Hurricane Rita traffic

An minivan sits with its hood up on northbound Interstate 45 in Houston on Sept. 22, 2005, as traffic backs up while residents try to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Rita. Sitting in traffic with the engine running for extended periods of time can lead to engine overheating and radiator damage.

When inclement weather strikes, your automobile can be an important tool for survival.

In case of evacuation, emergencies can be avoided by keeping your vehicle in proper working order, automotive experts say. Preventive measures should be taken in anticipation of a long road trip, and a good mechanic can help make sure you are prepared for any severe weather contingency.

“The main thing is to make sure that the car is road worthy as much as possible, before the trip is taken,” said Barbara Sheppard, of Shep’s Automotive and Wrecker Service in La Marque.

An automobile’s belts, hoses, fluids, brakes, wheel bearings, transmission and tires should be inspected by a mechanic in advance of leaving.

“First they need to make a general inspection of the vehicle, make sure the tires are in good shape and are inflated, make sure all the fluids are up to specification, and make sure that the car is running OK,” said Robert Hoke, of Hoke’s Auto Repair in Dickinson.

People can be on the road longer and in extremely heavy traffic during evacuations. In 2005, roads leading away from the Gulf Coast were gridlocked for miles with the thousands of evacuees escaping Hurricane Rita.

Sitting in traffic with the engine running for any extended period of time can lead to engine overheating and radiator damage, Hoke said.

“Overheating is really the major concern,” he said.

Checking fluid levels before getting on the road is important in preventing overheating from occurring. Hoke said engine overheating also could be countered by simply turning off a vehicle’s air conditioner during prolonged periods of idling.

“My biggest fear personally would be to run out of fuel in between stops,” Hoke said. “So having either extra fuel with you, or planning to find a place to buy fuel before being empty, would be the best choice.”

Once the danger of severe weather has passed, motorists may need to personally inspect their vehicles before making the return trip home.

“Make sure your fluids are up to proper levels and that you don’t have any leaks,” said Patrick Moore, of Patrick’s Auto Service in Galveston. “Look for any evidence of leaks under your vehicle. You’ve got to make sure it’s not your air-conditioner water, because that’ll be dripping, but you want to make sure you don’t have any leakages anywhere.”

Sheppard echoed the need for motorists to check under their hoods before long treks.

“Check the radiator fluid. Check the oil level in the car, just a cursory look to make sure there isn’t any softness in the radiator hoses,” Sheppard said.

Barring any obvious automotive issues, if motorists have taken the proper steps to ensure their vehicles’ readiness for the road, they should be in good shape to travel.

“If you got to your destination without a problem, odds are, you’ll probably get back without any problems,” Hoke said. “Just keep an eye on the overall operation of the vehicle and make sure everything’s OK.”

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