Friday, September 20, 2013

Basic Mechanics Skills and Knowing Vehicular Limitations Part 1

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Basic mechanical knowledge and skills are something that any person who hopes to be successful in the EOTWAWKI must have. I am not speaking just about vehicles, but vehicles are an excellent avenue to learn them. I can only talk with authority on my own past, but I know that the wealth of much of my knowledge comes from my extensive background in working on cars.

I won't claim that any of this post is going to be something that you have never read before. Heck, I am willing to bet that you heard much of this speech by a parent or grandfather the day you turned 16. I know I did. And, like almost everyone in this country, I rolled my eyes.

Before you roll your eyes, I propose that we conduct a quick experiment.

I want you to drive down your local heavily used state highway or interstate, say, the one you drive on every day to work. Within 5 miles, you will see a broken down car. Now, the reason for this breakdown can and will vary. It could be because of a catastrophic motor event or a wreck,  but 90% of the time, it is there because the driver doesn't understand the basics of vehicle maintenance, the limits of the vehicle, or how to fix the vehicle in either event. Over the course of my next few topics, we will look at several of these and then explain the significance of the knowledge and it's potential uses.


Tire Maintenance
What's the most common automotive issue I see on American's roadways? Flat tires. Flat tires claim more roadside breakdowns than anything else. And not because the tire went flat, but because the owner either didn't have a spare, the spare was flat, or *most likely* can't change the tire. Of these cars you see on the side of the road, how many have a jack underneath them, or a wheel propping the car up, and were simply abandoned mid-task? How many of them are just left there because they didn't have AAA? I have seen many a fine car left alone on the interstate for hours or days at a time.

Changing a tire is perhaps the simplest task a motorist can learn. And while it IS simple, it teaches several lessons while also being a useful and money saving skill. These skills can save you valuable time and money in the every day world, while perhaps saving your life down the line. Changing a tire teaches many things including, but not limited to, the order of steps needed to complete an involved task, it teaches using a long handled tool to develop a moment to break loose lugs, balancing an unevenly weighed object, and even safety.

Now, for those of you who CAN change a flat tire, you realize that while it's an inconvenient, it isn't a big deal. For those of you who have practiced many times in your life, it is now a habit and can be easily fixed in a matter of minutes. Now, for those of you that can't....what does a flat tire cost you? Mere minutes? Or hours? Do you have to call someone to come help you? What about their time? Does it cost you money? How is your stress level when you miss something important?

Yet, many times the problem is deeper than that.  I remember being 16-18 and my grandmother ALWAYS telling me that my tires looked flat and that I needed to put air in them. But I always ignored her until one day the rim cut the tire down and I had a blowout. I remember driving to Auburn one time and I had a nasty blow out because a randomly 100 degree day caused the tire pressure to increase beyond the capability of the tire. In either case, simply paying attention to the tires would have raised an alarm and I would have rectified the situation. Not to mention that it would have saved me several hundred dollars.  But, I wasn't in the habit of paying attention to my vehicle, neither by checking it out whenever I thought about it OR paying attention to it's behavior on the road.

Here are many things that can tip you off to a tire issue, but all require the driver to be in tune to the vehicle:

  • Uneven wear on the treads. If it's worn on the outside, the tire pressure has been too low. If it's worn in the center, the tire pressure is to high.
  • Does the car pull to one side or the other while driving? This could be a misalignment or one under inflated tire, which will also cause uneven wear. 
  • Is there a "wobble"? If so, you could have tread separation and a blowout could be imminent. 
Furthermore, great care should be taken while driving to limit the hazards to tires. 
  • Always avoid potholes. It may not seems deep or wide, and maybe you have run over thousands of them in your life. But it only takes the right one at the right angle and speed to cut down a tire. That's a a real bad thing to have happen at 70. 
  • Never run over objects on the road. IT may look like a piece of paper, but it could be a shard of metal or class ready to cut your tire. It may be a piece of plywood. Then again, it could be covered with nails. 

Now, how about understanding the limitations of your tires? For example, do you know what the capabilities of a type of tire might be? Do you know if the tires on your current vehicle can be used to go off-road, if the need arises? Conversely, do you know just how long to expect a set of off-road tires to last on the street? In the case of a damaged tire, for example, a cut tire...do you know how to accurately gauge the remaining usefulness of that tire? Or know how to extend it's life by lowering tire pressure and travel speed? In the event of a flat tire, do you know just how fast you can continue to drive on it if need be? Or how to know if you have traveled as far as the physical limits of the flat tire will allow? Do you know what the danger signs of a tire are and can you gauge the severity? For example, what it means when you see the steel belts sticking out of a tire? Do you know what the effective stopping distance in your car is in all weather conditions? Specifically, do you know the conditions of your tires and how they might perform i the rain? In all cases, it requires the drive to be in tune with their vehicle, which in this age of automation and luxury, makes it easy for people to ignore all these important signs. 

So, many of you are asking just how this might save your life in the EOTWAWKI. Let's talk about one of our older posts from the 5 Stages of Preparedness. Specifically, Stage 1: The Immediate. Let's say you have identified a major threat to all cities, specifically the one you live in. While it is important to always take care of your vehicle for your everyday life, it could become vital to your survival. Specifically, if you have to get out of Dodge. You will have so many other things on your mind that you don't need to be worried about if your vehicle will get you where you need to go. Getting into habits such as checking tire conditions and pressure will go a long way to ensuring that at least the tires of your vehicle will hold up.  And, while you are on the go, you have to take care that you limit putting it in circumstances that it might fail you. Paying attention to driving conditions, specifically on the road, may save you minutes, hours, or even a dangerous circumstance that may claim others. For example, if EVERYONE is trying to escape a city, the roadways will undoubtedly be extremely busy. There will be wrecks. There will be objects on the road. Slowing down, paying attention, and limiting the potential for cutting down you tires may save you when it may doom others. What if it' raining? Getting out IS the priority, but knowing the effective stopping distance of your tires due to their physical condition could save you from a costly wreck. 

 But things happen. Sometimes there are forces you can't control. What will you do then? Could you change a tire if you had to? More importantly, can you do it quickly and safely? Will it be such a habit that you can pay attention to your surroundings? What if you didn't already have a vehicle and you needed one. You find one on the side of the road, abandoned. Keys still in it. But the owner couldn't figure out how to use a jack. With 5 minutes work, you have secured potentially life saving transportation. We talked about understanding the limitations of the tire. Let's say that you know there is a potential problem developing that you have identified. You also know that stopping is not a possibility. Understanding the limitations of the tires may allow you to continue your path. While it may not be the optimum speed or method, it may be enough to put those crucial miles behind you. 

What does it take to learn this skill? Just time. Luckily for you, your car manufacturer gave you all the tools you would need. I am willing to bet that there are instructions on the back of the cover panel to the secret compartment that houses the jack and the breaker bar in the trunk of your car. So, take some time on a Saturday afternoon to find out where that compartment is. Pull the cover off, grab the tools, and follow the directions. I promise that even the slowest of you will only need to change the tire 3 times before you will have it down. Even if you don't believe in the EOTWAWKI, you have to believe in saving time and money. How about keeping you from walking down an interstate late one night to find a gas station? I can't think of anything more scary for a woman than the thought of having to start walking down the street to find help.

Indirectly, there is a lot of things a person can gain from learning the basics of tire maintenance. How about the money and time that you can save from simply being in tune with your vehicle by getting in the habit of paying attention to the little things. No one likes buying tires. That's a fact. Identifying potential problems like noticing the vehicle pulling to one side can save money by having it fixed early.  Maintaining the proper air pressure can maximize tire life, saving you money.Simply knowing how to change a tire can save you hours and stress. What about the things you can learn indirectly? Off the top of my head, I think about the cause and effect of air temperature and pressure. How about understanding mechanical properties and friction? If the tire is flat, the surface area increases, so the drag increases causing the car to pull to one side. How about using a breaker bar to overcome your own physical limitations of force? I know it all sounds simplistic to many of you. But I am not writing for those of you that understand. The average American knows virtually nothing about hands-on mechanical work of any kind. They have to learn it by living it. I can't think of a better way to learn than to do so while discovering a valuable skill that has definite uses in your daily life and potential use to save it. 


Don't forget to read some of my other popular EOTWAWKI work!