Weather forecasters say there’s a 95 percent chance of an El Niño rainy season in California this winter. Since El Niño forecasts typically mean significant rainfall, the Automobile Club of Southern California strongly urges Southland motorists to prepare their vehicles in advance so they may perform well while driving on wet freeways and roads.
“Now is the time to get your car or truck ready for what could be unprecedented rainfall,” said the Auto Club’s Approved Auto Repair Program Manager Dave Skaien. “You do not want to get caught without tires, brakes and windshield wipers in good condition because it could mean experiencing a significant driving or visibility problem.”
The safety implications are serious. In 2011, the last rainy winter here, more than 8,615 people were killed or injured in California in crashes involving rain, snow, and fog, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Car maintenance needs typically increase during wet weather anyway, according to Skaien, who has worked for 20 years in the Auto Club’s Automotive Services group. To prepare a vehicle for the El Niño rains, he strongly advises motorists to:
- Track down and read your owner’s manual. The manual should be in the glove box of the vehicle. Motorists should read their vehicle owner’s manual and get needed maintenance performed as much as they can. Can’t find the manual? Check the manufacturer’s web site for it.
- Look at your tires. Tires have been subjected to severe dry conditions in the multi-year drought. Make sure tires are in good condition and are at recommended inflation. Driving with moderate tread or bald tires on a slippery surface is a major factor in skidding. In wet conditions, it’s advised that tires should have at least 6/32nd of an inch tread depth at any two adjacent grooves. Driving on tires that are over inflated or under inflated can be extremely dangerous on wet pavement. Approximately, 85 percent of cars on the road have at least one tire that is underinflated, according to the Rubber Manufacturer’s Association.
- Check windshield wiper blades. Streaks or skipping on the windshield are signs of worn wiper blades. Inspect wipers now and monthly. Check washer solvent reservoir to ensure it's full. Use windshield washer fluid, not water, since it’s formulated to cut through oils that may get splashed on the windshield. It typically provides freeze protection and it won’t harm vehicle paint. Also, it’s very helpful to use water repelling glass treatment inside and outside your windows and windshield because it helps drivers to see more clearly.
- Check headlights, brake lights and windshield defroster. Driving in rain means reduced visibility -- so don’t be the car missing a headlight or brake light. Check to see that exterior and interior lights work and headlights are properly aimed. “Headlights help you see, and lights around your vehicle help others see you,” said Skaien. California law states that your headlights must be on if the windshield wipers are in use in the rain. A windshield defroster that works helps to keep the inside of the windshield clear of fog and moisture.
- Have brakes checked. The braking system is the vehicle’s most important safety item. Clear signs such as the brake light displaying on the car’s dashboard or feeling that your vehicle is taking longer to stop than necessary mean it’s time for the brakes to be checked. Brakes should be inspected at every service. As a reminder, vehicles with wet brakes and wet roads need increased stopping distance so motorists should anticipate this while driving.
- Test and replace old or weak batteries. Who wants to be stuck in the driveway or elsewhere when the car engine won’t turn over? Cold wet weather temperatures break down car batteries internally and can accelerate the rate of corrosion on battery terminals, leading to insufficient electrical power and the risk of being stranded without warning. Batteries should be tested during vehicle maintenance services and should likely be replaced when five years old, according to Skaien.
- Check and remove modifications to vehicle. If you or your mechanic modified the air filter (commonly referred to as a “fresh air intake system”) to get more power, your vehicle may be at risk of ingesting rainwater into the engine easily when streets get flooded. Water entering into the engine can lead to catastrophic engine failure.
- Find a good mechanic now. You can use online resources like AAA.com to search the Approved Auto Repair list of AAA certified repair facilities and you don’t need to be a member to do so. The AAA directory listing these facilities also may be found at Auto Club branches. Shops must pass a rigorous annual inspection and continuous customer satisfaction surveys. Shops must also allow AAA to resolve Auto Club member complaints before gaining and retaining AAA certification. Taking in a vehicle for a basic service like oil maintenance is an easy way to try a new repair shop. To find an AAR facility, visit www.AAA.com/Repair.
- Don’t let the fuel tank run down to empty. Fill up when the fuel gauge reads half-full to ensure dirt/debris stay out of your fuel system and also not to get stuck at the side of the road or freeway, especially in the rain.