Auto Maintenance Basics: Alignment

There are a handful of things that we’re told we need to maintain to keep our cars in shape, some of which we have to know, like filling the gas tank, but others that may slip through the cracks. Tire alignment is one of those things that we may have heard of, but it’s not always at the top of the to-do list.

Do you know what a tire alignment is, what it does for your car, or why it’s important? Check out our list of tire alignment basics below.

What is a tire alignment?

A tire alignment is an adjustment to the suspension and steering system, which is what connects the wheels to the rest of the vehicle. The adjustment performed during an alignment ensures that when the steering wheel is centered, the wheels are straight so the vehicle goes straight forward. When the steering wheel turns to the right, so do the tires and so does the vehicle.

How can you tell when an alignment is needed?

Your vehicle will give you signs when it needs an alignment, so keep an eye out for the following.

  • The steering wheel vibrates while the car is moving, especially at higher speeds,
  • The steering wheel is off center when driving straight, or the car veers to the right or left when the steering wheel is straight,
  • The tread on your tires is wearing unevenly, or
  • You notice the vehicle pulling to one side as you drive.

Why does my car need to be aligned?

Alignments are one of those things that are really important, but you may not know it unless you know cars well.

Proper alignment improves the life of your tires, saving you money on replacements. Misaligned tires are susceptible to uneven tread wear, which means they’ll need to be replaced sooner. Regular alignments keep your tires even (when they’re also balanced, rotated, and properly inflated) and they last longer.

Proper alignment gives the driver control over the vehicle, increasing safety of the vehicle.  When the tires aren’t aligned right, the steering on the vehicle is less accurate, which impairs the driver’s ability to control the direction of the vehicle. Especially in an accident, it’s crucial for a driver to have control!

Proper alignment gives you a comfortable ride. In addition to being safer, properly aligned tires allow for a smoother ride. The tires are rolling as they’re designed to, they’re not vibrating, and there will be fewer bumps when the suspension system is maintained.

 

How to Handle an Out of State Road Trip Car Accident

Car accidents are stressful at any time of the year, in any weather, no matter where you’re driving. But during the summer, with so many more drivers on the road, driving in unfamiliar places, an out of state car accident is much more likely!

Do you know what to do when you’re in an accident out of state? Do you know if your insurance covers you when you’re out of state? What about finding a new auto repair shop, or visiting a doctor?

Auto Insurance Check-Up

Before you embark on a road trip, call your auto insurance company to verify that they cover you where you’re going. Most policies cover you in the 48 contiguous states. Your insurance company can provide you with out-of-state policy details.

Traffic Laws Check-Up

Do a quick google for the states you’ll be driving through and verify that the traffic laws are the same. It is unlikely that they’ll be much different, but some states do have varied laws. Keep an eye out for road signs while you’re there!

Document your Accident Thoroughly and Immediately

You are in a new place, you’re not a local, and it won’t be as easy for you to get information and documentation later as it would if you were home.

  • Call the police and make a police report. Make sure to get a copy or have one sent to you as soon as possible.
  • Get the contact and insurance information from the other driver and make sure it is accurate. Write down their license plate number and vehicle make and model.
  • Take photos of the scene, including the street signs, the vehicles, the location, and any people who are nearby.
  • Talk to anyone who witnessed the accident and get witness statements, names, and contact information.
  • Write down what happened as best as you can remember it.

Do you need a doctor?

If you need to go to the hospital, go. If you are concerned that you might need to see a doctor, do it now. Don’t risk your health because you are in an unfamiliar place.

Consider a Lawyer

If you think you might need a lawyer, you’ll need one in the state where the accident occurred. You can ask for references or you can ask a lawyer in your home state for a referral, but don’t give an official statement to anyone except the police if you’re considering a lawyer, even if an insurance adjuster shows up.

How to Avoid Rear End Collisions

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that nearly 30 percent of all automobile accidents in the United States is the rear end collision. That’s nearly one third of all accidents!

There are many ways you can take action now to prevent a rear end collision from happening. We’ve put together a list of some of our favorites.

Leave more space between you and the car in front of you.

This is the number one way to avoid rear end collisions! The more space you leave, the more time you have to react to sudden braking and the more room you have to stop your vehicle before it hits the one in front of you.

Check your mirrors often.

You should already be checking your mirrors every 6 seconds or so, as well as every time you stop or brake. Pay attention when you stop; is the vehicle behind you stopping as well? If not, you may be able to give them extra time and space to do so.

Focus on driving, don’t be distracted.

Distracted driving is another top cause of collisions of all kinds. Keep your eyes on the road and you’re more likely to notice the brakes in front of you, the car cutting you off, or the driver who doesn’t see you.

Brake slowly.

When you’re coming up to a stop sign, a red light, or another obstacle, begin braking early (without riding the brakes) and stop slowly so the person behind you can see that you’re slowing down and has time to react.

Make sure your brake lights work.

Brake lights are a safety feature and it’s important that they’re working properly. Without them, the car behind you cannot tell (easily) that you’re braking, and you are more likely to get rear ended.

Pay attention to the driving conditions.

Yes, you need to brake when the car in front of you brakes. But if the roads are icy, it’s deer season, children are playing nearby, there are bicyclists on the road, construction is happening… it’s important to leave extra room, adjust your driving habits, and be ready for sudden braking.

Keep your view clear.

No, you cannot see everything that the driver in front of you can see. But, you can leave enough space between you and the large vehicle in front of you to see around it, or, you can pass so that your view is clearer.

Avoiding Distracted Driving

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving claimed 3,477 lives in the United States during 2015, and injured 391,000 people. We’ve all heard that distracted driving is dangerous, and it can cause accidents, but we still do it!

What is distracted driving? Why is it dangerous? The NHTSA defines it as “any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system — anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.”

Distracted driving accidents and injuries are 100 percent preventable but we all have to take the steps to be safe behind the wheel.

Distractions to Avoid

Limit your use of mobile phones behind the wheel.

Phone use is one of the biggest current distractions leading to accidents on the road. Whether you’re texting, talking on the phone, using social media or navigating on your phone, using your phone while driving is a distraction. In many places, it’s illegal.

If you’re behind the wheel, either ask a passenger for help or pull over before you use your phone. Vehicles that are equipped with hands free systems are designed to be less of a distraction, but they still require your attention, and should be used minimally.

Driving is not a good time to get things done.

When you’re driving, it’s not time to get things done. Doing your makeup, catching up on phone calls, eating dinner, and finding your new favorite playlist behind the wheel are great ways to get in an accident, no matter how much faith you have in your driving abilities.

Be prepared before you drive.

Cars are generally equipped with entertainment systems, and navigation systems so that we can enjoy them while we drive. They sync up with our phones and make the ride more enjoyable! The key to using them safely is to set them up before stepping on the gas so they don’t distract us from the road.

Set a good example.

It’s even more important to drive responsibly around children and teens. As parents, educators, and average adults, it is our job to set a good example for the next generation. Children are learning from us now, and teens who are learning to drive have been watching adults for years. Teach them that when you’re behind the wheel, it’s time to focus on the road.

The Cost of Repainting a Vehicle after a Collision

After a collision, your car may have suffered dents and scratches, among other things. When it’s been put back together and runs like new, does it look like new? At the very least, does it look (and run) like it did before the accident?

If the answer is no, it may be due to the paint job. Although your car can run safely without a proper paint job, it can be annoying to look at, and it can lead to a faster buildup of rust when the paint isn’t applied properly.

Estimates and Totaled Vehicles

When you take your vehicle to the repair shop, the first thing they’ll do is look at the damage and give you an estimate as to what it will cost to complete all repairs. Estimates aren’t always 100 percent accurate, which is why they’re called estimates, but they should include the cost of repainting the vehicle.

If the cost of the repairs is more than the value of the vehicle, it may be considered totaled. That means that if the cost, including the paint job, of returning the vehicle to its pre-accident condition is higher than its value, your insurance company may recommend not repairing it.

What does insurance pay for?

As always, your insurance company will pay for damage that is covered in your insurance policy, so it’s important to understand your policy. However, the following may give you an idea of what insurance will pay for.

If you want to have your vehicle repainted due to general wear and tear, rust, or peeling, it is unlikely that your insurance will pay for it.

If you are in an at-fault accident and you have collision coverage, your insurance company will likely pay for exterior paint. This may only cover the areas that were damaged, and not the entire vehicle.

If you are not at fault in an accident, the other party’s insurance carrier should pay for damage. If they are not insured or are underinsured, you can either take them to court, pay it yourself, or if you have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, that portion of your policy may cover the cost of a paint job.

If your paint is damaged due to non-collision incidents, like weather damage or vandalism, your insurance company may pay for a paint job under a comprehensive package if you included it in your policy.

What is the average cost of repainting a vehicle?

Repainting a vehicle isn’t cheap, especially if you want it done well. Averages range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, so it can significantly change the cost of an estimate

The Evolution of Automobile Safety

On September 13, 1899, Henry H. Bliss became the first person to die in an automobile accident in the western hemisphere. Although he wasn’t in the vehicle at the time, his death set into motion a series of improvements to automobile safety that still continue to evolve today. These are some of the safety features that have developed over the last 118 years.

Speedometers became available in 1901 in the Oldsmobile. Today, they are standard in every vehicle.

Safety Glass Windows help to prevent injuries by broken glass in the case of a collision. They were introduced by Cadillac in 1924.

Turn Signals like those we use today were introduced by Buick in 1940. They signaled in the front and back of the car and turned off automatically after a turn.

Dashboard Padding was introduced in 1947, but wasn’t widely used until the mid 1950s.

Seat Belts were introduced in 1950, and by 1956 they were offered as an optional safety piece by several manufacturers. New York was the first state to require seat belts in the front seat in 1962, and by 1964, they were required across the United States. Seat belts still are not required in every state, although every state except New Hampshire has required them since 1995.

Headrests were required for front passengers in 1969 to protect people’s necks in the case of a rear-end collision.

Safety Door Latches that prevent doors from opening during a collision were added in 1955.

Drivers Education didn’t exist until 1955 either, when Michigan became the first state to require a course of driver’s ed before anyone under 18 could have a license.

Safety Standard Enforcement didn’t start until 1967 when the first Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards were introduced. They regulated protruding knobs in the passenger area, hazard lights, brakes, and additional padding and impact absorption.

Airbags weren’t used until 1974, when GM introduced the first one, and weren’t a standard across the industry until 1998!

The first side impact airbags were used in 1994.

Child Safety Laws didn’t exist until 1978, when Tennessee introduced the first one in the world. Since 1985, every state in the U.S.A. has had laws regarding child safety seats.

Modern Safety Features include things like electronic stability control, adaptive headlights, emergency brake assist, blind zone warnings, and lane departure warnings. While none of these are standard in the United States today, many of them are standard or basic options from many vehicle manufacturers.

Steps in the Collision Repair Process

If you haven’t been in an accident before, the process, from collision to paid and repaired vehicle, can seem confusing. We’ve put together a simple list to help un-complicate the process for you.

The Accident

At the accident, make sure you do the following:

  • Take photos of the scene, preferably before any of the vehicles have moved. If possible, you should clear the road soon after.
  • Make sure everyone is okay. Call an ambulance.
  •  Exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver. This includes name, address, phone number, email address, insurance name and policy, etc.
  • Contact the police. Get witness contact information and statements – the police may do this.
  • Give your insurance company an unbiased account of what happened.

Towing

If your car is badly damaged, it may not be drivable after the accident. If you need a tow, it saves time and money to already have a repair shop selected. Remember – you don’t have to go to the shop your insurance company suggests! They are obligated to work with any repair shop of your choosing.

Estimates

An estimate will give you an approximate cost for repairs to your vehicle. Your insurance company may decide that your car is totaled if the cost of repairs is more than the value of the vehicle. An estimate shouldn’t take long, and you shouldn’t need an appointment.

Repair Appointment

Once you, the repair shop, and the insurance company have agreed on repairs, you can schedule a repair appointment at the shop of your choosing. You’ll have to sign a form to authorize the repairs, and you may owe your insurance company a deductible depending on your policy.

The cost of repairs will depend on the insurance policy you have. Damages caused in the accident should be covered by a collision policy. If you’re in a state that assigns fault and the accident was your fault, you will need collision coverage to cover the cost of your vehicle and not just the other vehicle. If the accident wasn’t your fault, the other party’s insurance company should pay for your repairs. If their insurance doesn’t cover enough, or if the other party doesn’t have coverage, you’ll need to pay out of pocket or have an uninsured/underinsured motorist package included in your policy. Check with your insurance company if you aren’t sure. Your insurance policy may also cover a rental car during repairs, but it depends on the policy you have.

Car Pick-Up

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about your repair. When you pick up your car, it should be in the same condition it was in prior to the accident.

Car Battery Care and Maintenance

Your car battery provides electrical power to many things on your vehicle, from heated seats to your turn signal and lights. In order to get the most out of your battery, it’s important to take care of it, check on its performance, and do what you can to prolong its life.

If your battery fails while you’re out, your car won’t start, meaning you could be left with costly towing and an urgent need for a new battery. To care for your car battery, keep the following in mind.

Day-to-Day Battery Maintenance

There are a few things you can do on a regular basis to help maintain your battery and keep it in good working condition.

  • Every time you turn off the engine, make sure to unplug any electronics, turn off all accessories, and turn off inside and outside car lights.
  • Keep the battery in cooler locations rather than warmer ones. Generally, cooler temperatures are kinder to the battery.
  • During the colder months, make sure to run your vehicle for at least 30 minutes, preferably on the highway, so that it runs and the battery charges.
  • Check your battery regularly (maybe once a month). Are the terminal connections clean and tight?  If the terminals are corroded, scrub them with a solution of baking soda and water.

Spring Battery Care

Spring is the time to check that your battery has survived the cold weather! Have it checked, but know that if it survived the winter, it is likely to survive a mild summer. If it’s weak, but not quite ready to be replaced, or if your summer is exceptionally hot, make sure to test it again in about 3 months, and replace it before temperatures drop again.

Summer Battery Care

Although cooler temperatures are harder on your battery charge, warm temperatures are not good for your battery. High temperatures outside mean even hotter temperatures under the hood of your car, right next to the engine. The higher the temperature, the faster corrosion occurs. Too much heat can lead to lower battery capacity, more difficulty starting the engine, and a shorter battery life. It’s important to check your battery regularly so that you’re not left with a dead one on a summer trip!

Small Changes to Drive Green

Going green, eating green, and protecting the environment are terms we hear all over the place now. It may seem like the latest trend, but do you know how easy it is to do?

Benefits of ‘Going Green’

Not only is green healthier for you and for the environment, it can save you some green by keeping more money in your pocket.

  • Reducing the amount of fuel you use can improve air quality. This isn’t only important for the future of the earth – you’re breathing the same air that vehicles pollute right now.
  • Increasing your gas mileage, meaning you get more miles out of every gallon you purchase, can help you save money. On average, getting 30 miles per gallon instead of 20 can save about $1,000 a year.

We’ve put together a list of a few simple things you can do to drive green.

  • Check your tire pressure. Low pressure can cost you an extra tank of gas every year.
  • Don’t carry extra things with you. Take only what you need – every additional 100 pounds reduces your gas mileage by around two percent.
  • Change your oil regularly. If you notice your mileage dropping, you may be due for an oil change – that’s how much of a difference it can make.
  • Slow down. Driving over 60 miles per hour reduces your mileage, even if the speed limit is over 60. The more you speed, the lower your mileage.
  • Take your time to stop and go. Stopping and starting abruptly is one of the best ways to decrease your mileage. According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), it can affect mileage by 40 percent.
  • Don’t idle unnecessarily. It’s better to turn your car off than to idle, in addition to wasting fuel, it can wear out your engine faster.
  • As the weather warms, stay cool the right way. According to fueleconomy.gov, it’s best to use your air conditioning on the highway only, and roll down the windows at lower speeds.
  • Avoid rooftop cargo if you can. Summer sports and vacations may call for equipment that won’t fit inside your car, but it’s better to mount them on the back than on top to reduce wind resistance. Remove it when you don’t need to use it!
  • Use cruise control. Maintaining a constant speed, especially on the highway, will save fuel by minimizing the time you’re accelerating.

How to Deal with an Automotive Recall

You’ve probably heard of an automotive recall, whether it’s been on the news or you’ve received a recall notice in the mail. We’ve put together a list of basic information about recalls so you’ll know what to do and when one affects you.

When are recalls issued?

Safety recalls are issued when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has determined that a part of a vehicle, car seat, or equipment creates a safety risk or doesn’t meet the minimum safety standards. The recall is issued to alert those who may be using the specific vehicle or accessory that it may be unsafe and needs to be repaired or replaced.

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