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Vehicle Mechanical Malfunctions

Belt-Defensive-ClassBreaking Down

Mechanical malfunctions are a fact of life for drivers today and for the foreseeable future. Not only are they a source of breakdowns and delay, but also pose a significant hazard to both yourself and everyone else on the road.

Suspension Failure

Sometimes a mechanical malfunction will give little or no warning. In this case a tanker-trailer was headed north on the inside lane of a four lane divided highway in an industrial part of town. Traveling in the opposite direction, a mid- sized car was headed toward the truck when, just before passing the truck, the car shook and swerved into the left front of the tanker trailer. After impact the truck veered to the right and turned over in an adjacent ditch.

After inspection of the car's suspension, it was determined that the ball joint retaining nut was missing and the lower ball joint had separated. The nut had apparently come loose after front end suspension work. Tire marks at the scene, revealed the ball joint separated prior to the collision. This caused the left front wheel to move uncontrollably. The car swerved left into the tanker-trailer. Regular vehicle maintenance and inspection can help prevent such an unexpected and severe collision. Neither driver was cited in this collision. The contributing factor listed on the police report was "Defective Steering Mechanism"

Suspension and drivetrain failures can usually be prevented by regular inspection and lubrication. Most suspension problems produce noise, so keep on top of those squeaks and rattles.




Wheel Separation

The next accident was caused by incorrectly torqued lug nuts. A car was headed south on an interstate soon after the left front wheel had been replaced at a shop. The car started to shake and then suddenly the left front wheel separated from the vehicle. The wheel traveled across the southbound lanes, over the dividing wall and into northbound traffic. The wheel impacted a vehicle and caused severe injuries to the driver.

Many people replace wheels and don't torque (tighten) them properly. This is very important with all wheels, but more so with alloy rims that are common on vehicles these days. Incorrectly torqued lug nuts can also warp brake disks, resulting in brake problems.

Generally there will be noise and vibration preceding a wheel separation, so if you hear unusual noises and/or vibrations, slow down, pull over to a safe area, and inspect your vehicle.


Disabled Vehicles

Belt-Defensive-ClassDisabled vehicles are a far too common occurrence on our increasingly busy highways and interstates. Just about everyone has run out of gas at some time; driving around on fumes is never a good idea. It increases your risk of running out of gas, but also increases your risk of being stranded in a dangerous situation. This has led to many motorists being killed or injured while trying to move a vehicle or walking along freeways to get fuel. If you are stranded at night the risks of being hit are much greater still. Pedestrians are regularly hit and killed everywhere there are roads.

If your vehicle becomes disabled, get out of the roadway as soon as safely possible. If you are about to run out of gas, get off the main lanes and away from high-speed traffic.


Disabled Vehicles

In this example a van ran out of gas while traveling on the inside lanes of a busy freeway at night. While moving a vehicle out of the roadway usually is a good idea, pushing it at night is not. Unfortunately oncoming traffic couldn't see the dim lights of the van and the right rear light was obstructed by the woman pushing the van.


Brake Failure

Belt-Defensive-ClassBe familiar with your brake system. Having your brakes fail while you are driving is a dangerous experience where quick thinking can cool reactions can potentially save lives.

At the first sign of brake trouble, try not to panic. Downshift to low gear. Sound your horn and flash your lights to warn other drivers. Work your vehicle into the right lane and then toward the shoulder. Be aware of other traffic around you and use your signals and mirrors for your maneuvers. Pump the brake pedal hard and fast in order to build up pressure. Most all vehicles have dual hydraulic brake systems that prevent both the front and rear brake systems from giving out at the same time. If after three or four hard pumps no braking is occurring, apply the parking brake. If the car starts to weave release it and reapply it and/or swerve into bushes or something soft. When you reach the right lane turn on your emergency hazard lights.

You should never drive a vehicle at any speed without brakes! Nothing more dangerous on the road than someone who can't stop.


Belt-Defensive-ClassAntilock Brakes

Some people aren't used to ABS systems (anti-lock braking systems) and may believe there is a problem with their brakes, especially on slippery roadways. That is, they feel a pulsing sensation when they brake hard. If you vehicle is equipped with ABS, the ABS logo will appear on your dashboard display whenever you start the car.

If you do have ABS, practice using them before you get into an emergency. Try suddenly applying your brakes in a safe place on wet and dry pavement.

Anti-lock brakes have benefits over regular brakes when it comes to vehicle control. They allow the driver to steer during hard braking. When regular brake lock up the driver looses the ability to steer and the vehicle may want to spinout of control if the rear brakes lock before the front, or if braking along a curved road. Since ABS allows the driver to steer, he or she can potentially avoid the collision. It is important not to steer too hard or you may loose control even with ABS.

When your car is equipped with ABS and you need to brake hard:

  • Apply steady, firm pressure to the brake pedal.
  • Steer around obstacles avoiding sudden sharp maneuvers.



Belt-Defensive-ClassWhen you Breakdown

Here are some safety guidelines in the advent of a mechanical failure.

In case of car trouble, pull as far off the road as possible. Warn approaching traffic by turning on hazard flashers and the dome light.


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