Having poor alignment can lead to a collision, and a collision can lead to poor alignment. There are many other things that can lead to both, but it’s important to understand how to identify, correct, and maintain proper alignment of your vehicle to keep it, and its passengers, safe.
Sometimes, after a collision, your vehicle can suffer damage that doesn’t directly affect alignment, but it can affect things that will rapidly decrease your alignment.
What is alignment?
Alignment, when used in terms of a vehicle, refers to how well the wheels line up with the steering wheel. Simply, poor alignment happens when the steering wheel is straight, but the tires are aimed to one side. There are varying degrees of misalignment depending on how vast the difference in direction is.
What causes poor alignment?
Poor alignment can be caused by many things, from a collision, especially one involving the front end of the vehicle, to a repair involving the parts surrounding steering, tires, suspension, etc. Over time, alignment will vary especially if tires aren’t maintained, roads are bumpy, or the car is accustomed to rough driving.
Why is alignment important?
● With properly aligned tires, it’s easier for the vehicle to navigate any road. You’ll save on gas and repair costs by maintaining alignment.
● Because a car with aligned tires doesn’t work as hard, it uses less gas, saving the environment.
● Tires that are misaligned tend to wear unevenly (uneven tires can also cause misalignment), which means they’ll need to be replaced sooner.
● Misaligned tires make the vehicle harder to steer and control, which can lead to accidents. Alignments make your vehicle much safer to drive.
How to identify alignment issues after a collision
If you’ve recently been in a collision that involved the front end of your vehicle, it’s a good idea to have the alignment checked as you have your vehicle repaired. Look for damage to the following systems as well, because they can cause poor alignment.
● As you drive, does the car pull to one side or the other when the steering wheel is straight? Alignment and steering are directly related.
● Do you hear a squealing noise during slow turns? Your wheel well, brakes, or steering and suspension system may be affected.
● Is your steering wheel off center?
● Does the steering wheel vibrate as you drive?
You may know that the engine has coolant, which is one of the fluids under the hood that needs to be regularly checked. But, do you know what the coolant does, or that it’s part of a cooling system within your vehicle? There are different kinds of cooling systems in vehicles today, including liquid cooled systems and air cooled systems.
What is coolant?
Water is a highly effective material when it comes to holding heat, but it’s freezing and boiling temperatures aren’t compatible with an automobile engine. So, coolant fluid was invented to improve on water’s usability.
Coolant liquid is usually a mixture of antifreeze and water. It is pushed through a series of pipes within the engine to bring the temperature down by absorbing the heat, and traveling to the radiator, where it is cooled.
How does a liquid cooled system work?
The engine and the cylinder head, which contains part of the combustion chamber, both contain a system of cooling channels, through which the coolant liquid flows. As it flows, it absorbs heat from the engine, moving it along the channels. Near the cylinder head, all channels come together into one outlet. At this point, a pump takes coolant from this system toward the radiator, where it is cooled by a fan, and sent back through the channels to continue cooling the engine.
The hotter the engine, the more coolant needs to be topped up in a water cooled system. It’s important to check your levels, especially if you notice the gauge on your dashboard shows that the engine temperature is nearing or reaching higher temperatures.
Most cars today use a liquid cooled system.
How does an air cooled system work?
Air cooled engines maintain the right temperature by allowing air to flow over the hot surfaces. The engine block and cylinder head in this kind of engine have large aluminum fins that reach outside of their containers that pull the heat from the engine and spread it over a larger surface, allowing it to cool faster as an engine powered fan pushes air hot air over them. This cools the fins and removes heat from the engine block, maintaining a safe and constant temperature.
Air cooled systems are more common in older vehicles.
How do I know if there is a problem with my coolant system?
The first way to identify a problem with your coolant system is to watch the temperature gauge on your dashboard. This lets you know if your engine is warmed up enough in the winter, or if it’s overheating, which may signal a problem with your coolant system.
The check engine light can also signal a coolant system error, so make sure to have it checked out if it turns on.
Check the coolant level in your vehicle regularly, or have it checked professionally. If you notice a coolant leak below your vehicle, you may have an issue!
How to Handle a Collision with an Uninsured Driver
Ideally, and according to the law, every driver in the United States would be insured. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Unfortunately, uninsured and underinsured drivers are on the roads, and you have no way of knowing when you’ll come across one.
What is an underinsured driver?
An uninsured driver is one who is on the road without auto insurance. An underinsured driver, however, is one that has insurance, but the limit isn’t high enough to cover the damage caused in an accident.
Every insurance policy comes with a limit to what the insurance company will cover, and individuals can choose the limit they want for their policy. But, if a driver is in an accident with an expensive car or a collision that causes a lot of costly damage, the limit may not be high enough.
How do I handle a collision with an underinsured driver?
The basics of a collision with an underinsured driver are the same as an accident with any other driver.
● Make sure you and your passengers are okay,
● Check on the driver and passengers in the other vehicle,
● If the other driver is leaving the scene, make sure to get as much information from them as possible, including:
○ phone number,
○ insurance information, and
○ license plate number.
● Call the police and ask if they have any requests before they arrive,
● Request an ambulance,
● Take photos of the scene,
● If possible, move the vehicles out of the way of traffic,
● Wait for the police to arrive and make an accident report,
● Contact your insurance company and your collision repair technician to take care of your car and make a claim.
The main difference between an accident with an underinsured driver and an adequately insured driver is that you’ll need to see if your insurance company will cover the costs that the other driver and his or her insurance company is unable to pay.
Do I have to pay?
Whether or not your insurance company will pay for the costs associated with your accident depend on your insurance policy. Many insurance companies offer uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, so that when you are in an accident with an underinsured motorist, your policy is intended to cover the costs, up to your limit.
The oldest among us may be the wisest, but sometimes, tasks that were once easy to tackle can be more of a challenge. It’s important to be careful driving in winter weather, especially with slick roads, low visibility, colder temperatures, and less daylight.
Keep Your Car in Shape
Your car needs to be prepared for the weather every time you drive it. That means it’s important to keep it well maintained. Are winter tires allowed in your area? They may help improve traction in the snow and ice.
● Check the tire pressure and treads regularly,
● Keep the gas tank at least half full,
● Change your oil regularly,
● Keep your windshield wipers in good shape and your wiper fluid filled,
● Have dashboard warning lights checked quickly,
● Have your battery inspected – they tend to wear out faster in cool weather.
● Keep your brakes in good working condition, and
● Check that all of your lights work.
Always Be Prepared
It’s also important that you are always prepared to drive. That means making sure that you’re comfortable driving in the current conditions, and that you have everything with you that you’ll need in case you do get stuck. In addition to a winter ice scraper, keep an emergency kit in your car with the following:
● Warm clothing,
● Non-perishable food,
● A cell phone, and
● Comfortable shoes.
You can also prepare by having your health and vision checked! Don’t drive after taking certain medications, or if you’re feeling tired or sick. Keep in mind that certain times of the day have more traffic, and it’s safer and easier to plan your travels around these times. That also makes it easier to stick to main roads that are likely to be less slippery and snowy.
Every time you get behind the wheel, do what you can to make this trip easy for yourself.
● Clear all the snow and ice off windows and mirrors to improve visibility as much as possible,
● Let your car warm up – it’s not good to drive a cold engine,
● Use your headlights, even during the day. They’re not just for you to see – they help other drivers see you better as well,
● Keep in mind that bridges tend to be icier and windier, and be alert, aware, and cautious,
● If the weather is bad and your journey is not an emergency, consider putting it off until conditions improve, and
Bring your cell phone with you in case of emergencies, but don’t use it while driving
If you’re in an accident, there are always certain steps you should take to maintain your safety, the safety of others involved, and the safety of other cars that may be approaching the area. But, in the winter, there are several factors that can require a change in the procedure.
● Winter daylight hours are shorter, weather is cloudier and precipitation is likely to impair visibility, so it’s important to make sure that you can be seen.
● Snow, ice, and other messy road conditions can make it hard for cars to stop when they do see you, so it’s important to leave extra space.
Whether you’re waiting for help after an accident or you’re just trying to make sure everyone is okay and clear the road, it’s important to keep the following in mind during a winter car accident.
No matter when you’re in an accident, it’s important to stay calm. The accident has already happened, and yelling at others isn’t going to change that, and in the winter, it’s extra important to keep safety in mind after an accident.
● It might not be safe to get out of your vehicle, so first, check your surroundings
● Turn on your hazards
● Check yourself for injuries, then check your passengers, and if possible, the passengers of other vehicles
Depending on the severity of the accident, you may be in shock and unaware of your own injuries or your surroundings. Call the authorities, even if you aren’t sure it’s necessary.
Stay Out of the Road
Pay attention to your surroundings. If and when it is safe for you to get out of your vehicle, pay attention. If possible, take photos and document the accident, and stay out of the road. If you can, move your vehicle off the road so that traffic can safely continue past you. Any obstacle in the road, even an accident, has the potential to cause accidents, especially when the roads are slippery and sight is limited.
If you can’t move your vehicle and you can’t get off the road, stay in your vehicle rather than next to it.
If you have them, put up flares, lights, reflectors, or brightly colored cloth to make yourself and your vehicle more visible. Make sure that if you’re around a curve, you place warning lights far enough back that cars can see them as they approach and not just as they hit the curve. Use your hazard lights!
If you have an emergency kit in your car, now is the time to use it. Stay warm, use your extra blankets and clothes, and stay in the vehicle if possible. If you need to run the engine, make sure your tailpipe isn’t clogged with dirt or snow – it could be after the accident.
You’ve probably heard of recalls and service bulletins on the news relating to various vehicles and auto parts over the years. Some of them are more dangerous than others, but it’s important to understand what these recalls and service bulletins mean, especially when they apply to your vehicle.
The most important of these warnings to understand are the safety recalls, because, of course, they have to do with your safety. Safety recalls come in two versions: mandatory and voluntary.
Mandatory Safety Recalls
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) is a government agency that is responsible for ensuring vehicle safety in the United States. When the NHSTA issues a recall, it’s called a Mandatory Safety Recall, and the vehicle manufacturer pays for any repairs or replacement parts. These recalls are generally for safety related defective parts.
Voluntary Safety Recalls
The manufacturer can also issue a safety recall, but these are called Voluntary Safety Recalls. These are for defective parts that could, potentially, affect safety, but not necessarily. These repairs or replacement parts are also paid for by the manufacturer.
When a vehicle has an issue that isn’t great, but isn’t going to affect the safety of its passengers or its ability to function properly, a technical service bulletin may be issued.
The bulletin will list the issue, the repair for the issue, and possibly, a change in procedure for handling the issue in the future. While a technical service bulletin will let consumers know what might be wrong with a vehicle, they also serve to notify dealerships of new issues and repair procedures. Because technical service bulletins are often issued only to dealerships, if you have your vehicle serviced at an independent repair shop, you may not be aware that such a bulletin exists for your vehicle unless you go looking for the information.
Repairs outlined in service bulletins may or may not be paid for by the manufacturer. Often, if the vehicle is still within its manufacturer warranty period, the manufacturer will pay, but if it’s not, the consumer is responsible for the cost.
Finding Service Bulletins and Safety Recalls
If you’re wondering whether a service bulletin or safety recall applies to your vehicle, search the NHSTA website! You can use your vehicle make, model, year, and VIN to search for alerts relating to your car, so that if there is an issue, you can have it taken care of as soon as possible.
Most drivers aren’t looking to get in a collision – they can be painful to your wallet, your property, and to any people who are involved. Unfortunately, the most common kinds of collisions are those when traffic is moving slowly, or not at all. These low speed, low impact accidents are called fender benders.
So, what causes fender benders, and how can we prevent them?
Rear End Collisions
Rear end collisions can happen anywhere, all they require is for one car to hit another from behind. They’re the most common kind of collision that happens in the United States, and they don’t have to happen at high speed to cause damage.
The best way to avoid a rear end collision is to pay attention! If your car is working properly, (make sure your brakes, brake lights, and headlights are working well!) avoiding a rear end collision is usually a matter of leaving enough space between you and the vehicle in front of you, and braking early enough.
Parking Lot Collisions
Parking lot collisions are similar to rear end collisions – they occur when vehicles are too close, and generally occur at low speeds. In a parking lot, one car may be parked during an accident!
Again, if your vehicle is functioning properly, the best way to avoid a collision is to pay attention. Parking lots may not have posted speeds, but generally 15 miles per hour is the fastest one should drive in a parking lot. The more vehicles, especially driving vehicles, and the more people are in a parking lot, the slower your speed should be. Make sure to go easy on the gas pedal, and pay attention to your surroundings in all directions.
Tips for Paying Attention While Driving
Paying attention is one of the first things they’ll teach you in driver’s education. To make sure you’re at your best, follow these tips.
Drive Sober – Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol will likely impair your reaction time and your depth perception, meaning you’ll notice things later, react later, and misjudge their distance from you. This rule applies to both prescribed and recreational drugs!
Stay off the Phone – Cell phones are one of the main causes of accidents today! Driving slowly is not an excuse to split your attention between driving and using an electronic device, whether it’s built into your car or one you bring with you.
Use your Mirrors – Your mirrors are there to help you see what’s around you, so make sure to use them!
Anti-lock brakes (ABS brakes) are a safety feature that most cars on the road today have, but most people don’t understand how ABS brakes function, or how they’re safer than completely manual brakes.
If there is an issue with ABS brakes, there should be a dashboard warning light that comes on to let the driver know. It’s important to have it looked at, especially with winter coming, because that’s when anti lock brakes are especially important.
How do Anti-Lock Brakes Work?
The idea behind anti-lock brakes is that they allow the wheel to turn slower, thus slowing the vehicle down, without losing traction on slick surfaces, like ice. To do this, instead of stopping the wheel from spinning, or locking the wheel into place, anti-lock brakes will brake slowly, a little bit at a time. When ABS brakes kick in, the driver may feel the brakes pumping.
ABS brakes work with speed sensors that let the brakes know how fast the wheels are turning. They contain valves and pumps, which allow the pressure to be added and released from the brakes, which creates the pumping feeling that the driver may feel.
How to ABS Brakes Help?
ABS brakes allow the driver to maintain control of steering when braking, especially when slowing down in slick conditions like winter weather, rain, or mud. They also help to maintain stability.
Braking and steering are both affected by the amount of traction the tires have on the road. ABS brakes help to allow that traction to be divided between both tasks, so that when braking, steering capabilities aren’t lost.
How do I Use ABS Brakes?
With ABS brakes, the correct way to brake is to apply constant, steady pressure to the brakes – don’t pump! Anti-lock brakes will pump for you and provide the most traction and stability. (Without ABS brakes, you should pump the brakes to manually provide as much traction as possible)
What if My ABS Warning Light Is On?
If your ABS warning light is illuminated for more than just the first few seconds after you start your car, they’re not working properly. It’s important to have these serviced as soon as possible, especially with winter approaching!
You shouldn’t feel your ABS brakes kicking in during normal road conditions, and if they do, it can be dangerous. Have them checked out so that you know your brakes won’t fail you while you’re driving.
If your brake light and your ABS light are both turned on, you may not have functioning brakes!! Don’t drive your vehicle without consulting an expert first.
Introduction to Collision Damage
When your vehicle has been in an accident and you take it to the repair shop, your repair technicians have a system for inspecting it for damage. While the system can vary a little depending on the shop you go to and the car you drive, there are a few specific things that collision repair technicians always check for.
Understanding how a technician inspects your vehicle for safety and functionality can help you understand the estimating and repair process.
Inspect Obvious Damage
If there is obviously major damage to the vehicle, the repair technicians will start there. Vehicles are designed to protect the driver and passengers and the most vital parts of the car, like the engine.
When an impact occurs, the damage follows a specific path. When an inspector looks at the car to estimate the cost of repairing it, they should follow a path called ‘the flow of damage.’ Depending on the force of the impact, the damage may be more or less extensive, but it should follow a specific path.
Inspect the Fenders & Bumpers
Fenders and bumpers (as we mentioned in last week’s post) are usually the first parts of the car to be damaged. Their main purpose is to absorb the damage caused by a collision, especially a minor collision.
Usually, collision repair technicians check for four types of damage: dents, scratches, breaks, and scratches. These can easily be seen from the outside of the vehicle, but extensive damage behind the bumper may take more time to find.
Inspect the Windshield
Cracks and chips in the windshield may seem like minor issues, but the windshield plays an important role in protecting the passengers in the vehicle, and in providing support. A good repair technician will inspect the windshield for damage, and recommend repairs or replacement.
Inspect the Door Panels
A minor crash from the side is likely to affect the door panels. While the door panels are also designed to absorb the impact of a crash, they are more functional than bumpers and fenders, and sometimes a repair is essential for the safety and functionality of the vehicle.
A collision repair technician will check for gaps, misalignments, and uneven panels. Gaps and small dents might be okay to leave alone if you don’t want them repaired, but severe dents and misalignments can be dangerous.
Fender Benders: Minor Accidents and Common Collision Damage & Repairs
Fortunately, most of us have never been in a truly devastating car accident. Fender benders, on the other hand, happen quite often. Have you ever wondered where the term ‘fender bender’ comes from?
In an accident, no matter how minor, the fender, which is often used synonymously with bumper, is the most commonly damaged auto part. Fenders and bumpers are also specifically designed to protect the more critical parts of a car. Because of this, the term ‘fender bender’ is used to refer to minor auto accidents, whether or not they actually affect the fender or bumper.
Why the Bumper?
The front and rear bumpers are attached to the front and rear of a vehicle, respectively. The purpose of a bumper is to absorb the damage caused by a collision, especially in small or low-speed crashes.
They’re not meant to protect the passengers, but they do protect important parts of the vehicle like the engine, headlights, taillights, etc.
Bumpers are designed to be easier to replace and less critical to the functioning of the vehicle than the parts they protect. That’s why they’re generally the first point of contact in a crash, which leaves them vulnerable to the most damage.
Why the Fender?
Although they’re often used interchangeably, and they do work together, the fender and the bumper are not the same thing. A fender frames the outside of the wheel, and is often connected to the bumper, which is why the words are often used interchangeably.
Fenders serve the same purpose as bumpers: to protect the vehicle. However, while bumpers protect parts like the engine and lights, the fender protects the wheel. On modern vehicles, it’s usually more difficult to tell the difference between the fender and the bumper.
Fender Bender Repairs
Usually, both the fender and the bumper are damaged in one of four ways: they’re dented, scratched, cracked, or broken.
Minor scratches can usually be buffed out, and deeper scratches can be covered. Dents can be pushed out or pulled out with a vacuum. Cracks will need to be filled in, unless they’re particularly wide, in which case they need to be reinforced in order to maintain the protection the part needs to provide. Breaks may be able to be reinforced and repaired like a crack, but they may not be repairable. Sometimes, the part needs to be replaced.
Any bumper and fender repair will need to be repainted to match the vehicle, which can sometimes be the most challenging part of the repair!