Stopping a Break Down Before It Stops You

Mar 9, 2015

Credit Christin Lola - Fotolia.com
Brinker has performed over 2,000 free roadside assists since he started in 1980.
Credit roadsidesurvival.com

35 years ago, Walt Brinker helped a stranded motorist. Little did he know roadside assistance would become his life's passion.

If you haven't had the experience of a disabled vehicle yet, you will at some point in the future, and you’ll probably be making sure you have a tire gauge after you hear from Walt Brinker. Since Brinker’s retirement from a military career, he’s developed an active hobby – roadside assists. 

That hobby has spawned a book, called Roadside Survival. Brinker shared several helpful tips with Lake Effect's Mitch Teich.

"There are two kinds of drivers: those who have had experience with a disabled vehicle and will again, and those who will for the first time. It's not a matter of whether, it's a matter of when you're gonna do it because there's so many variables out there that can come along and ruin your day," Brinker says.

"The trick is to be able to prevent the majority of them by doing common sense things up front as a preparation, and then to be prepared to contend with the circumstance that finds you disabled to prevent yourself from being stranded," he adds.

The two most common issues Brinker stumbles upon when giving roadside assistance are:

Tire Issues

"Three-fourths of the people I stop for have tire related issues," he says. "The most fundamental thing to prevent yourself from breaking down is to take care of the tires on your car."

Basic Tire Care:

  • Buy quality, new tires with a free replacement option.
  • Make a habit of checking your tires every time you get into the car.
  • Check tire pressures at least once a month, and especially before a long trip and in cold weather to prevent under-inflation.
  • Check for damage on the sidewalls.
  • Keep an air pump or compressor in your car.
  • Purchase tire plugs to repair holes in the tread (use soapy water and pump additional air into the tire to find the leak).
  • Make sure your spare tire has enough air to use if necessary.
  • If you need to repair a tire, find a safe location to pull over - even if you need to drive on the flat tire to get to a safe place.

Fuel Issues

  • Always make sure you have enough gas and repair your gas gauge, if it's broken.
  • If you have gas gauge issues, use your trip meter to keep track of the amount of gas used. Divide the miles traveled by the amount of gallons it took to refill the tank, the result is your car's average miles per gallon yield for that driving period.
  • Keep an empty one gallon gas can in your trunk that can be filled at the nearest gas station.
  • If the car doesn't start once you've added the gallon of gas, rock the car while the car is starting to direct the gas to the intake.

Although some breakdowns can be sudden, most can be prevented if you listen to your car and keep an eye and ear out for warning signs, both visible and hidden. Signs such as wheel vibration, mushy handling or pulling to one side indicate a flat tire. Symptoms such as weak engine starts, dim lights and chirping of the gauges are indications that the battery is about to fail or you have a weak connection between the battery and its clamps, Brinker says.

"Listen to your car. It will tell you when it's about to fail. Your job is to listen to your car and pay attention," he says.