Monthly Archives: March 2011

Automotive Firsts

At DefensiveDriving.com we love all things car and driving related.  So we have assembled this list, for fun, over time.  We want to share it with all of our readers who love automotive trivia as much as we do!  The sources for this list are varied, and we welcome all corrections and comments. 

 

  • In 1771 the first accident involving a motor vehicle took place in Paris when Cugnot’s steam tractor hit a low wall in the grounds of the Paris arsenal.

 

  • On August 31, 1869, Mary Ward became the first recorded victim of a steam-powered automobile accident.

 

  • The world’s first automobile accident occurred in Ohio City, Ohio in 1891.

 

  • The French police issued the world’s first car number plates in 1893.

 

  • First American car race:  Chicago, in 1895.  Average speed:  7.5 mph.

 

  • The first used car lot in America opened in 1897 with 17 cars.

 

  • On September 13, 1899, Henry Bliss became North America’s first motor vehicle fatality when hit while stepping off a New York City trolley.

 

  • The first state to require license plates on cars was New York, in 1901.

 

  • The world’s first speeding ticket was issued in Dayton, Ohio in 1904.

 

  • The first reported car theft in America took place in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1905.

 

  • The first gas pump was installed in America in 1906.

 

  • The world’s first mile of paved concrete highway (1909) is Detroit’s Woodward Avenue, between Seven & Eight Mile.

 

  • The world’s first traffic lights were installed in Detroit, USA in 1919.

 

  • The first car to offer seatbelts was the 1950 Nash Rambler.

 

If you have any firsts you’d like added to our list, let us know.  If we can verify them, we’ll add them!

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Common Steering and Suspension Problems

Of all the components in your car, the steering and suspension take some of the heaviest wear. Being alert to the symptoms of steering and suspension problems and practicing proper maintenance are, as always, the way to catch small problems before they turn into catastrophic and costly ones. Before reading this entry, you may want to take a quick look at my discussions of how steering works and how a suspension system works, since these provide background that will make it much easier to understand the discussion below.

If you don’t already, you should know what kind of steering and suspension your car has. Does your car use rack and pinion steering or another system? Do you have power steering? Is your car front wheel drive or rear wheel drive? The answers to these questions can be found in your owner’s manual. In addition to helping you to diagnose steering problems, this knowledge will alter the way you respond to certain driving emergencies, such as entering a skid.

Now let’s take a look at some of the most common symptoms of steering and suspension problems. In a few cases, these problems can be easily corrected. Most problems, however, will require the assistance of a skilled mechanic, so make sure that you’ve found a mechanic you can trust before any serious problems occur.

The car “jumps” when you hit bumpy terrain

It will feel like someone has pulled the steering wheel in your hands. You may also notice clunks or bumping noises. This most likely means that the ball joints connecting the suspension to the tires are starting to wear out. Continuing to drive with worn ball joins can result in serious damage so don’t wait to have your suspension checked!

The car is unusually difficult to steer

If your car has power steering, a stiff steering wheel is likely the result of a problem with the power steering system. First, there may not be enough fluid. Check the fluid reservoir. This is located under the hood and is normally labeled (See figure 1).

 

Figure 1: steering fluid reservoir

If you have trouble locating it, consult your owner’s manual. The fluid reservoir may be transparent and have “high” and “low” markers; if not, it will have a dipstick, similar to your oil reservoir’s, that will allow you to check the fluid level (see figure 2).

 

Figure 2: power steering fluid

 

Use the same procedure that you would for checking oil levels. [Link to entry on checking oil.] Your car may have markings for “hot” and “cold” levels, depending on whether the car has been running recently or not, similar to the automatic transmission fluid. If the fluid is low, add more fluid, using a funnel to prevent spilling. If fluid levels drop again soon after adding fluid, there’s a strong possibility of a leak, and you should have the system checked more thoroughly.

If the fluid level is fine, try listening to your steering as you drive. If you notice an odd noise or feel stronger resistance when turning, then there’s likely a problem with the power steering pump or belt. A lack of lubrication in the steering system or an improper alignment of the front suspension could also be making steering difficult.

The car is difficult to keep on a straight path and/or tends to drift

Since most power steering systems are very easy to control, you may not notice the car “pulling” in one direction or another. You can diagnose this kind of problem by taking your hands off the steering wheel and seeing if the car continues in a straight line or drifts one way or the other. If the latter is the case, there’s likely a problem with the alignment of your wheels. Drifting could also be caused by worn tires or tires that are inflated unevenly. Check your tire pressure and tread depth. If your tires are fine, this could be a symptom of a dragging brake on one of your wheels.

The steering wheel shakes or vibrates

If your steering wheel vibrates when you accelerate, then it’s likely that there’s a problem in the suspension or the tires. This could mean that the wheel bolts are loose or the tires are worn unevenly. You should test to make sure none of the wheels are loose by shaking each wheel while the car is parked. This should cause some movement in the car (unless it is very heavy.) However, the wheel shouldn’t move independently from the car. If it does, you should first try to tighten the lug nuts, as you would when replacing a flat tire. If the lug nuts appear damaged or won’t tighten, then it’s time to replace them. Should tightening the lug nuts not correct the problem, then there’s probably damage to the wheel bearing or tie rod. However, if the whole car shakes at high speeds, you probably have a tire or axle that’s not rotating probably, as this kind of problem tends to be amplified at particular speeds.

There is a clunking of banging noise when you go over a bump

This is probably the result of damage to the suspension. Damaged strut bearings, a broken strut, or worn shock absorbers could be the culprits. Increased swaying or bouncing on uneven roads may also be a symptom of this kind of suspension problem. You can check for a bad strut by pushing down on each corner of the car. If it takes several bounces for the car to settle, then there’s likely a problem somewhere in the strut assembly; this could be caused by a broken coil spring (which will probably produce a rattling sound), oil leaking from the shock absorber, or another structural problem. 

There is a screeching noise when you steer

This is probably being caused by the power steering belt, which connects the power steering pump to the engine. The belt could be worn or too loose. While this may be an easy part to replace in older cars, many newer models use a “serpentine belt” to connect all accessories to the engine; this will be more difficult to replace. A screeching sound could also be the result of low fluid levels, so make sure to also check your power steering fluid.

As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Check the condition of your power steering belt and fluid levels whenever you check your oil and tires. Additionally, make sure to drive carefully. Hitting potholes or grazing a curb can bend suspension components and put wheels out of alignment, which can result in further damage to tires, steering, and suspension.

To read more on a broad range of subjects from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Car”, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!

Check out these sites for more information about defensive driving and business driver safety.

Stop, Go, Swerve: What to do if there is an animal in the roadway

While my grandmother has been known to make road kill stew, this isn’t a delicacy that most enjoy. Being prepared to encounter animals and knowing what to do when these encounters occur is a better way to use the road efficiently. Reacting quickly and correctly will help to protect the lives of all humans and animals involved in an incident.

With roadways becoming more crowded and suburban developments encroaching on wild habitats, animal-related accidents have been on the rise in recent years. According to State Farm, 1.2 million animal-related accident claims were made in 2008, representing an increase of 15 percent since 2003. Failure on the part of human drivers to respond correctly to these situations makes many of these accidents worse than they need to be.

When we see an animal—or other obstacle—in the road, our typical instinctive response is to swerve to avoid the obstacle. This would only make sense in a situation where one was driving slowly on an empty road. Under any other conditions, swerving can create more problems than it solves: if traveling quickly, you could enter a skid or flip your car; you could send your car hurtling off the road and into another obstacle; or you could put your car in the way of oncoming traffic.

According to experts, the best response is to remain in your lane while attempting to slow down as quickly as possible. If you have room to do so, move toward the right side, or outer edge, of the road. When you accidentally step too close to a hazard, your first instinct is likely to jump back; an animal, however, will instinctively move faster along its chosen path, i.e. forward across the road. Moving slightly in the direction that the animal was coming from and slowing down will, ideally, give the animal time and space to escape safely.

Next, be aware of your surroundings. If you’re driving through a rural area or have noticed a number of deer or moose crossing signs, be particularly alert; scan the edges of the road to see if you can spot any animals lurking on the shoulders. If you have passengers, ask them to scan the roadsides for animals. At night, animals’ eyes will glow (the exception being moose, whose eyes do not reflect light.)

If you do, slow down and be particularly vigilant. Never speed, especially at night; remember that you should always be able to stop within the area illuminated by your headlights. Experts recommend traveling no more than 55mph in high-density wildlife areas. This speed should be reduced in inclement weather. Many animals, including deer and moose, are most active at dusk and dawn, when our visibility is often limited. Be particularly alert during these hours. You should use your high beams when not surrounded by other drivers and, if possible, move the car as close to the center of the road as possible.

If you do end up in a collision with a moose or deer, duck down into your car; large animals like these can come through the windshield or crush the car roof. Should you end up in a collision with an animal, first check to make sure that your passengers are okay. If the injured animal is still alive, do not approach it, as, scared and in pain, it could still be dangerous. Only attempt to move the animal out of the road if you are certain that it is dead. Use flares or emergency lights to alert others on the road to your predicament and call the police.

To read more on a broad range of subjects from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Car”, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!

Check out these sites for more information about defensive driving and business driver safety.