How to Make a Car Emergency Kit

Whether it’s a flat tire or a run-in with a winter storm, a vehicle emergency can really catch you off guard. The first step you should take in creating a road emergency plan is to give your insurance agent a call. Many insurance carriers offer roadside assistance services as a policy add-on, if it is not already part of your auto coverage. Often, available roadside assistance services will include towing, battery jump-start, flat tire change, fuel delivery, lockout service, and winching service. Your agent will be able to tell you if you can benefit from your auto insurance carrier’s roadside assistance coverage or assist you with adding it to your policy.

There is no such thing as being too safe, and you should still consider creating a car emergency kit in case your roadside assistance is delayed or unavailable for some reason. Here are some items you may want to include in your own kit.

Tools to Fix Your Vehicle

Say you get a flat tire. Perhaps your cell phone has died and you don’t have a car charger or you’re in an area with no cell service. In this case, you will not be able to contact roadside assistance, and it’ll be up to you to get out of the emergency situation. You can be prepared for this possibility by having a car emergency kit that includes items such as a properly inflated spare tire, tripod jack, and wheel wrench. It’s always a good idea to include jumper cables in your kit as well, and don’t forget a reflective vest and reflective triangles that will make you visible to passing cars as you walk around your vehicle making repairs.

Supplies to Prepare for Anything

Speaking of dying cell phones, your emergency kit should definitely include a car cell phone charger or even a portable charger. The latter, also called a power bank, is a device you “power up” at home and can use anywhere to charge your cell phone. These power banks can hold charge for several months if fully charged once and kept at room temperature. This may be an issue if you park your vehicle outdoors, but you can rectify the problem by regularly recharging your power bank and placing it back in your vehicle for storage. Consider also including a basic first aid kit, flashlight with replacement batteries, water bottles, and nonperishable, high-energy foods such as protein bars and nuts.

Emergency Phone Numbers

Even if your cell phone dies, a passerby may pull over and have a phone you can use. If this happens, you’ll want to be able to access phone numbers for your roadside assistance service, insurance agent, or an emergency contact. Have these numbers typed or written on paper that you can keep in your glove box instead of keeping them only on your cell phone.

Cold Weather Specific Items

If you live in an area with lots of cold weather, it’s a good idea to take this into account when putting together your emergency kit. A shovel and ice scraper are useful tools to have, cat litter helps provide tire traction, and you’ll likely need warm clothing and blankets if you are stuck for a period of time.

What Else Can You Do?

Practicing responsible car care is the best way to ensure your vehicle won’t get into any emergency situations. Unexpected situations do arise, but some emergencies can be prevented. Keep up with your vehicle’s maintenance and always keep a full gas tank. And remember – be sure to check with your agent first and foremost to find out about securing roadside assistance through your auto insurance carrier.

What to Do If Your Car Is Stolen

Remain Calm

If you believe your car has been stolen, your immediate response is likely to completely freak out. This is understandable, but there is a chance you could be mistaken. It is possible that your car was towed or even that your teenager took it without asking. Make a few calls to local towing companies to see if your car is with them. If you determine that your car was, in fact, stolen, you must still remain calm so you can follow the correct procedures.

Call the Police

This is your first step once you know your vehicle was taken. To report your car as stolen, you will need to provide facts that the police can use to identify your car. This information includes a detailed description of the vehicle including make, model and year, color, and any unique features such as bumper stickers or dents. You will also want to have your license plate number and vehicle identification number (VIN) on hand to provide to police. If you don’t know these off the top of your head, consider keeping a note of them in your wallet or cell phone. It’s especially important to contact police right off the bat, since many carriers will not honor a claim unless a police report is filed first.

Contact Your Insurance Agent

After filing a report with the police, it is time to file a claim with your insurance. Only a comprehensive auto insurance policy offers coverage in the case of theft, but even if you do not have this policy it is a good idea to notify your insurance agent about the incident. By notifying insurance, you may still be able protect yourself against any damage that occurs to persons or property while the vehicle is in possession of the thief or thieves. You will want to have at hand the same vehicle information you provided to the police, as well as items such as the title, a list of the location of all keys to the vehicle, a list of any personal property that was in the vehicle, the police report number, and contact information for your finance or leasing company. You provide the information, and your agent will take care of the rest.

Final Steps

After taking the initial steps to report the theft to police and involve your insurance agent, you will want to tie up any loose ends by notifying other parties that have an interest in your vehicle. Your agent will likely take care of this, but you can also place a call to your finance or leasing company. Report the theft to the DMV as well.

You should continue working with your insurance agent to see about rental vehicle coverage, but the only thing to do once all these steps have been completed is to wait. Your car may be recovered, but unfortunately there is a chance it may not be. Your agent will be there by your side throughout the process, whatever happens.

Teens and Distracted Driving

Starting to drive is one of the most exciting experiences for teenagers, but it can also be one of the most dangerous. According to the CDC, teenagers are the most likely age group to get into a traffic accident. Teens are more likely to speed and less likely to wear seatbelts than older drivers. They are also much more likely to become distracted while driving, resulting in a much higher potential for injury-causing or even fatal accidents. What are the most common distractions facing teen drivers, and what can be done?

Cell Phone Usage

Perhaps the most obvious cause of teen distracted driving is the use of cell phones while on the road. Cell phone use while driving is illegal in some states, but many people–especially teenagers–still engage in it. Both talking on the phone and texting are dangerous for the teen driver, and many teens will even open and use social media apps while driving. Distracted driving causes 15% of all injury-causing accidents, so as the most susceptible to distracted driving, teens should be made highly aware of the potential consequences of their actions.  

Talking on the phone can cause mental distraction and manual distraction, and even hands-free conversation methods can cause distraction. Texting while driving is much more dangerous, as it causes mental, manual, and visual distraction. Taking your mind off the road is never good, but focusing your mind, hands, and eyes elsewhere is an incredibly dangerous combination. When you are distracted in these ways, reactions to potential dangers are much slower or may be completely missed.

Other Distractions

Cell phones are a serious distraction for teen drivers, but they are not the only source. Anything that takes your hands off of the wheel and mind or eyes off of the road can cause an accident. This includes activities such as eating, changing the music, applying makeup, and interacting with passengers. This last is perhaps the most dangerous of all. Studies have found that teenagers’ chances of a crash increase significantly with each additional passenger in the vehicle. This is especially true if the fellow passengers are teen peers.

Solutions

It is important for parents to share the dangers of distracted driving with their teenage children, but it is even more important for adults to model responsible driving behavior. Teens will not heed warnings against phone usage or other risky activities if they regularly see their parents engaging in these behaviors.

There are also some mobile apps that will prevent cell phone usage while a car is in motion or when manually enabled before driving. These apps can be a good way to help teens become accustomed to leaving their phone alone while driving, so that in the future they can practice self control on their own.

Be Prepared

Educating teens about distracted driving and helping them find ways to combat these dangers can greatly help reduce teenage traffic accidents. However, we cannot control everyone on the road, and even the safest drivers can experience a collision. Make sure you and your family is covered in the event of a car accident with the right auto insurance.

6 Ways to Know if Your Brakes are Failing

Brake failure is easily one of the most dangerous malfunctions that can occur in your vehicle. There are many reasons why brakes fail, but even if you aren’t a mechanic, you should know the signs of brake failure so you can get your car serviced as soon as you start noticing them! Here are six ways to know if your brakes are starting to malfunction.

YOUR BRAKE PEDAL HAS FALLEN

A falling brake pedal is one of the classic signs of brake failure. When your brakes are in good condition, your pedal will stay in the same position every day. If it falls toward the floor, it will be impossible not to notice. This means that your brakes are likely out of adjustment, and it could mean that there is a mechanical failure or air in your vehicle’s system.

YOUR BRAKES ARE SQUEALING OR GRINDING

Brakes that squeal or grind aren’t just nuisances. They’re actually a pretty serious problem, because these noises can indicate that your brake pads are wearing thin and/or that the brake is worn all the way down to the rotors.

YOUR BRAKE PEDAL IS VIBRATING

When we say vibrating, we don’t just mean the slight shudder caused by your anti-lock brake system (ABS)  when you slam on the brakes really hard. We mean a shudder that happens when you hit your brake normally, often accompanied by a chattering noise and a hard-to-control steering wheel. The chattering sound is usually produced by warped rotors, which the brakes can’t clamp onto as easily to stop the vehicle.

YOU THINK YOUR ALIGNMENT IS OFF

If your car is pulling to one side or the other when you brake, don’t automatically mistake it for a slight misalignment! If you notice the pulling only when you apply pressure to your brakes, it could mean that one of the car’s wheel cylinders or calipers is seized or frozen. It could also mean that you have fluid leaking on the brake pads or shoes.

YOU HAVE TO HIT THE BRAKES HARDER

If you begin noticing that you have to press your brakes harder than usual to slow down or stop, it could mean that one of your brakes or an axle isn’t performing the way it should. Don’t let this continue for awhile; call your mechanic and bring your car in for a checkup as soon as possible.

WHAT TO DO

If you think your brakes are failing, it is imperative that you get your vehicle checked out as soon as you can. Properly functioning brakes can do more than save you from a fender-bender and an insurance headache – they can save your life.