Monday, October 28, 2013

Basic Mechanics Skills and Knowing Vehicle Limitations Part 2

Basic Mechanics Skills and Knowing Limitations Part 1 was an incredible success. After being posted, it generated over 9,000 hits on the Blog last month. Part 1 can be read HERE. I had a tremendous amount of feedback on a post that, frankly, I thought was rather drawl and boring. Perhaps I had forgotten the reason that I had written it to begin with. The fact is, people don't truly understand their vehicles and how they work. They assume that if it starts in the morning and there are no lights flashing at them on the dash, then everything must be ok. 

Sadly, the one piece of equipment that is your most useful in EOTWAWKI is also the one that is the most misunderstand...or not understood at all. So, even though I had struggled to think of ways to make a continuous series on the subject, simply driving around and looking at people's reactions, I have identified some of the things that need to be discussed. Namely, let's discuss vehicle fuel, specifically vehicle range and understanding how to procure fuel when needed. 

Let's start out with a little Q&A on understanding fuel and vehicle ranges.

Basic Dollar-Gallon-Range Conversions
Do you take the amount of gasoline you have into constant consideration? It seems like a stupid question, but can you tell me...right now....exactly how much gas you have in the tank? It's a fair question, really.  If you aren't a gauge hawk like I am, can you at least remember the last time you filled up, how much it was, and how far you have gone since then? The sad thing is, the rest of the questions are a little more difficult. How far can you go on the existing tank you have? Can you tell me, based on different vehicle and motor operating speeds how you can stretch that range? If you were stuck in traffic, how long could your vehicle operate with that existing tank?

Face the facts, folks. They call it an "idiot light" for a reason. Sadly, in this world of information overload, we rely way too much on our car telling us what's going on. But in the situation of EOTWAWKI and bugging out, waiting on the car to tell you how far it can go is waiting too long. 

Even though I am only 31, I have own a lot of older vehicles, going back to my first vehicle...a 1973 International pickup. Its gas gauge was simply a needle with an "F" on one side and an "E" on the other. Depending on how I drove, that gauge wasn't too terribly accurate.  But, it had a tripometer on it and I knew that I could go about 147 miles on a tank of gas. Back then, gas was about $1.00 a gallon, so it was a fairly easy conversion to know just how many miles I bought myself every time I went to the gas pump. Additionally, I knew the exact mileage to and from all the typical destinations I would drive. School was 3.6 miles. The local cruising strip was right at 19 miles. Work was a shade under 10 miles. I could, at any time, do some quick math and figure out where I stood on gas. 

What did I learn in that 2 years of driving that truck? I understood the basic mathematical concepts of conversion rates. I understood how to convert dollars per gallon, to gallons per mile, to total miles available. Every time I filled up, I understood just how far I could go. Or, with the available cash I had, where I could get to. I know it sounds simple, but the average person out there can't or doesn't stand practical math anymore. They drive until the light comes on. Then they pull over and fill up. The problem is, in the EOTWAWKI, life isn't that simple. 


Understanding the Effects of  Driving Style on Range 
Most new cars have these fancy econo-meters on them telling you instantly what kind of gas mileage you are getting. That number is usually used when bragging to your friend on how many MPG you are getting going down hill with a tailwind. Few people understand exactly the effect of driving style on fuel economy. Until you really experience it, you may not full appreciate it. Let me tell you a little story on how I learned just that. 

Years ago, when I had lots of spare time, my friend and I took his little Honda Civic up to a Crow Mountain, which is where they have the Crow Mountain Hill Climb. You can use your imagination on how it works. Anyway, that Civic got around 40 MPG and we put in a few dollars when we left Huntsville. We made several runs up and down the mountain. Since it was a race, it was a high load environment for the motor. Lots of RPMs and a lot of full throttle. The Climb itself is only a few miles each way. So, at the end of the afternoon, we headed back to Huntsville. About the time the engine cut out, we both took a quizzical look at the fuel gauge, now sitting on empty. Both of us were very educated and experienced mechanics. We both understand how it all works. But in our fun, never did we consider that an econo-box car that get's 40 MPGs is actually a little underpowered car who drinks gas when it lives at 6,000RPM and full throttle for 2 hours going uphill half the time. It was embarrassing, but it was a very solid learning moment. 

Additionally, there have been the unexpected situations that have cropped up on me in the last few years. Luckily, none of them have cost me much, but it was scary all the same. For example, there is a section of Interstate 65, just south of Birmingham, at the 285 intersection that ALWAYS has terrible traffic. You will go from 70-80 MPH to a screeching halt (literally). In some situations, like game weekends, it can stay backed up for hours. For once, I didn't fill up in Priceville on our way to Auburn. I had half a tank and figured I would stop and get gas when we stopped for dinner around Montgomery. We breezed through Birmingham and came to a standstill. I was at right at an 1/8th of a tank. It was mid-November and cold and we had the kids with us. Slowly, I watched the range dwindle as we sat for over 3 hours. Now, admittedly, that wasn't that big of a deal. Traffic cleared and we went on our way. A month or so later, however, a massive snowstorm hit that stretch of road. There isn't an exit for several miles in either direction. A combination of weather and wrecks caused the interstate. As a result, people were trapped on the interstate in their vehicles overnight and for 24 hours. That's a scary situation. And this wasn't terrible winter weather. It was Alabama. Imagine running out of gas in Billings, Montana in January. 

Seeing Trouble Ahead and Stocking Up
If you have paid attention to any major weather event in the last decade, you know what happens either shortly before, during, or right after. Gas pumps are overrun with people trying to stock up. Heck, it isn't just weather. Any time there is a significant event in the US, the tanks at every gas station get emptied. While I don't have the money to invest in a large unit, I will say that I keep at least 15 gallons of gas at the house. I don't just do that for my vehicle, but also for my generator in event that power is knocked out. 

Take the events of April 2011 here in Huntsville. A massive system of tornadoes swept through and decimated the area. Almost immediately, gas stations were mobbed. While the weather was known to be dangerous days in advance, almost no one had prepared. Luckily, I had. I had filled up all my vehicles and gas tanks at the house the day before. However, the day after, my dad needed gas, so I rode with him to get it. We had to travel deep into Tennessee to find gas in Pulaski. It took us an hour to get to the state line, which is merely 15 miles away and over 2 hours just to get to the gas station. People were snotty, even violent. Many would hold out at the pump, hogging the gas, even gouging. It was not something that I would suggest you deal with. Sadly, that will pale in comparison to what we will see in the EOTWAWKI. And to think, you could avoid both a dangerous and costly expedition by being smart and looking ahead...even a short 12 hours could make all the difference. It did in my case. Gas was not available for two weeks in my area. Think about the true situation, as we discussed in the Immediate Stage of EOTWAWKI. Half the battle is getting out and hunkering down before anyone else does. 

Now, gas doesn't store too terribly well, so I would suggest taking precautions when stocking up on gas. It is also extremely dangerous to have that much gas stored. I do two thing: I treat my gas with Stabil, which gives you a significant shelf life. I also will use 5 gallons at a time in my lawnmower. Since I have a large lawn, I go through gas constantly. It helps keep gas fresh. Additionally, in the fall, any left-over gas is transferred into my vehicles and I refill my tanks. 

Don't just think of your cars and those red gas tanks. Think outside of the box. For example, I learned from my boss...when you look ahead, fill all those gas tanks....including your boat. Where else will you find a mobile refill station? My Skeeter has 2 26 gallon tanks that are easy to siphon, if needed. That's a lot of gas! 

What to do if You Run Out
Bad things happen. Sometimes your luck isn't that good. Sometimes you just make mistakes. Now what? Do you know how to siphon gas? Can you do it without killing yourself? There are tons of information out there on how to do this. Take some time to read up, but make sure you at least demonstrate to yourself that you can do it. In all of my Bug-Out-Bags, my 24 hour kit and even in my 24 Hour Car Kit, I have a section of hose simply for this. Suction it to your lips, drop it below the level of the gas tank and into a container. Now you have gas. Now, this isn't just in the case of Mad Max...stealing it from someone else's ride. There are tons of places around your house that may have a gallon or two. Weed Eaters. Lawn mower. Leaf blower. ATVs. Boats. You name it. When it comes down to needing a few more gallons, make sure you think about all of your potential sources. 

And, as mentioned with the Mad Max situation, if it calls for it...understand how to get it out of other cars. I learned how to do this effectively when I parted out a wrecked car that had a full tank. I bought the car for nothing and had already made my money, but there was easily 60 dollars of free gas that took me 10 minutes to liberate. 

If you don't have a hose and it really came down to it, understand the basics of cars. Again, the average person has virtually no idea on how a vehicle works, much less that intricacies of a fuel system.  There is a gas tank, it has a line that runs to the engine. The gas tank usually has an access hatch in the trunk or under the rear seat. The lines usually run against one of the frame rails. Chances are, there will be a soft hose section. Cut it and now you have access to the gas. If it has all hard lines, a screw driver and a hammer will make a small hole. If you have extra time or you don't want to destroy anything, take the time to find and open that access port. 


Conclusion
Again, it all comes down to having practical knowledge to apply outside of the box thinking. Get into the habit of keeping track of your mileage, how much you spent, and when. Keep your mind sharp by exercising it. Do that math and come up with the different ranges you could experience in your car. More importantly, where you could get to and how long you have to get there.  Prepare for the worst and plan ahead. It's a simple thing. If you know there will be a major event such as bad weather, take the time to get gas before everyone else does. If you can't prepare, know how to solve your problems by getting the fuel by whatever means you have, weather its cannibalizing it from your other equipment or otherwise. Remember, when it comes to your survival, there is no such thing as looking silly when buying gas in 5 different jugs, or siphoning out gas. That's for all of the others who won't make it.


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