want to make sure you have what you need to accomplish most emergency repairs?
Consider having the following in a repair kit in your trunk...
A ¼ -inch socket set (with both metric and SAE sockets), a combination Phillips/flat head screwdriver, plastic ties, various sized ring clamps, a rugged multi-tool, high pressure/temp rescue tape, electrical tape, carpet cutters, wire snips, pliers, locking pliers, needle nose pliers, a crescent wrench, a pocket knife, a flashlight and spare batteries, a battery booster, two cans of Fix-a-Flat (because yes, you can get two leaks at once), a gallon of water, a pre-mixed gallon of antifreeze, some wire, duct tape, and a few rags.
Always use care when trying to perform roadside emergency services. If you have a great roadside service through AAA or your insurer, always contact them first, especially if you have a mobile phone with a signal. They might be only a few minutes away, and a professional has tricks of his (or her) own to get you back on your journey.
Learn more about Valvoline’s line of products and services to keep your car on the road.