AARP Smart Driver Program

Below are driver safety articles covering topics of relevance to older drivers. The AARP Smart Driver course is the nation's largest classroom and online driver safety course and is designed especially for drivers age 50 and older. For information on classes scheduled in the SN50 readership area, call George at 630-258-2342 or contact him via email sentto driversafetygeorge@sbcglobal.net.

The following articles were written by William J. Gardner, PhD, State Coordinator for AARP Driver Safety in Illinois.

Future Alternative Driving Choices For Seniors

Under a 1990 law, all Illinois drivers 87 and older must take a road test each year to keep their licenses. Others in their 80s must take the test every two years. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an industry research group, says the Illinois law is the most stringent in the nation.
About 20 percent, or nearly 25,000, of the estimated 130,000 Illinoisans age 87 or older have valid driver licenses, according to last year’s figures. There were about 117,000 licensed drivers ages 81 to 86, slightly more than half the estimated total of 228,000 Illinoisans in that age range.
It has also been reported that the average American man outlives his ability to drive by six years and the average American women by 10 years. In less than two decades 20 percent of the drivers will be over age 65.
Independence is first and foremost in the American society. But, our society is at a crossroads. With the vast number of aging seniors, the question comes up, how this will be handled. Within the next two decades 20 percent of the U.S. population will be over 65. This causes great debate when it comes to aging and driving. Is there ever a point where someone is too old to drive?
For most of us, driving is a necessary part of our day. Even if you are retired, it is essential to maintaining your independence. Just the idea of giving up the keys can make an older adult shudder.
But the facts speak for themselves when it comes to older adults and driver safety. Declining visual acuity makes it more difficult for older drivers to see road obstacles and hazards. Slower reflexes delay reaction time. That creates for a troubling mix.
With older drivers, the risk to others isn’t as great as the risk they create for themselves. According to the Institute for Highway Safety, older drivers have fewer accidents that cause harm to others than teenagers do. But they are more likely to have an accident that causes them to harm them self. In 2009, almost 4,000 drivers 70 and older died in automobile accidents.
The self driving car offers a solution to this problem. Investments by leading car makers and statements from their top executives makes it clear that most car companies are betting self-driving technology is inevitable, and they’re all jumping in with investment and initiatives. It won’t happen all at once like many things but, it will happen.
“Self-driving” is a rather vague term. The auto industry has defined tiers of how it is most likely to happen.
First Introduction
Some small steering or acceleration tasks are performed by the car without human intervention, but everything else is fully under human control
Phase II
Like advance cruise control or original autopilot systems on some Tesla vehicles, the car can automatically take safety actions but the driver needs to stay alert at the wheel.
Phase III
Still requires a human driver, but the human is able to hand off “safety-critical functions” off to the vehicle under certain traffic or environmental conditions. This poses some potential dangers as the major tasks of driving are transferred to or from the car itself, which is why some car companies (Ford included) are interested in jumping directly to level 4.
Phase IV
A car that can drive itself almost all the time without any human input but might be programmed not to drive in unmapped areas or during severe weather. This is a car you could sleep in.
Phase V
Cars capable of full automation.
This timeline is not the same for all car manufacturers but it does give a picture of approximate development. Because of the impact on the automotive industry as well as other industries, the change will be enormous and according to all sources it is going to happen very rapidly.
In less than 20 years and maybe sooner, this will represent a $235 billion  industry. Change is going to explode all around us.
It is important that as a senior driver; pay close attention to this development as it can keep you mobile for many years to come.
For more tips on how to stay safe on the road, consider taking an AARP driver safety course, available in a classroom setting. In Illinois, you may be eligible for a three-year insurance discount upon completion of the course. There is no testing to pass the course.
For more information, visit www.aarp.org/safedriving or call 888-AARP-NOW (888-227-7669).  For information on AARP Smart Driver Courses near you, call George at 630-258-2342 or send an email to driversafetygeorge@sbcglobal.net


Danger of Children Being Left in Hot Cars Alone

Our hot summer months are upon us. As senior drivers there are many responsibilities that can be easily overlooked because they may be doing something they do not do every day like the privilege of taking their grandchildren on a drive or on a trip. There are some very important things to keep in mind beyond just the car seat that has to do with the safety of the child. More than 36 children die in overheated cars every year in the United States, research shows, adding up to more than 600 deaths since 1998. Here are some tips to keep in mind based on information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

1. It takes 10 minutes for the temperature in a car to go up 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Cracking a window open and parking in the shade aren’t sufficient safeguards.

3. A child’s body temperature can rise up to five times faster than an adult’s. A child dies with a 107 degree body temperature.

4. Even if it’s in the 60s outside, your car can still heat up to well above 110 degrees.

5. It only takes a 57-degree outside temperature to cause heatstroke.

6. On an 80-degree day, temperatures inside a vehicle can reach deadly peaks in 10 minutes.

So why does this happen. People get careless and forget. The child is in a car seat down low and people lock the car before they look. They think a couple of minutes won’t make any difference and I’ll be right back.

No Exceptions, No Matter How Brief. Some parents may not want to take their child in and out of their cumbersome car seat for what they believe will be a quick stop. But the stakes are too high. This can happen quite easily when stopping at a convenience store and they absently forget for a moment. “It is never OK to leave kids or pets in a car — even with the windows down,” says Christopher McStay, MD, an emergency room doctor and assistant professor of emergency medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center. “It is an absolute no-no.”

When temperatures outside range from 80 degrees to 100 degrees, the temperature inside a car parked in direct sunlight can quickly climb to between 130 to 172, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The temperature inside a closed car rises most quickly during the first 15 minutes that it is left in the sun, according to the CDC. There are many cases documented to show the devastation and tragedy that a situation like this causes families and it is something that needs close attention. “Police are now saying even if you are walking as a pedestrian and see a child locked in a car in hot weather, take a picture of the child in the car. If someone is with you, get them to bring up the weather for your area on their phone so you can screen shot the temp, then break the car window. This way, you will not be charged with criminal damage and it gives the police photo evidence. Immediately call 911. First and foremost be alert for the safety of the child.

Remember, according to health experts, one of the most dangerous factors during excessively hot weather is the addition of humidity. Children do not tolerate the heat as well as adults as their bodies generate more heat relative to their size than adults do. They also lose more fluids because they have a greater proportion of skin surface in relation to their size.

For more tips on how to stay safe on the road, consider taking an AARP driver safety course, available in a classroom setting. In Illinois, you may be eligible for a 3 year insurance discount upon completion of the course. There is no testing to pass the course. For more information, visit www.aarp.org/safedriving or call 1-888-AARP-NOW (1-888-227-7669). For information on AARP Smart Driver Courses near you, call George at 630-258-2342 or email driversafetygeorge@sbcglobal.net


What Did You Say? I Can’t Hear You!


It’s a phrase we hear all too often around aging seniors and is a serious factor that affects our daily lives, particularly, when it comes to safe driving. It is legal to drive in the state of Illinois when a person is hearing challenged, but there are certain procedures that must be followed. “J88” is a notation on a driver’s license that alerts law enforcement officers before approaching a vehicle that a motorist is deaf or hard of hearing. Following is how the J88 notation works: The licensed driver must request the J88 notation be added to their driver’s license at any Secretary of State Driver Services facility. J88 will appear on both the front and back of your driver’s license. Include your driver’s license number on your vehicle registration to link the two together. If you are stopped by a law enforcement officer, he/she will run your license plate or driver’s License number, and a “Deaf/Hard of Hearing: Uses Alternative Communication” message will appear. The officer will then know to use alternative communication. You must request the J88 notation. No forms or Secretary of State Personnel will ask you to include it on your driver’s license. The hearing challenged person can also request Hearing impaired License Plates by filling out the form available from the Secretary of State’s office‚ Secretary of State Certification for Hearing Impaired License Plates and sending it to Non-Standard Plates Section 501 S. Second St., Rm. 541 Springfield, IL 62756. Visit the website at swww.cyberdriveillinois.com for more information. Visor cards are also available from a number of different sources such as the Center for hearing loss. http://hearinglosshelp.com/shop/cat egory/visor-cards. The Deaf Visor Card bridges the initial communications gap if you are ever stopped by the police. It immediately alerts them that you cannot hear/understand their orders and instructions, and that you need them to use ASL, hand signals and/or write things down. The open road is a dangerous place. Anyone getting into a car and turning on the ignition has a tremendous responsibility; the life of the driver, passengers, pedestrians and other motorists is in many senses in a heightened state of vulnerability. Hearing loss increases as adults age and depending on the individual’s background and lifestyle; it may be greater in some adults than others. Over 40% of adults over age 65 have hearing loss, but only about 25% wear hearing aids. Many are in denial about their hearing loss, often because it is a gradual process and are truly unaware that there is a problem. Others are concerned that admitting to a hearing loss or assisting it with amplification will make them look old. Although, untreated hearing loss has been known to lead to social isolation. It is critically important to remember that the open road is a dangerous place and when a person makes the decision to drive they are taking on a critical life control situation. Their responsibility involves the life of the driver, passengers, pedestrians and other motorists. Careful driving requires engagement of visual and auditory senses to make informed often, very quick decisions to navigate safely. Hearing loss can greatly impair an individual’s ability to hear important safety cues such as a horn honking, a siren, or another vehicle accelerating nearby. Street noise outside the car and the hum of traffic can make it difficult for normal hearing drivers to detect signals, for those with hearing loss, background noise presents. Good hearing is very important to safe driving. However drivers with hearing loss needn’t give up driving, instead they should seek help. If you suspect you or a loved one has a hearing loss, see an audiologist for an audio logic evaluation. If hearing aids are prescribed, they should always be worn when driving. Finally, make responsible decisions; if your senses are impaired, driving ability can suffer, especially for older adults. When on the road, be smart, be courteous, and remember, your safety and that of others is at stake.For more tips on how to stay safe on the road, consider taking an AARP driver safety course, available in a classroom setting. In Illinois, you may be eligible for a 3 year insurance discount upon completion of the course. There is no testing to pass the course. For more information, visit the website at www.aarp.org/safedriving or call 888-AARP-NOW (888-227-7669). For information on AARP Smart Driver Courses near you, call George at 630-258-2342 or email driversafetygeorge@sbcglob al.net


What You Should Know About Auto Safety Recalls


We often read about them in the newspapers and sometimes read about a fatality that was associated with the recall but all too common pass over them and pass onto other news that may offer another interesting topic. Auto recalls should be taken very seriously.  

An auto recall occurs when a manufacturer (or the NHTSA) determines that a car model (or several models) has a safety-related defect or does not comply with a federal safety standard. When this happens, the automaker will alert owners to the problem and usually offer a free repair. Keep in mind that a recall doesn’t mean that the entire vehicle will be replaced.

Car companies are required to send letters to customers affected by a recall. You can also stay up-to-date on recalls by visiting the NHTSA’s websiteat https://www-odi.nhtsa.dot. gov/nhtsa/subscriptions. This web site will provide the procedure for determining whether or not your vehicle is involved in a vehicle recall. You will need to provide the Vehicle Identification number (VIN). Look on the lower left of your car’s windshield for your 17-character Vehicle Identification Number. Your VIN is also located on your car’s registration card, and it may be shown on your insurance card. The web site https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls illustrates how to locate the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
Every vehicle has a unique VIN. Enter a VIN to learn if a specific vehicle needs to be repaired as part of a recall.

What the VIN Search tool search covers:
• Vehicle safety recalls that are incomplete
• Vehicle safety recalls conducted over the past 15 calendar years
Vehicle safety recalls conducted by major light auto automakers, including motorcycle manufacturers.

What this VIN search tool does not cover:
• Completed safety recall information
• Manufacturer customer service or other non-safety recall campaign
• International vehicles
• Very recently announced safety recalls for which not all VINs have been identified
• Safety recalls that are more than 15 years old (except where a manufacturer offers more coverage)
• Safety recalls conducted by small vehicle manufacturers, including some ultra-luxury brands and specialty applications

What to do if you receive a Recall letter. The recall letter should have instructions as to your next steps. Generally, you’ll be instructed to call your local dealer to set up a repair appointment.

Important (not so) fun fact: if you have a tire recall, you must have the repair work completed within 60 days of receiving notification.

What if I don’t receive a recall letter? When a recall is issued, manufacturers will do their best to contact all affected owners. If you don’t receive a car recall notice, however, you can search through current safety recalls on the NHTSA’s site. And whether you received a letter or not, the manufacturer is still obligated to repair the defect (for free).

The NHTSA has an online brochure with everything you’d want to know (and probably a few things you don’t) about car recalls. Check it out.

In 2015 Automakers recalled a record 51.2 million vehicles over 868 separate recalls in 2015, That narrowly edged the previous mark set in 2014, when manufacturers recalled 51 million vehicles through 779 recalls. It is well worth taking the time to check you vehicles VIN number to see if it has been involved in a recall.

For more tips on how to stay safe on the road, consider taking an AARP driver safety course, available in a classroom setting. In Illinois, you may be eligible for a 3 year insurance discount upon completion of the course. There is no testing to pass the course.
For more information, visit www.aarp.org/safedriving or call 1-888-AARP-NOW (1-888-227-7669).  For information on AARP Smart Driver Courses near you, call George at 630-258-2342 or email driversafetygeorge@sbcglobal.net.


Tips For Seniors On Buying A New Car

The phrase “The American Love Affair with the Automobile” was coined during a 1961 episode of a television program called the DuPont Show of the Week. The program, titled “Merrily We Roll Along” was promoted by DuPont as “the story of America’s love affair with the automobile.” The show aired at a time when cars were facing steep criticism, as plans for the new interstate system threatened to destroy or disrupt neighborhoods in many U.S. cities. Highways were on their way to remaking Detroit, Cincinnati and St. Louis.

It has always been an exciting time to buy a new car and still remains so today; but times have changed. It used to be the smell of a new car or the color or even allowing us to show off to our neighbors. However the burst of technology and the 253 million cars and trucks on U.S. roads with the average age of 11.4 years has changed that, according to an annual study by IHS Automotive, an auto industry research firm.

At some point in time the love affair changed and although Americans still love their cars, the reason for buying shifted and particularly with seniors who may be buying their last car and want everything to be right. If you haven’t bought a new car in a while, you may be in for a shock‚ and not necessarily sticker shock. Within the last 10 years, much has changed in the automotive world. Cars have become safer thanks to new technologies, such as electronic stability control and curtain air bags, and improved vehicle construction that has helped models perform better in insurance and government crash tests.

These important changes are great news, but unfortunately, the down side is that cars have become much more complicated and distracting, with innovations in controls, safety systems and information systems. It is very important to study these new offerings so that you understand and buy a vehicle that will help move into the future and do it safely.
It no longer is a question of weather  there will be a self driving car, but when. The automotive industry is predicting in 2021 we will begin to see these in the commercial market. Self-driving cars are no longer a futuristic idea. Companies like Mercedes, BMW, and Tesla have already released, or are soon to release, self-driving features that give the car some ability to drive itself.

Seniors want to get the best value for their money and the technology that will keep them driving as long as possible as safe as possible. Here are some factors to consider as you begin the search and evaluation for a new car.

Fit and Comfort. The most important factor for older drivers is to make sure the car fits and can adjust to their shifting needs. Many people buy a new car, just jump in it, and drive, and don’t adjust all the safety features to their maximum effectiveness.
Accessibility. A sporty car may be the dream many have for retirement, but because they sit lower to the ground, sports cars or roadsters are challenging to enter and exit. And that will likely get worse as the driver ages.

Reliability. If this may be your last car, you want it to really go the distance. Having to deal with repairs and breakdowns is no picnic for any car owner but it’s more challenging for an older driver. Before you decide to buy, check out Consumer Reports reliability ratings to make sure the vehicle not only does well in testing but can hold up over time.
Safety. Modern cars have many safety features available, but most drivers don’t even know what is available and how best to use them. One of the popular new features is a backup camera. Activated when the transmission is shifted into reverse, a video image is displayed on a screen in the center of the dash showing what is behind the car. This can be a great convenience when parking or hooking up a trailer, and it helps prevent backing into an obstacle or person. These are increasingly common and available as optional equipment. With rear visibility getting worse in new cars due to styling, head restraints, and structural design to enhance roof-crush protection, this is quite welcomed. And older drivers who may have limited flexibility will find this feature especially handy.

New Feature Risks. Complicated control systems can be difficult to use, simultaneously introducing new features and challenging touch-screen interfaces.
Try before you buy, because you will end up living with this vehicle for hopefully many years to come. Make sure you understand all the safety features.

Bottom Line. Buying your last car may be an emotional decision, but with careful, practical consideration to your changing needs, you’ll find there are many choices that can be the pampering, stress-free ride you deserve for retirement.

For more tips on how to stay safe on the road, consider taking an AARP driver safety course, available in a classroom setting. In Illinois, you may be eligible for a 3 year insurance discount upon completion of the course. There is no testing to pass the course.
For information on AARP Smart Driver Courses near you, call George at 630-258-2342 or email driversafetygeorge@sbcglobal.net


Brake Pedal Error

Each year in the United States there are approximately 16,000 preventable auto accidents caused by simple pedal error, as noted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. A federal study found that the largest group causing these accidents is women, 75 years of age and older when parking at slow speeds. Auto forensics experts believe that older drivers are particularly at risk of getting in pedal error accidents because their reflexes have begun to deteriorate, older drivers whose reflexes have begun to deteriorate are more likely to hit the wrong pedal. They are not aware, in the moment. They don’t have what we call situational awareness, and they may think they’re hitting the brake pedal but are actually tapping the accelerator. Pedal error happens when a driver mistakes an automobile’s accelerator for the brake, causing an unexpected, high-powered acceleration. Unfortunately, by the time a driver is able to correct the mistake, the damage already is done. This can include serious injuries to fellow passengers, drivers and passengers of other vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists sharing the roadways. Older drivers whose reflexes have begun to deteriorate are particularly prone to hitting the wrong pedal.

Women are more frequently involved in such accidents because so many occur in commercial parking lots where women drivers outnumber men and because women tend to have shorter statures that may increase the distance they must reach for the pedals. The upward moving trend is concerning, as current statistics show that in 60 percent of all automobile accidents, men are behind the wheel.

Studies show that the average driver uses the brake upward of 1 million times per year. There are ways to reduce the potential of this happening by following some simple precautions. These precautions will help reduce and assure that you and those around you don’t become the victim of a pedal error incident; here are some tips to keep in mind.

Choose proper footwear:  Pay attention the types of sole and heels that are worn.  Thick soles mean that your feet can’t feel the pedals properly, so you can’t accurately judge how much pressure to apply, making braking and accelerating more abrupt and jerky. Soles should be a maximum of 10mm (1cm) thick, but something along the lines of 4mm is even better (you can feel the difference if you compare the two). You also need to avoid wide soles, which could mean you pressing two pedals at the same time. The important thing is that you can feel the pedals to gauge how much pressure to apply. Some sneakers and hiking shoes have soles that are too thick for driving. Flip-flops are also a bad choice: they come off too easily and can get jammed under a pedal, or distract the driver while trying to put it back on their foot. Choose lightweight, flat-soled shoes.

 Aim for the middle of the Pedal: Muscle memory is generated when you make the same movements repeatedly over a period of time. Make muscle memory work for you by making it a habit to aim for the center of the brake pedal with your foot every time you use the brake.

Get familiar: If you’re driving a new or unfamiliar vehicle for the first time, take extra time to familiarize yourself with its features and feel. Visually observe the foot compartment so that you can be familiar with the pedal layout. Adjust your seat, mirrors and steering wheel. Be aware that some models have adjustable pedals as well, which are particularly helpful for very tall or short drivers.

Cut out Distractions: Turn down your radio, ignore your mobile phone and ask passengers to keep the volume down while you’re driving, particularly while slowing down, turning or pulling into or out of a parking spot.

Visibility: Be sure you have full range of visibility, being mindful of blind spots all around the vehicle and in the front as well as the rear. The windshield pillars as well as the windshield mounted rear view mirror create blind spots in the front of the vehicle which can cause momentary blind spots hindering vision.

For more tips on how to stay safe on the road, consider taking an AARP driver safety course, available in a classroom setting. In Illinois, you may be eligible for a 3 year insurance discount upon completion of the course. There is no testing to pass the course.
For information on AARP Smart Driver Courses near you, call George at 630-258-2342 or email driversafetygeorge@sbcglobal.net.


Handicap Parking: What You Need To Know

Handicap parking in Illinois was introduced to the state of Illinois around 1973. The program has grown significantly since that introduction. The program serves a very important need in our community and requires cooperation among all drivers for it to work effectively. It is socially unacceptable for people to abuse this program because of the importance it serves to all members of the driving community. It is very important to understand what the rules are to make this program work. The following defines who can use handicap parking places.

Only people who have a physician sign a form attesting that they qualify. This includes:
 Persons who cannot walk without the aid of another person, a dog guide, a companion dog, a walker, a cane, crutches, braces, prosthesis, or a wheel chair.

Persons are mobility impaired by best corrected central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye as measured by the Snellen Test, OR persons who have central visual acuity better than 20/200 with a limitation of the field of vision such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle of 20 or less. Persons who are restricted by a pulmonary condition to the extent that the Arterial Oxygen Saturation, on room air, at rest, is 90% or less or the patient desaturates to 90% or less on mild exercise, OR who use prescribed portable oxygen during the day.
 
Persons who have a cardiac condition to the extent that the person’s functional limitations are classified as class III or IV according to the standards of the New York Heart Association. Persons who have a disability that would be aggravated by walking 150 to 200 feet under normal environmental conditions and a resultant mobility impairment of the same degree as described in the four criteria above. Have the license plate with the wheelchair logo on it, or have a CURRENT placard with the wheelchair logo
 
The person with the license plate or placard must enter and leave the vehicle while it is in the handicap parking spot.

The procedure to obtain a Parking Placard/License Plates is to complete a Persons with Disabilities Certification for Parking Placard/License Plates form (VSD 62) certifying the disability by a licensed physician. If the applicant has a permanent disability, the form must be mailed to the Secretary of State’s office (by either the physician or the applicant). Based on the information on the certification form, a disability parking placard and/or disability license plates will be issued. This information can be found on the secretary of State web site, http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/,and putting in the search bar “Handicap Parking”

If the applicant has a temporary disability, he/she may take the form to a Secretary of State facility and receive a temporary disability parking placard, which is good for up to six months, depending on the disability.

Disability parking placards are limited to one per person. Placards are only valid until the expiration date indicated on the placard. Failure to properly display a parking placard when utilizing a designated disabled parking space may result in a fine. The placards are issued to a person, just like a drivers license, and may only be used by that person.

Penalties for Misuse of Disabled License Plates or Parking Placards. The following violations are Class A misdemeanors for a first offense and may result in a fine of up to $2,500, a one year driver’s license suspension and possible confiscation and revocation of the disability parking placard or license plates. Violators may be charged with a Class 4 felony for a second offense which may result in a fine up to $25,000 and possible jail time between one and three years.
 Using a deceased person’s disability license plates or parking placard
 Altering a parking placard.
 Possessing a fake, fraudulent, lost or stolen placard.
 Duplicating or manufacturing a placard.
 Selling or otherwise distributing a fraudulent placard.
 Obtaining a placard or plate under false pretenses.

Proper Display of Placards.  Because a parking placard is issued to the person with the disability and not to a vehicle, it may be used in any vehicle in which the authorized holder is driving or is a passenger. When parked in a space reserved for persons with disabilities, the placard must be properly displayed in one of the following locations so it is clearly * visible to law enforcement:
* Hanging from the rearview mirror, or placed on the dashboard.
* Failure to properly display a parking placard may result in a fine.
* It is illegal to hang the placard on the rearview mirror when the vehicle is in motion.

A brochure is available on line at, http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/publications/pdf_publications/vsd574.pdf   which gives further details about the handicap parking program in Illinois.

For more tips on how to stay safe on the road, consider taking an AARP driver safety course, available in a classroom setting. In Illinois, you may be eligible for a 3 year insurance discount upon completion of the course. There is no testing to pass the course.
For information on AARP Smart Driver Courses near you, call George at 630-258-2342 or email driversafety george@sbcglobal.net



Proper Care Of Car Batteries

One of the most overlooked maintenance items is the car battery. Many different stores sell batteries with a wide array of warranty offerings but a long warranty doesn’t do you any good if you are in a mall parking lot after closing and the temperature is down around zero and your cell phone battery just went dead because you forgot to charge it the night before. There are some maintenance procedures that you can follow that might keep you from getting into this type of trouble.

Car batteries are the heart of the vehicle operating system.  They should perform their job regardless of heat, cold weather and what the drivers expect of them. While a battery that allows a car to start at the first turn of the key is a good thing, car batteries do not last forever.

Know where the battery is located in your car. Most car batteries today are 12Volts and are generally located under the hood of the car. The battery is usually encased in a plastic housing about 8” X 6” X 12” with two connection terminals and look like thimbles made of lead. One terminal is identified by a red cable tip or a “+” stamped into the casing. This is the positive terminal. The negative terminal is identified by a “-” or minus sign and the cable tip is black. This is also known as the “ground”. The terminals can also be two threaded screws or two threaded holes on the front of the battery. Take a picture before removing the cables to make sure the positive and negative cables do not get reversed.

A maintenance practice to follow is to always make sure the battery terminals are clean and have no signs of corrosion building up around the terminals. They can be coated with grease which will help prevent the corrosion from building up. Permatex sells a little 6 oz. can of spray terminal sealer. This should be done at least every six months.

Know the age of the battery. Most batteries will have a tag on the top of the battery which will show the date the battery was purchased. Depending on where you live and how you drive, the condition of your charging system, and a number of other factors, a battery lasts about four years on average. And when it does give out, there’s generally no sign of trouble — your car just dies.

Seasonal Changes. The winter months, particularly in states like Illinois, are hard on car batteries. At colder temperatures, batteries can lose up to 60 percent of their strength, while cold engines can require twice as much current to get started. With the high demands of modern electronics in cars, battery life tends to be shorter than in the past. When the temperature drops, roadside assistance calls rise, many of which are requests for jump starts.

Technology changes in battery jump starters have made great improvements in the past few years. A rechargeable, portable jump starter can be purchased at a relatively low cost. These units will generally offer at least ten jump starts per charge, and are conveniently sized to fit in the trunk or some smaller ones can fit in the glove box. They can also be used to charge other electronic devices such as cell phones or laptops. This web site illustrates some of the portable Jump Starters available in today’s marketplace. (http://heavy.com/tech/2015/10/best-car-jump-starter-portable-battery-stanley-clore-duracell/ ).
Fitness of Your Battery. It is a good idea to have your battery checked before the cold winter season starts. This can be accomplished by visiting a local auto parts store and asking them to do a load test which checks the condition of the battery under simulated working conditions.

Battery Water Level. There are two types of automotive batteries. The first is a wet cell battery. The other is  an absorbed glass matt (AGM) battery. An AGM battery does not require any maintenance except periodically checking the battery strength with a battery load meter which will have to be done at a dealership or an automotive parts store. The wet cell battery should have the water level checked every 3-4 months. This should be done by a certified mechanic.  The water should just touch the bottom of the battery’s refill hole. Pull up the fill caps on the battery to inspect the fluid level. Refill the battery only with distilled water, if the level is low. Pour the water into the cell using a funnel. Do not overfill and be careful not to allow the fluid to splash. Wait for the water to reach the bottom of the refill hole. Never overfill into the fill holes.

Auto storage. If you vehicle is going to be stored for more than 30 days, it is a good idea to connect a trickle charger. Trickle chargers are available from $10 to $80. The inexpensive chargers seem to work just as well as the more expensive ones. The trickle charger puts a very low current into the battery and keeps the battery warm and fully charged. (Remember, even though the car is not running it is still using current for the computer to keep the clock running and the memory system of the  computer). Always disconnect the trickle charger before starting the vehicle as sudden surge from the alternator will damage the trickle charger.

If you take care of the battery it will be there to start your vehicle even when the temperature falls into those icy cold ranges.

For more tips on how to stay safe on the road, consider taking an AARP driver safety course, available in a classroom setting. In Illinois, you may be eligible for a 3 year insurance discount upon completion of the course. There is no testing to pass the course.
For information on AARP Smart Driver Courses near you, call George at 630-258-2342 or email driversafety george@sbcglobal.net