A chat with Walt Brinker, author of Roadside Survival
The book is available via my website: https://roadsidesurvival.com/. There one can also find many cool links to a variety of Roadside Survival-related subjects; as well as media segments (TV and radio) I have done. The website provides links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as a few other places, as sources for the book
If one were to "Google" "Roadside Survival Walt Brinker" one would find many, many related hits.
The key to getting maximum benefit from this book is not to just stick it in your car’s glove compartment and plan to whip it out and save yourself when you break down! You should read it ahead of time to help prevent breaking down; then pick up my suggested tools and other gear to enable you to help yourself should it happen.
Good advice. Many of us tend to be very reactive when it comes to maintaining our vehicles. We're forced to fix something when it's broken, but don't do much to prevent breakdowns.
I'm certainly guilty of this. I had a flat tire a few months ago. As I went to install the spare, I discovered that the bolt securing the tire to the trunk floor was rusted shut. I spent a half hour banging away at it with my lug wrench (which was also rusty—it's wet here in Oregon) until I was able to break off the screw and free the tire. Fun times.
Do you have a story or two you can share with us here about crazy stuff you've witnessed when assisting a driver roadside?
I have hundreds of great stories; 24 are featured in the book to introduce and amplify the teaching points. Here are a few:
My most memorable assist of a motorist with a pinched low-profile tire was a fellow in an Audi on Interstate 10. Since his unrepaired spare had also recently been pinched and flattened on a speed bump, we took his rim with flat tire to a Discount Tire store. While there, he told me he owned a store that sold comic books and toy “action figures”. He also insisted on paying me for my help. I told him I would take a box of action figures as payment – for my grandson who loved playing with them. I didn’t expect to receive anything, but two weeks later a box of action figures arrived in the mail. My grandson was delighted.
In November, 2009, I was returning to Texas from a funeral in Virginia, traveling south on Interstate 85 just into South Carolina around 9:30 PM, when I spotted a disabled Honda Accord on the northbound shoulder. I exited right away, turned around, and travelled north until I saw the car, pulled over ahead of it and backed up. The driver, whose wife was in the car, told me he had a flat tire and his jack was missing; also, he said that he planned to continue driving that night. The tire change was routine, and when I finished we talked a few minutes. I advised him to not continue driving that night beyond the next motel since he would not be able to replace his flat tire until morning, he had no jack, and his spare tire was old and likely to blow out. The driver was a US Marine no longer on active duty (“Once a Marine, always a Marine”). As an Army veteran I’ll admit that Marines probably have the most service pride of all. He told me he had been very worried as I backed up in the darkness – until he saw my Purple Heart license plate; he said he knew then that he would be okay. I handed him my card with phone numbers and we went our separate ways. An hour or so later I received a call from my wife; she told me that the Marine had called my home phone to report he had taken my advice and checked into a motel. A few days later I received a really nice thank you note in the mail from the Marine; he also wrote, “I never thought I’d say this, but GO ARMY”.
“Joseph”, a very large man from Cameroon, was stopped in his Toyota Highlander on the shoulder of Interstate 10; its right front tire was flat. Its occupants were roasting on the hot summer day. Joseph, the driver and father of the family, told me that he couldn’t get to his spare tire because the vehicle’s rear hatchback, which covered access to lower the spare, wouldn’t open. So I jacked up his vehicle, removed the flat tire, wrapped it in an old sheet, and put it in my car. Joseph and I took it to a Walmart for repair (all it needed was a valve stem). We returned to his vehicle, where I remounted the repaired tire. His 8-year old twin daughters, coached and rehearsed while Joseph and I were gone, performed a really cute, lively “Thank You” dance for me. Very nice. Before I departed, I suggested Joseph visit the nearby Toyota dealer to fix the latch on his rear door; he declined, saying he was in a hurry. His wife remarked acidly, “We might as well not have a spare tire”. I decided to leave before their fight!
The Mazda 626 belonging to the elderly man on Interstate 10 near Brookshire, Texas, had had a blowout. He had moved it to a wide shoulder, jacked it up, and removed the lug nuts, but he was in tears of frustration. He had been there for hours because the rim with flat tire was stuck to his car. I checked his spare tire which was very low on air. As my compressor pumped air into his spare, I tried unsuccessfully with my hands to remove the flat tire’s rim from his car. Then I remembered that I had a hammer in my trunk. With the hammer I struck the inside metal part of his rim a couple of times, and the rim dislodged and fell away from the car. The old man was delirious with relief, giving me a 10-second bear hug as traffic zoomed by at 80 mph. We soon mounted his inflated spare on the car, and he requested my business card. A couple of hours later he called my house and thanked me again; then his wife did the same. Just after this assist I obtained a steel-headed mallet, which I have used the same way at least twenty-five times.
Those stories really made my day! Go Army, indeed. And I can imagine how impressed your grandson was to get a whole box full of action figures.
You gave some great tips earlier in the thread about dealing with tire issues. Would you talk about how to deal with a couple other, non-tire-related breakdown problems?
Non-tire-related breakdown issues: Out of gas, Engine cuts off and will not re-start due to loose battery connection or battery is dead or too weak; Engine overheating; Motorist is locked out of vehicle.
Prevent running out of gas:
- Fill up when the gauge says ¼ full (½ full is better when driving in harsh winter conditions where a vehicle could get stuck in a ditch).
- Don’t wait until the “fuel low” light comes on (it may be burned out); also, you could get caught in a traffic jam on an interstate highway.
- If the fuel gauge is broken, get it fixed.
- Ensure that a diesel vehicle does not run out of fuel! Re-starting a diesel is a pain.
Contend with running out of gas:
- Keep an empty (for safety) 1-gallon gas can in the vehicle so if you run out you can walk with it to the next exit and get gas. Or maybe a Good Samaritan or state trooper will come along and fetch gas with your can.
- If the engine will not start after adding fuel, “rock the car”, by jumping on the open passenger side door frame – causing the added fuel to slosh in the tank and find the intake, as the driver tries to start. Magic! I call this procedure, "Rock the Car".
Prevent engine cut-off due to electrical issue:
- Check tightness of battery connections monthly (they should not be moveable by hand); tighten if needed, and keep the correct wrench handy with the vehicle. Use a combination wrench, not an adjustable monkey wrench – which will not work.
- Listen/pay attention to your vehicle; it will “tell” you when it is about to fail: weak engine starts and dim lights indicate loose battery clamps or failing battery and/or alternator; battery light on means the battery is not being charged and will soon fail, causing the engine to stop. Do not ignore these signs!
Contend with engine cut-off due to electrical issue:
- Have 20-feet long jumper cables in the vehicle; know how to use them to jump start an engine and charge a dead battery using another vehicle’s alternator.
- Have a portable jumper battery in the vehicle. Re-charge after each use or monthly.
- Vehicles with manual transmission can be “push” started, provide the alternator works and battery clamps are tight.
- Vehicles made by Ford Motor Company use an inertia switch to deactivate the fuel pump in a collision in order to prevent a fire. This is an excellent safety feature. It’s common for an inertia switch to disengage during severe off-road driving or a minor collision. Sometimes the switch will disengage for no apparent reason. Simply pushing down the red button located at the top of the inertia switch will reset the switch.
Prevent engine overheating:
- Listen/pay attention to your vehicle; it will “tell” you when it is about to fail: engine temperature gauge reads hot (more than 40% of the way from C to H); funny odors; smoke or steam in engine compartment; excess or white exhaust; fluid leaks. Then, fix problems before they become failures.
- Keep engine coolant (50/50 Antifreeze & water) at proper level.
Contend with engine overheating:
- If engine shows signs of overheating, stow a 1-gallon container of water – to help get vehicle to the shop. Add water to cooling system only after the hot engine has cooled – maybe 20 minutes.
- Duct tape can mend temporarily a small leak in a hose – so the vehicle can be driven directly to a shop.
- Turn up the heater to max to help remove heat from the engine. Turn off the AC to lessen load on the engine.
- If electric motors on engine cooling fans will not come on (more likely when the vehicle is old), they sometimes can be made to work temporarily with a gentle tap with hammer to loosen stuck armatures (do this only when the vehicle’s engine is off!).
Prevent being locked out of your vehicle:
- This happens only occasionally, typically when changing your routine for exiting the vehicle and mistakenly leaving your keys inside when the doors get locked or when for some reason the regular key has been lost or stolen (which can be aggravated if the car battery is dead). Best way to prevent it is to use consistent habits when exiting the vehicle.
Contend with being locked out of your vehicle:
- The best solution to prevent being locked out of one’s vehicle is to keep a spare key (without a transponder, for newer cars), which will unlock the driver’s door mechanically, in a magnetic keybox hidden under the vehicle.
- Stash inside your vehicle a spare key with transponder for the ignition, if applicable.
You've provided a ton of valuable tips during this interview, @Walt-Brinker. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge with me and the other forumites reading this.
In wrapping up, is there any last piece of advice you'd like to offer drivers out there?
There is one big thing that I see a LOT, too much to not mention here.
80% of spare tires I see are either totally out of air or have much too little to perform safely without being reflated. Since 75% of my assists involve a tire issue, this means that fully 60% of all my 2000+ assists involve a very low or flat spare tire! Most tires will lose 1-2 psi per month whether the tire is being used or not. Donut (space saver) spares require 60 psi to function safely. Best to check psi with a tire pressure gauge (you need a gauge that goes up to at least 60 psi; not all do). Countless times the stranded motorist has thumped the spare with a finger or fist and declared it “full”; then I’ll suggest we “just check” with the tire pressure gauge, and the spare will almost always be empty or nearly so. Then I inflate the tire using my 12-volt air compressor, powered either from a cigarette lighter receptacle or a 12-volt receptacle on my portable jumper battery. After a spare tire has gone unused a long time, especially after hanging under a vehicle and exposed to the elements, chances are it will be flat; when this happens the airtight seal between the tire and rim has likely failed – preventing the tire from accepting and retaining compressed air, and rendering the spare useless. I have been lucky several times; my compressor was powerful enough to cause the bead to re-seal with a loud, “Pop Pop Pop”.
Also, to wrap up:
There are two kinds of drivers: 1) those who have already experienced a disabled vehicle (and will again), and 2) those who will for the first time. Each year AAA receives 30 million calls for assistance – just a fraction of total breakdowns. So, it’s not a matter of whether you will break down; it’s a matter of when, where, and how often.
Some folks ask, "Why should I worry about breakdowns? I'll just call for XYZ commercial roadside assistance." I don't knock these assist companies. I can confirm that they usually provide good service in places where they use their own people and equipment, although they're not always timely. Problems occur with breakdowns away from their offices where they often subcontract the work to third stringers who are incompetent. I have seen a lot of this. But why not focus on preventing breakdowns in the first place?
Driver Education teachers have a great training resource at my website page for them: https://roadsidesurvival.com/roadside-survival-for-driver-education/. There you will find, free and clear for you to copy and use, the same PowerPoint file I use for presentations around the country. Reading my book will provide knowledge to replicate my presentation, address these slides, and answer student questions.
Best of luck to readers of this forum!
@walt-brinker Eh, Walt, you must be slipping. You failed to mention how to determine if a tire is six years old or not (actually year that the tire was manufactured). May I have the privilege? Folks, it's the last four numbers of the DOT code stamped on the tire sidewall. The numbers give the week and year of manufacture (e.g., "0511" would mean tire was manufactured fifth week of 2011--which would make it more than six years old). And that example came straight from Walt's book.
@walt-brinker The duct tape and gallon of water to deal with engine overheating were not on the list of emergency supplies listed earlier. Maybe could add it to that list. And while I'm commenting on that list, don't forget to add disposable latex or non-latex gloves and paper towels or wet wipes, since most work under the hood or dealing with tires will get your hands dirty. Also, an important yet relatively easy maintenance item is to keep the battery top and terminals clean. Sometimes the terminals and battery holders become encrusted with corrosion. After cleaning off the corrosion, apply a corrosion-prevention spray, available at most auto parts stores.
Since my last post I have encountered three vehicles with flat tires, which did not come with spare tires. One 2013 Buick regal GS and two Hyundai's. Turns out that Buick won't even sell a compact spare tire for that model, so the only fix would be to stow a full-sized spare tire; problem there is no space allocated for convenient stowage. Lesson here: Before buying a car ensure that it comes with spare tire (full-size or donut, not an inflatable tire substitutes or a can of Fix-a-Flat, which is useless when a tire gets damaged by hitting road debris as was the case with the Buick).