First Aid for Your Car


Everyone knows that it is important to have a basic knowledge of first aid in case of an accidental injury. First aid is used to keep the body functioning as comfortably as possible until the victim can be taken to a hospital to see a doctor. If a person were to have an accident at home, first aid is a short-term necessity, but if he is picnicking or camping in the wilderness, first aid would be needed to keep the victim functioning for a much longer length of time.

Try to think of the car as a victim of an accident when a breakdown occurs. This, of course, is not a living, breathing body, so it is easy to just shut off the motor and let the car sit until a tow truck arrives to take it off to the hospital (garage) to be taken care of by a doctor (mechanic). Unfortunately, it is not in the nature of a car to break down while idling in the drive-way or backing out into the street (although it sometimes happens). The greatest problems with cars usually occur while in the middle of an intersection, driving through traffic, or on a long trip many miles from home. Since we can't place a sling on the car's wheel or bandage the battery while we tote it off to the nearest garage for emergency care, it is important that we have some basic knowledge of car repair to keep it going until we can get it to a mechanic for professional care. Anyone can repair many of the breakdowns that a car encounters well enough to drive it to a garage. Some repairs will even solve the problem altogether. In either case, a little basic knowledge of car repair can keep the driver from being stranded.

There are some breakdowns, however, that can't be repaired by the driver. Even so, just knowing the symptoms of the car breakdown can save money, because a mechanic that thinks you know what you're talking about is not so apt to overcharge you.

Safety Rules for Automobile Self-help

When working on a car, be prepared in advance to have grease on your hands and you probably will break a fingernail. In addition to these minor inconveniences, there is always a risk in working on a car. Use common sense when making inspections and repairs. Know how to fix an element before you begin, and then work efficiently. Below are some common sense rules to follow while working on a car:

1. Gasoline fumes and hydrogen gas are both explosive, and both gasoline and oil are flammable. Do not smoke while making repairs or even when raising the hood to diagnose the problem. Keep a small fire extinguisher nearby while working on the car, particularly if the work is being done under the hood.

2. Engine exhaust contains carbon monoxide - a poisonous gas. Do not run the engine in a closed area unless there is ample ventilation. If you begin to feel sleepy while working on a car, move away from the vehicle into the fresh air immediately. By the same token, if you can smell the exhaust while driving, open the windows at once.

3. The car battery contains sulfuric acid, which can burn, and it also emits hydrogen gas, which may EXPLODE. Wear gloves while working around a battery and do not smoke near it.

4. Car batteries can give electrical shocks and are a fire hazard. Disconnect the battery while working on the fuel line or electrical system. It is only necessary to remove the ground cable, which is easily identified by a black mark or a minus (-) sign on the battery casing at the terminal.

5. It is easy to get a spark or electrical volt, creating a fire hazard when jump starting a car. Be sure to connect the positive (+) terminal of the helping car to the positive terminal of the disabled car, and the negative (-) terminal to the engine frame before turning on either engine. Also, do not touch the positive cable to the end of any other cable or metal part while jump starting the car.

6. Radiator hoses, exhaust pipes, manifolds and mufflers can be very hot to the touch. Allow time for these parts to cool off before working on the car. If there is some reason that you can't wait, wear heavy gloves and be very careful. DO NOT remove the radiator cap in one turn. Turn it slowly to half off and allow the steam to escape. Always use gloves or a rag. When the steam has escaped, turn the cap off fully. Always keep your face turned away from the radiator cap.

7. Loose clothing can easily be pulled into moving machinery parts. A loose shirt cuff, necktie, dangling jewelry, frilled blouses, or long hair can all be pulled into a moving part while making repairs. Be sure to remove such hazards. Caps without brims are considered safer than those with brims, and it is advisable to wear a sturdy pair of shoes or boots to protect the feet.

8. The jack may collapse while holding up the car. Do not - under any circumstances - crawl under a car that is jacked up, unless you have a jack stand, which is made for that purpose. Be sure the jack stand is rated to support the weight of the car. Do not use metal drums, buckets, bricks, concrete blocks, or wooden assemblies in the place of the jack stand. All of these may crumble or collapse.

9. Slipping on oil, gasoline or other leaking fluids can cause serious injuries. To prevent slipping by the person working on the car, or by anyone else, wipe up all spills immediately. Be particularly careful when wiping up flammable or chemical fluids.

10. The car must be stabilized before fixing a flat tire, so that it will not jump the jack or roll. Try to stop the car on level ground to change a tire. If the car has an automatic transmission, put the gearshift into "park"; if the transmission is manual, shift into reverse. Before jacking up the car, place a brick, stone, 2 x 4, or whatever is within reach, in front of the front wheel and in back of the rear wheel that will stay on the ground. This will stabilize the car and prevent rolling. Be careful when jacking up a car on roads that allow semi truck traffic. The force of the air current produced by large vehicles speeding past, may be enough to topple a car which is up on a jack.

11. When confronted with a serious car problem on a car which is still under warranty, call a tow truck. Any attempts to repair a major part could void the warranty.

12. A car problem should not be worked on unless you have specific knowledge on what is wrong and how to fix it. Car first aid is for emergency and basic repairs only. Major problems should be taken to a mechanic. Otherwise, you may find that you have created even more problems than you had to start with, besides a higher repair bill for straightening out your mistakes.

13. Gasoline, brake fluid, and certain cleaning fluids used in repairing an automobile need special precautions to prevent fire. Fuel, thinner, and other combustibles should always be kept in closed containers designed for the purpose; these should also be well marked and stored safely.

Smoking and unshielded flames should always be avoided while working on a car. As a further protection against fire, oil and grease rags should also be kept in containers; use care, however, that spontaneous combustion does not occur.

14. There are many precautions that should be observed when using tools.

Files should never be used without a handle, because there is always the danger of running the point into the palm of the hand. Files should also not be used as levers or hammers. Files are made with hard temper and are quite brittle, so if hammered, small pieces may fly off and cause severe wounds or loss of eyesight.

Hammers or sledges should be checked to see that the head is attached securely so that it doesn't fly off when the tool is used. When the head of a chisel is mushroomed, it should be thrown away or reground to prevent bits of steel from flying off and causing damage. A shield or helmet should always be worn when grinding.

Pull on the handle of a wrench, rather than pushing on it to prevent the danger of skinning the knuckles. When the jaws of the wrench become worn or sprung, the tool should be disposed of.

DO NOT point an air gun in the direction of anyone, because the high pressure can blow dirt particles at such high speed that they will puncture the skin and/or get in the eyes.

Emergency Stops

A sudden emergency, such as loss in steering control, does not give the driver time to consult a manual or even to ask questions. The driver will need to know what to do immediately in such situations, and may gain some knowledge by studying the emergency measures listed below:

1. A tire suddenly blows out: Steer the car as straight as possible, but do not slam on the brakes. Apply even, gentle pressure to the brake pedal. Then pull off the road slowly onto the shoulder. Try to park the car on level ground.

2. The brakes give out: If you have time, quickly pump the brake pedal; this may tighten up the brake and provide some stopping power. If there is not time for this, apply the parking brake slowly but firmly. Another method that can be used if there is time and pumping doesn't help is to shift down on the gears - from Drive to D-1 and then to D-2. You may even have time to shift into reverse. Do not shift into "park," however. You might turn off the ignition with the car in gear. DO NOT turn the key into the lock position, because this will lock the steering wheel. If none of these procedures work, try to sideswipe guardrails, signposts, or other obstructions that will slow the car. Direct hits may cause serious injury, however, so be careful.

3. Lights go off: If the lights should suddenly go off at night, try the hazard lights immediately. Even directional signals will produce some light. At the same time, brake the car slowly and pull off the road and stop. DO NOT jam on the brakes. You have plenty of time and space in which to brake to a stop safely unless you are on a hair-pin curve on the side of a mountain.

4. Steering locks or gives out: Apply the brakes gently. Do not slam on the brakes, because it may cause the car to swerve. Turn on the hazard lights and blow the horn to warn other drivers of the danger. Get off the road as soon as possible.

5. Accelerator sticks: Turn off the engine, shift to neutral, and pull off the road. Power steering and brakes will become manual, so more effort is necessary to turn and stop. You may now try pulling the pedal up with you foot or hand. Stuck pedals are usually due to broken springs or a blockage in the throttle linkage. Sometimes, an item such as a floor mat may be pressing on the pedal. If you cannot find the solution to the problem, call a tow truck. DO NOT drive the car if you can't solve the problem.

6. Hood flies up: Look under the space below the hood or stick your head out of the window to see. Gently apply the brakes; do not slam them on. Use signals to turn off the road. The hood latch is probably broken. If you can't tie the hood down with wire, rope, or a necktie, call a tow truck for help. If the hood latch was not completely latched, you may be able to close it down and drive on. If you can't see, don't drive.

7. Car drops into deep water: If the windows are electric, open them immediately and hang on tightly to the steering wheel, dash, car seat, door handles or whatever is stable for a handhold. Wait until the car fills up with water and then swim through the windows. If the windows are crank operated, wait until the car is almost filled with water; then crank the windows down to escape. There will be enough air between the water and the bottom of the car roof to supply your breathing needs. The windows are always the best means of escape, because the doors have too much water pressure against them to be opened.

8. Fire in car: Pull off to the side of the road immediately and get out of the car! If it is just a small fire, you may be able to smother it with a blanket, dirt or a coat. DO NOT use water! If the fire is within the fuel system, move at least 500 feet away from the car, because it will likely explode.

9. Head-on crash: If the seat belts are not fastened, throw your body across the front seat or the floor. Try to get as low in the car as possible - below the windows and the windshield.

10. Electric power cable: If you're in the car and a power cable, is on your car, stay in the car until help arrives.

11. Bee in the car: Gently brake the car to a stop on the shoulder of the road. Don't slam on the brakes; the car behind you might run into you and cause worse problems than a bee sting. After stopping, roll down the windows and coax the bee out of the car.

12. Sudden window fogging: If the fogging problem is outside the car, turn on the windshield wipers. If it's inside the car, wipe the glass with your hand and brake gently to pull the car off the road. Turn on the defroster and wait until you have clear vision before continuing to drive.

13. Car skids: DO NOT slam on the brakes! In fact, stay off the brakes completely. Ease off the gas and steer the car in the direction that you want the "front" of the car to go.

14. Wheels fall into low shoulder: Brake gently to slow the car when the wheels go off the road. Don't jerk the steering wheel. Ride on the shoulder until the car can be turned onto the road. This prevents skidding.

15. Engine quits: Shift the car into neutral gear and coast onto the shoulder of the road, braking gently. Cars with power brakes and power steering will need more effort than normal.

16. Whatever the circumstances, buckle up for safety!

When The Car Doesn't Work

BEFORE a car needs repairs, the owner should check the car's manual to see if maintenance is needed. Failure to care for the car, and ignoring the initial warning signs (funny noises, problems that "fix themselves", etc) will produce more extensive and costly damage in the long run.

I. Starting Problems

Problems encountered in starting are usually due to the condition of the battery (clicking noises, no sound or slow grinding). These problems can often be solved by jump starting or charging the battery. If there is no response after trying these cures, it will probably be necessary to get experienced help or have your car inspected and serviced by a professional.

II. Moving Problems

1. Problems with the engine hesitating, cutting out, being weak, or having difficulty with the idling should all be carefully inspected by an experienced mechanic. Overheating may be due to a need for additional coolant in the radiator or a need to unload excess weight (as when pulling a trailer). Turn off all accessories; i.e., the air conditioner. If this doesn't help, get professional help.

2. Transmission problems should always be inspected for repair or adjustment by a professional mechanic. If the car is driveable, drive slowly and carefully to the nearest service facility. If in doubt about driving the car, call a tow truck.

III. Stopping Problems: When the brakes fail to hold, or if they squeal, grab or drag, they should be inspected and cared for at a specialized brake shop. When the problem is due to worn tires, the tires should be replaced at once before damaging other, more expensive elements of the car.

Tips on Tires

There may be instructions for using the jack pasted on the underside of the trunk lid, so when changing a tire, look there first. If it is possible, the jack base should be supported with a wide, flat board or plywood. Don't use brick or concrete for this, because they are apt to crumble. Do not get under the car after lifting it with the jack for any reason!

Slide the spare tire into the wheel well, match lugs and lug holes, and lift the wheel up onto the lugs. If the spare tire is smooth or for emergency use only, drive slowly and have the tire replaced as soon as possible.

How to Change A Tire

Drive off the road and turn on the hazard lights. Make sure to chock the good wheels in front and back, and have the car shifted into park or neutral with the parking brake on. Try to stop the car on a level surface. There should be a jack, lug wrench, chock for the wheels, rubber hammer, and penetrating oil in the trunk of the car.

Pry the hubcap off with a screwdriver or the end of the lug wrench (or the jack handle). Some hubcaps require a special wrench which is usually in the glove compartment. Loosen the nuts on the wheel before jacking up the car. Push down counterclockwise on the lug wrench; use your foot, if it is necessary. Spray any rusted nuts with penetrating oil, then wait a few minutes before loosening. Chock the good wheel, and position the jack at the wheel to be changed.

Bumper jack lifts will fit the slot in the bumper; scissors and side-lift jacks will be inserted into pads under the side of the car. Position the jack as directed in the car's owner manual. Some cars have diagrams where the tire is stored. Jack up the car until the wheel is just lifted from the ground. Remove nuts, put on the spare wheel, and replace the nuts so that they are screwed securely by hand. Then tighten the nuts with the lug wrench in a criss-cross pattern. Don't over tighten. Let the jack down by flipping the lever or by turning the scissors down slowly. Turn the wheel nuts tight with the wrench in a criss-cross pattern.

Replace the hub cap so that the valve stem of the tire slips through the hole or slit in the hubcap. Tap the hub cap lightly with a rubber hammer or hit it solidly with the hand. Check to make sure it is securely fitted.

When a tire has a slow leak, an aerosol flat-tire fixer can be used. Follow the directions on the can; then drive to a service station as soon as possible for tire repair.

Tires can squeal due to low air pressure or worn tires. Check the air pressure or, if tires are badly worn, have them replaced.

Tires may wear rapidly due to poor alignment, low air pressure, or worn front-end components. Check the air pressure. If this is not the cause of the problem, take the car in for professional care.

Tires may wobble from many causes. First check the tire air pressure, loose wheel nuts, and worn tires. Have the problem corrected, if this is the source. Tire wobbling may also be due to poor alignment, missing balance weights, bent wheel rims, or worn steering linkage. If you can't correct the problems yourself, have the car checked by an experienced or professional mechanic.

Other Problems

1. Anytime that smoke, steam, fluids or odors are escaping from the car (other than those caused from a cold engine, cold atmosphere or odors from diesel engines and catalytic converters), the car should be checked by someone with repair experience or by a professional mechanic. These problems could be caused by the electrical wiring or by defective components and should be corrected immediately.

2. Any noises such as squealing, hissing, clunking, whirring, and clicking, coming from the front, back, or under the hood, should be inspected and repaired by an experienced repairman.

3. Windshield wiper problems are often due to a blown fuse or a need for new wiper. If the problem is from some other cause, such as wiring or burned-out motor, it should be repaired by a competent repairman.

4. When lights, either headlights (bright and dim), taillights, signal lights, flashers, etc., are out or constantly on, check the fuses. Other defects may be in the wiring or defective elements. Have the problem corrected immediately.

Miscellaneous Emergencies

1. The driver is locked out of the car.

Button locks: Use a wire or a coat hanger. Straighten the wire and make a small loop or fishhook shape at one end. Slip the wire through the crack of the window or down through the top crack of the door. You may slip the wire past the weather-stripping of the door. Jiggle the wire around so that the hook will loop around the button lock and then try to lift up the lock. Have a lot of patience.

If you are unable to pull up the lock for some reason, call a police station and tell them the circumstances. A service station may also help to unlock the door. The police call is free - a service station will probably charge about $25.00

NOTE: The weather-stripping around the window often costs more than the locksmith or tow truck driver's fee.

2. Car is stuck

(a) on ice: When moving the car, keep a steady rate of speed to prevent getting stuck again. Drive slowly. The car may skid some, but as long as it is moving, chances of getting to solid ground are at the maximum.

To get off an ice patch, try kitty litter, sand, dirt, or floor mats for friction. Sprinkle the abrasives (front or back) for about fifteen feet. Put the sack of sand or kitty litter back into the trunk and don't stop for anything until the car is on solid ground. Try not to spin the wheels, but if no abrasive material is available, try letting some air out of the tires to gain some friction.

(b) in snow: There are many ways to free a car from the snow. Try rocking the car back and forth by shifting quickly from drive (or first gear) to reverse. Work out a rhythm to the rocking. After rocking for a few minutes, shift into neutral and increase engine speed to let the transmission cool. Once the car is free, keep it moving. Keep the wheels as straight as possible while rocking. If the wheels heat up, let them cool before continuing. Heated tires will sink deeper into the snow. Don't spin the wheels; this will heat up the wheels and also cause ice to form under the wheels. Put a manual transmission into second gear to rock it.

You may be able to shovel enough snow away from the wheels to get some traction. If there is no shovel, use the base of the jack or fold over the floor mat in the place of the shovel.

Car chains probably can't be mounted at this time, but they may be used to provide traction. Tie the chains to the bumper so that the car will pull them along until you are on solid ground. Strap chains are handy for traction on ice, snow, and sometimes on mud. They can be mounted without jacking up the car.

Put several bags of sand in the trunk of the car for added traction. Even if the weight of the sand doesn't help, you will have sand to spread under the tires when the car is stuck.

(c) in mud: Being stuck in mud is worse than being stuck in either ice or snow, because mud clings to the undercarriage of the car until there is no way to get any traction. Spinning the wheels only drives them deeper. When stuck in the mud, use the same methods as getting out of snow or ice. If these methods don't work, call a tow truck.

(d) in sand: Spinning the wheels in sand drives only drives them down deeper. The undercarriage is hung up once the car is sunk to axle level. At this point, a tow truck will be needed. If the car is not up to the hubs in the sand, try letting a little bit of air out of the tires to increase the friction.

3. Blizzard Conditions. When the car can't be moved during blizzard conditions, don't panic. Below are several survival tips that may help to weather the storm.

(a) If the trouble is just starting, look for shelter: a house, barn, store, or service station nearby.

(b) If you can't see a place of shelter, stay in the car. DO NOT wander around, looking for shelter and get lost in the storm.

(c) Run the engine and the heater for ten minutes every half hour. Open the windows a little bit while the engine is running. Engine idle consumes about one gallon of gasoline per hour. Five gallons of fuel is enough for one day with this method. Don't race the motor and waste fuel.

(d) Open the door once in a while so that it does not become snow packed. When opening the door, check to make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow.

(e) Blow the horn and flash the lights while the engine is running. Don't run down the battery in the meantime.

(f) Stretch arms and legs frequently inside the car.

(g) Use anything available to keep warm: rip out car carpeting for blankets, use floor mats, linings from the trunk, or car seat covers. If the situation becomes really bad, rip the upholstery from the rear seats and roof of the car.

(h) If you absolutely must drive in hazardous conditions, carry food, water and extra clothing in the car in case of emergencies.

4. When the car breaks down on a Federal Interstate, the driver should lift the hood of the car, turn on the emergency signals, and wait for help. This is also true when the car runs out of gas. The person stopping may consent to send a tow truck or may even offer you a ride to the next service station. If a passenger car does not stop, the Highway Patrol will come along eventually and offer help. There are situations, however, that are not as ideal as those on Federal Interstate roads. Drivers sometimes have accidents on isolated roadways - either running out of gas or breakdown of parts. The best advice comes from a patrolman, who says to use your common sense. Be sure to check your gas gauge, tires, and other accessories and parts before taking trips on lonely roads. If your car does have a failure or runs out of gas, it is not always wise to lift the hood, especially if you plan to leave the area. It is probably best to walk to the nearest farm or rural home and ask to use the phone (or ask the homeowner to call for help, if he doesn't want to let you into the house). It would probably be best to lock the car if you plan to walk for any distance or to be away from it for any length of time. If the car breaks down during a storm, such as a blizzard, stay in the car and follow the advice given for blizzard conditions (#3 above). Hitchhiking is illegal, but a policeman will not arrest you if your car has broken down and you are walking in search of help. It is, however, a poor means of travel except in an emergency.

Periodic Care for The Car
If the car owner has periodic maintenance done on the car, it will avoid many of the problems which might otherwise occur. Checkups can be carried out at regular intervals. Below is a checklist that may help in minimizing car problems:
  1. Every time the car is filled with gasoline, either the driver or
      the service attendant should:
      (a) Check the engine oil
      (b) Check the transmission-fluid level
      (c) Check the power-steering-fluid level
      (d) Check the drive belts
      (e) Check the tires to see if they need air or are badly worn

   2. Monthly maintenance with the engine cold includes:

      (a) Check the level of the coolant in the radiator (not the
         reservoir tank)

      (b) Check the level of the fluid in the master cylinder

   3. Monthly maintenance with the tires cold includes:

      (a) Check tire's air pressure

      (b) Look for tire wear and damage

   4. Monthly maintenance at night with a friend includes:

      (a) Check headlights (both dim and bright)
      (b) Check taillights
      (c) Check directional signal lights
      (d) Check brake lights

 5. 3,000-mile maintenance includes:

      (a) Change oil and oil filters
      (b) Car lubrication
      (c) Check air cleaner and replace, if necessary

  6. 12,000-mile maintenance includes:

      (a) Check exhaust system for leaks
      (b) Check wheel alignment
      (c) Lubricate locks and hinges
      (d) Change spark plugs
      (e) Repack wheel bearings
      (f) Drain and replace antifreeze
      (g) Replace windshield wiper blades
      (h) Get a general engine tune-up
      (i) Bleed and refill brake-fluid system

 7. Every 24,000 miles, in addition to the 12,000-mile maintenance:

      (a) Tune up engine, and replace PCV valve
      (b) Replace spark plugs on cars using unleaded fuel
      (c) Change transmission filter

Emergency Equipment

A car's trunk will only hold a certain amount of equipment. Because of the limited space in the trunk, the following list contains the minimum essentials for safety and emergency repairs. Several of the smaller items listed may be carried in the glove compartment for easier access and so they won't get lost under heavier equipment: