Hurricanes can be wakeup calls for motorists unprepared for the automotive-related challenges presented by severe weather. There are precautions you can take now that will make handling severe weather easier and safer when it returns. Here's a checklist for you and your car the next time severe weather approaches:
Garage your vehicle if possible: But keep in mind that if you lose power, and you have an electric garage door opener, it won't work. Do you know how to override the system to manually open the door? Now is the time to find the owner's manual for the electric garage door opener and read the power-out instructions. And be careful, because openers using gears and chains can be dangerous to handle, even when the electricity is out.
Use a car cover if you can't garage your vehicle: The cover may not prevent damage, but it won't hurt — unless you have one of those inexpensive covers that has only an elastic band holding the cover around the bottom. Even a mild wind can rip those covers off. Better covers have grommets for attaching bungee cords or ropes. No cover? When covering Hurricane Charley in Punta Gorda, I spoke to one man who stretched a blanket over the windshield of his car and closed the ends of the blanket in the doors, which held it tight. The windshield made it through the hurricane but the uncovered rear and side windows didn't.
While hurricane winds alone can break car windows, flying objects launched by the wind break many more: Even a storm's feeder bands may have enough wind velocity to pick up a flower pot, garbage can lid, barbecue grill or plastic birdbath and send it into your car — or through a window in your house. Anything that you can pick up, odds are the wind can, too. Secure or store anything that could become a projectile.
Park an uncovered car with the rear facing the approaching storm: It may mean only an incremental benefit, but you're better off having wind, rain and debris blowing into the rear of the car than into the front, with its more vulnerable grille, radiator, headlights and windshield. During hurricane threats, you'll see that many car dealers, when they have the space, park their cars in a tight cluster when a storm approaches, with convertibles in the middle. If you have multiple vehicles, use the larger or less valuable vehicles to shield the smaller or more expensive ones.
After the storm, start the vehicle and let it idle for at least 15 minutes: This should generate enough heat to dry the engine and other components under the hood. (Don't, of course, do this in a closed garage.) Make sure your spare tire is inflated and the jack is where it should be, and know how to use them. It's also wise to carry a can of aerosol tire repair and inflator — in case you encounter broken glass, roofing nails and other sharp objects on the road.
Never drive through standing water unless you are positive it isn't deep: Just because that Hummer made it through doesn't mean your Hyundai will. For most small cars, any standing water deeper than 6 inches constitutes a gamble, especially if other passing vehicles are sending waves toward your vehicle.
If you get water in the gas tank, either through storm activity or from a gas station with leaky storage tanks, any auto parts store has pour-in additives that absorb water from the gas tank. For massive amounts of water, you'd have to have a mechanic drain the gas tank and fuel system. If you suspect water in the tank, pour in the additive — it can't hurt.
If you have broken glass and must drive, tape clear plastic, not a black garbage bag, over the missing window.
AAA suggests that motorists keep an emergency kit inside their vehicles with the following items: A flashlight with fresh batteries; mats that can be placed under tires to increase traction; a small bag of sand, salt or cat litter to spread around tires to increase traction; a shovel; cloth or a roll of paper towels; a blanket; booster cables; window-washing solvent to keep the reservoir filled and windshields clean; warning devices such as flares or triangles, and a cellphone.
Other emergency items to carry in your car: Clear duct tape, a plastic baggie with appropriate phone numbers, records, auto registration, insurance information and some cash inside; several large plastic, heavy-duty garbage bags; and several pairs of inexpensive cloth gloves.