A well-maintained and well-stocked car could be the difference between life and death if a major hurricane strikes.
If you have to evacuate, you'll probably be in heavy traffic for many miles, as Texas evacuees learned in 2005 during Hurricane Rita, when they sat in gridlock for three days on interstates. Mechanics and tow trucks will be busy, and assistance may be almost impossible to come by. Here's some advice from AAA Auto Club South, emergency management directors and local tire and auto parts dealers:
Make sure it is well-charged before you evacuate. You can get a charger that plugs into the car's cigarette lighter and charge the phone while you drive.
Take care of routine maintenance: oil changes, belts, hoses, fluids, tires, wiper blades. The last thing you want is to call for road service during an evacuation because a tire goes flat or a belt gives out.
Make sure they are properly inflated and have good tread, including the spare. It's basic advice, but it's especially important once the rainy season starts.
It's best to keep a full-sized spare, but a doughnut is adequate. In fact, in an evacuation, a doughnut may be preferable, because you may need every square inch of trunk space for other emergency supplies.
Make sure you have a working jack and lug wrench, and make sure you know how to use them to fix a flat tire. (This is a worthy skill to learn now if you don't know how.) A couple of cans of Fix-a-Flat or a similar product, a tire repair kit and a small air pump that plugs into your cigarette lighter will be invaluable also.
Carry an empty gas can in case you run out of gas. Note the word "empty." Avoid the temptation to drive around with a full can. The danger from fumes far outweighs the advantage of a few extra gallons.
Full tank of gas
During hurricane season, a full gas tank can be your best friend. When a storm draws near, gas stations will be jammed with people trying to fill up. Heavy weather can prevent tankers from restocking the state's fuel supply and there may be spot shortages, or at least the rumors thereof, as there were during Hurricane Frances in 2004. When you notice the gauge dipping toward half-full, pull in and fill up.
Owners with a minimum of 10 gas stations in a county are now required by state law to have access to generators to keep the gas pumping, freezers chilling and credit-card machines running if power goes out in a hurricane.
If the power is out, electric garage doors won't work. Learn how to open your door manually. If you can't do this, park your car outside. But that leaves it vulnerable to wind-borne debris, which can shatter your windshield or dent your car.
Driving through water
Avoid driving through deep puddles if at all possible. Water doesn't have to be especially deep to do damage. If it reaches the middle of your hubcaps, it's probably deep enough to get into your exhaust system or even your car's interior. The fans on your engine can spray water around and foul your spark plugs or cause short circuits.
If your car stalls because water gets into the engine, or if it is flooded while it's parked, don't try to start it. Have the car checked by a mechanic to make sure there's no electrical damage and that air bags are operational. Replace all the vehicle's fluids.
Check to see if you have comprehensive vehicle coverage. If you park your car outside during the storm, it may be so badly scratched by wind-driven sand, pebbles or flying debris that it needs a new paint job. Or it may sustain a broken windshield.