Car Insurance Basics

9 Road Trip Accident Car Inspection Tips


December 15, 2014

Accidents during long road trips are very challenging to deal with because of the distance from normal support structures such as your motor insurance provider, friends, and your local mechanic. Someone can feel lost and threatened if the accident happens in an isolated spot, with no clear way of getting help.

The good news is that you are more likely to be involved in a minor accident in a congested urban road, than in a secluded spot with only a few vehicles.

The bad news is that accidents still happen in the unlikeliest of places. You may find it prudent to move your car from an accident scene if you feel unsafe in the surroundings, or if you have already documented the scene in consultation with your car insurance provider and need to move on. However, before you restart your car, keep the following things in mind.

1. Do not Move the Car if the Radiator is Leaking

Front-end collisions may result in damage to your radiator. If your radiator has a significant leak, it is not advisable to drive the car, you may end up with an engine knock because of overheating. It is easy to tell whether you radiator is leaking by looking underneath the car to see if there is a splash of coolant (water or radiator coolant- depending on the type in your car). If the damage does not seem significant, keep your eye on the engine temperature gauge as you drive to ensure the car does not overheat. Be very careful when examining the radiator because the fluid is very very hot.

2. Do not Move the Car is the Engine Oil is Leaking

Engine oil is very critical for the smooth operation of your car. The design of the engine is such that an accident should not result in an engine oil leakage. However, the oil sump may be damaged during an accident by other car parts, and this can result in a significant leak. Again, look underneath the car, and if you see a significant oil puddle, then you should not move the car at all. Be careful while carrying out this inspection because engine oil gets very hot soon after the engine starts running, and takes some time to cool down. If you choose to drive the car despite obvious oil leaks, keep an eye on the dashboard warning lights, which should tell you whether the oil levels are critically low.

3. Check Whether the Wheels are in Contact with any Other Part of the Car

Even if there are no leaks and there are no signs of damage to critical mechanical components of the car, check to see whether the wheels are free to move. Check whether any car parts are in contact with the wheels. Clips holding plastic liners under wheels tend to come off during impact and they may be in contact with the wheels. If you see no physical contact, turn the wheels to the extreme right and the extreme left to see is they are free to move. If the wheel cannot freely move, then it is probably a bad idea to try to drive that car. Then drive for a short distance and listen for any strange sounds that could be coming from friction between the wheels and other body parts. If all is clear, drive on. Otherwise, wait for help.

4. Check for Cracks on All Windows

Cracks on windows can be very dangerous. This is especially true for the windshield. The windshield is designed to crumble and come off in one unit in case of an accident, and does not usually spatter. If your windshield is damaged to the extent that it affects visibility, be wary of driving your car. Check all the other windows for signs of cracks and take measures to ensure your safety and that of other passengers.

5. Confirm that Your Power Steering System is Working

Many cars on the road today depend on power steering for easy control. While this makes it much easier to drive a modern car compared to older cars, it is a source of great distress in the event that the power steering system ceases to work. A faulty power steering system will make it laborious to turn the steering wheel of your car. To get a feel of how it would be, try turning your steering wheel without turning on the engine. Now imagine trying to steer the car in the same way down the highway.

6. Do not Drive the Car if your Brake Fluid is Leaking

Check whether your brake fluid is intact before thinking of moving the car. Also, check whether your breaking system is working properly. If your breaks are working ok, the pedal will stiffen as you “pump” it with the engine switched off. If the pedal feels flabby and goes all the way down as you conduct this test, we insist that you do not drive that car even one inch. A car without breaks is really an accident waiting to happen. Do not drive the car at all if the breaking system is not working. 

7. Be Wary of Broken Belts

In some cars, front-end collisions may result in broken fan belts (and/or serpentine belts). Confirm that your belts are intact before starting the car, and before driving away. The belt turns the alternator, which charges your car battery. If it is not in place, you will soon run out of battery power and the car will stall. The engine needs electrical pulses from the battery to ignite fuel through the spark plugs. Therefore driving a car with missing or broken belts could land you in a worst spot from where you are.

8. Do not Open Mangled Doors, Bonnets, and Boots

If your doors, bonnet, or boot is mangled, do not open it unnecessarily. A mangled door is likely to be still locked, but the folds now store some of the energy produced during impact. Opening the door may render it “unclose-able”. If you do not need to open it, then leave it as is, and the repair shop will handle it. The main exception here is if you need to get someone to safety and the mangled door is the only route to get to that person.   

9. Drive Slowly to the Nearest Populated Area.

Having done all these checks, and satisfying yourself that the car can be driven safely, drive the car slowly, preferably with you hazard lights, and find the nearest populated area to park. Fuel stations tend to be the best option in long stretches of uninhabited highways. From there, it is easier to wait for help. Keep in touch with your motor insurance provider at all times.   

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