Stranded Roadside Motorists – 7 Traps to Avoid

30 million times each year, AAA receives trouble calls from stranded motorists that need roadside assistance.  The specific reasons that generate the calls are wide and varied, but aside from physical vehicle accidents, seven (7) categories of car trouble account for the majority of the calls.  Is there a common thread that is key to minimizing or avoiding most of the car problems on the list: Timely Maintenance.  David Bennett, manager of automotive programs at the national office of AAA says that “The best thing anyone can do for a vehicle is regular maintenance”.

1. Flat Tires
Bald or badly worn tires are plain dangerous because they can’t reliably bring your vehicle to a safe stop.  Inspect your tires regularly.  You can try the old coin test on your tires, but the wear bars or indicators built into the tire tread are the safest bet for an accurate reading.

Proper inflation is the second most important tire safety concern.  Get the correct pressure for your specific car from the placard visible on the door jamb when the driver’s door is open. You can boost your gas mileage by 3% or more and make the car safer as well by timely tire checks. Check the tire pressure when they’re cold for best accuracy.

2. Engine Trouble
Many things can cause engine troble. But usually they start with issues like a broken hose that’s leaking coolant…which in turn causes the engine to overheat.  So, proactively inspect belts and hoses, looking for cracks and peeling on the belts, or softening on the hoses.  Fluid levels is another vital sign of the engine to check regularly…i.e. oil, transmission fluid, coolant or antifreeze.

3. Battery Trouble
3 to 5 years is a general rule for expected battery life. But if you live and drive in extreme heat or cold…it could be less.  Best precaution for avoiding getting stranded by a dead battery is to make sure to have your battery checked during any safety inspection or other visit to a dealer or mechanic’s shop.  Warning signs include dim headlights or interior lights and power windows that move unusually slow.

4. Lockouts
The obvious, but simple solution: Get extra sets of keys and store them outside the car in your home and office.

5. Brake Trouble
Nothing is more critical to your safety than your brakes. Brake pads and rotors need to be checked at least twice a year.  Brake fluid does need to be changed every two to three years…RTFM…or check recommended time frame in your owner’s manual. Trouble signs: pulling to one side when you hit the brakes, squeaking or grinding noises and a brake pedal that feels too soft.

6. Running Out of Gas
If you like to live on the edge, you’re bound to go over a cliff every once in a while.  But when it comes to taking chances on making it to the next gas station when you’re driving at night or in a strange place…it’s not worth the risk to yourself and your passengers.


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Roadside Assistance Preparedness

It happens when you least expect it. You’re driving to the airport to pick up a family member when…BAM…the steering wheel suddenly jerks your hands hard to the left. You swerve, narrowly avoiding a car in the next lane…but manage to slow down and maneuver onto the shoulder of the freeway and stop the car. Your hands shake uncontrollably, but after 2-3 minutes you eventually catch your breath and start to think semi-rationally about what to do next. But what DO you do next? This hasn’t happened to you since you were back in college. After poking your head out the window, your see that your left front tire is the culprit…definitely flat.

Immediately you wonder, “Should I try to change the flat tire myself?…or just call a tow truck and have them do it?”. But you’re not exactly in the proper attire for a tire changing occasion, and quickly decide you’d probably hurt yourself or ruin your suit or dress. So tow truck it is! But did Roadside Assistance come with your Car Insurance Policy?…that’s right, it was about $5 a month extra. Did I actually buy that feature though? Nothing seems clear at the moment, so you say to yourself, “Crap, I’ll just call customer service at my insurance company and ask.” OR…”Crap, I’ll just Google it on my smart phone and see if it’s possible to get a towing company that can get here and help me fast enough to still get to the airport on time and pick up my brother.”

From that point on, it all boils down to three basic ideas:

  1. Having Your Information (insurance/roadside assistance membership) handy
  2. Describing Your Location
  3. Assessing Your Problem so the tow truck driver can know what to expect

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Towing & Roadside Assistance - Gilroy, CA