3 Keys to Staying Safe When You Break Down

3 Keys to Staying Safe When You Break Down

It’s Thanksgiving Day, 2016, and I’m 6 months pregnant. Andrew and I had just bought a used pick-up truck for the shop and after doing some repairs, was excited to drive it to his brother’s wedding…three states away. I mentioned several times that I was six months pregnant and, “Wouldn’t the Toyota Corolla be more comfortable?” But he really wanted to get the truck on the road and see what it could do.  “Fine,” I relented, “Let’s take the ‘new’ truck.” Halfway to South Carolina the check engine light comes on. Then it starts flashing.

Ideally, if you take care of your vehicle properly, adhere to all of the items on your maintenance schedule in a timely manner, and have it inspected every few years, you can avoid a surprise breakdown. Even when necessary precautions are taken, you may still find yourself on the side of the road. Thankfully Andrew got the light to stop flashing and we made it without breaking down…but it was midnight. I was swollen, uncomfortable, and having false labor contractions. Not the ideal scenario.

It’s important to know what you are going to do if it ever does happen to you in order to be safe for you and your passengers and avoid causing further damage to your vehicle. Not everyone can bring a mechanic along like I can.

Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

Being married to a mechanic, we were fortunately able to avoid a breakdown on our trip because Andrew was able to intervene, but you never know.

I was driving in the rain on FL-408 one evening with my six-month old son in the car and I got a sudden puncture in my tire. I put my hazards on and pulled off at the nearest exit and couldn’t quite make it off the ramp, much less to the gas station at the next light. It was a scary situation as car after car sped past me in the pouring down rain at dusk, so I decided to just stay put in the car to avoid getting hit. I called Andrew, we made a plan, and then climbed into the back seat to entertain my son while I waited for him.

What completely surprised me is that instead of stopping to help me, people honked at me, gave me rude gestures, and no one stopped to see if they could help. Four police cars even went by me!

My point is that you have to be smart. I stayed in my vehicle because I answered “no” to the following safety concerns:

  1. Are you able to pull off at a safe distance from potential dangers?
  2. Are you and your car visible to other drivers?
  3. Is/are your passenger(s) safe?

Be Prepared

One thing I’m really disconcerted about in this flat-tire-in-the-rain scenario is that the trunk of my car was an absolute mess. I’m embarrassed to say that once the rain and traffic cleared up and a good samaritan finally stopped to see if they could help, I couldn’t even find the jack and ratchet for changing the tire. This was definitely a mistake.

Always have the proper tools in your vehicle in case of an emergency. Consider putting together a basic roadside emergency kit including a first aid kit, basic tools, water, and protective wear (blankets, hat and gloves for cold climates, and/or a poncho, sunglasses, and sun hat for warm climates) and keep your trunk tidy so you can find them. You could really go extreme if you spend a lot of time on long trips with the ultimate roadside emergency kit. At the very least have the tools for changing a tire, know where they are and how to use them.

Make A Plan

Once you have pulled over safely and assessed the situation. Here are some good questions to consider:

  1. Is this a problem I can remedy myself until I can get to my mechanic? (i.e. flat tire)
  2. Is my car driveable or do I need to call a tow truck?
  3. Do I have someone to assist me?

DO NOT try to drive your vehicle if it is smoking from either end, the check engine light is blinking, or there is any obvious suspicious noise. These are signs of serious problems and driving your car further could cause additional serious and costly damage. Always, if possible, call your mechanic and ask for his/her advice before driving your vehicle.

This is just another reason why having a mechanic you have a trusting relationship with is so important. Your mechanic can help guide you as to whether your vehicle is safe to drive or if a tow truck is recommended. Even if you are out of town, he can tell you if, based on the symptoms, it’s something you need to take to a nearby mechanic right away or something that you can address with him as soon as you return.

Thank Your Rescuers!

Due to the messiness of my trunk, my good samaritan friend and I couldn’t find the ratchet to remove the lug nuts. However, while we were figuring that out, a police officer stop to lend assistance as well. Remember the FOUR that passed me before? This guy was off duty, probably heading home for the night, and still decided to stop and help. He loaded my son and I into the back of his cop car (a new experience for me and quite a story for my son when he’s older!) and brought us to the gas station up ahead to wait for Andrew to come rescue us and our car. I was super grateful for that officer and the other helpful citizen as it took a while for Andrew to get to us.

Every situation is different but it’s wise to be as prepared as possible. I don’t think anyone will be prepared as much as my husband who made many preparations beforehand and, while on our Thanksgiving trip said, “I should have brought that other diagnostic tool,” as he was looking at a whole box of tools that the average person doesn’t even own.

You can’t be prepared for absolutely everything, but you can know what to do if something were to go wrong that keeps you safe and helps you make and execute a plan in a way that minimizes stress and gets you back on the road as soon and safely as possible.

-From The Mechanic’s Wife

5 Wise Uses for Your Tax Refund

5 Wise Uses for Your Tax Refund

The newest member of our team, Jonathan Fernandes, is pretty wise when it comes to making practical life decisions, like investing your hard-earned money. He’s been a wonderful asset to our team as the Office Manager, and in this guest post, he shares some great ideas on how to use your tax return make so much sense!

-From the Mechanic’s Wife



We are already in month two of the new year which means soon some of us will get a check back from the government and for some of us, it is a great time of the year were we get our hands on “a lot of money at a single point in time.” In my youth, I have spent that money on the fun stuff: like a new XBOX, some games, a new computer and even the ridiculous (like this
coin sized tracking device for $20!). Although, as I have gotten older, I have noticed a slight change in how I spend my return. The point of my spending used to be just the fun stuff and things for myself, and now they can sometimes range from investing, saving, to even generosity. Continue reading “5 Wise Uses for Your Tax Refund” »

How To Take A Woman On A Date

How To Take A Woman On A Date

I’m a woman (surprise!) and I love it when my husband takes me out on dates. We don’t get to go out much because we’ve always been tight on cash and we kind of enjoy just curling up on the couch with a movie. The longer we’ve been married, the harder it’s been to get out on a “real” date.

We own a new business, Andrew works really long hours, we have a toddler, and by the time we have a moment to breathe it seems like too much of an effort to actually go somewhere. When we do finally get out on a date, you might think we were traveling to some exotic place by how excited I get, so I want to make the most of it. So, I want to share with you what I like as a woman out on a date. When my husband does these things, it helps me to enjoy the date that much more. So, whether you’ve been married for 50 years (way to go!) or are nervously looking forward to your first date, please take these dating tips to heart and woo your woman!

Clean Your Car

You want your woman to be thinking about you, not the condition of your car. You don’t have to drive a fancy expensive sports car (Andrew and I drive a 1994 Toyota Corolla and a 2000 Toyota Tacoma respectively), but you should show her that you value and want to care for the things you own (which means you would value her even more for choosing to be with you). Moving old receipts, take out containers, and smelly gym clothes out of her seat as she stands there waiting to get in says that her comfort was a last second thought and doesn’t set a very good impression.

Take Care of Your Vehicle

Show her that you are practically and financially responsible. Work with your mechanic to stay on top of your maintenance schedule. Make sure your wipers work and your fluids are topped off. Fill up your gas tank. Don’t put off known problems. Having car problems is not something you want to be handling while you are trying to impress the woman you have eyes on.

Open Her Car Door

It seems so simple and even a bit archaic, but it’s a gesture that I love. Yes, I am fully capable of opening my own car door, but I love the idea that the man I’m with would try to impress me with chivalry. It shows that he puts me before himself and in return, I feel honored. Also, if I’m wearing a skirt and/or heals, I can be sure I don’t have a wardrobe malfunction in the process of getting in and out of the car.

Abide By Traffic Laws

Hopefully the woman you are with is so stunning that you can’t keep your eyes off of her, but don’t let her beauty distract you from being a good driver. Pay attention to the speed limit and other road signs, but don’t just focus on the letter of the law – be a courteous driver, too. You see someone indicating that they want to switch lanes and traffic is heavy, slow down and let them in. Refrain from laying on your horn the second the light turns green and the person in front of you hasn’t hit the gas pedal, yet. Show her that you are a respectful person who tries to do the right thing.

Be Mindful of Her

Is she wearing high heels? Did it rain earlier in the day? Watch where you park. Parking right next to soggy grass or by a puddle can be a predicament for a woman and her footwear. You don’t want to see the heel of her shoe sink into the grass or her shoe get flooded in a puddle of water.

Additionally, if you’ve both gotten really dressed up, you are likely wearing a coat while she’s wearing a sleeveless dress. Make sure the temperature in the car isn’t freezing her out. Women tend to be colder than men on average anyway, so even if she’s smart and brought a light sweater, be sure you don’t have the AC too cold.

My husband and I aren’t huge Valentine’s Day people. It’s nice to have an annual reminder to express your love to that special someone but we don’t get super excited about the holiday. We do, however, like to get away from everyday life and go on a date every so often – especially in this difficult season when so much is competing for our time and energy. I hope, whether it’s a Valentine’s Day celebration or another special date, that you can spend that time focusing on one-another and not the vehicle that drove you there.

-From The Mechanic’s Wife

A Letter to Floridians: Driving in the Cold

A Letter to Floridians: Driving in the Cold

Dear Floridians,

I’m a Michigander at heart. I admit that I had no desire to leave my home of more than 25 years, especially to live in Florida, but alas, here I am and here I’ve been for 8 years. I’ve married a Floridian and we own a business in Florida, so we’re not planning on leaving anytime soon. My son will probably live years before he has any memories of snow. My heart is broken. I love snow…and yet I live in Florida!

For those of you who get to head up north with the advent of the holiday season, I’d like to share with you my experiences of driving in snow. The one downside of the majesty of a wintery wonderland is that it’s not easy to drive in as, unlike rain (wet is wet), there are many variations of a snowy road from black ice to slush (wet snow), and frozen snow to powder and everything inbetween.

Here are my top 5 tips for driving in below freezing temperatures:

Continue reading “A Letter to Floridians: Driving in the Cold” »

The True Cost of Vehicle Ownership

The True Cost of Vehicle Ownership

We’ve all experienced that moment when someone providing a necessary service for you tells you the price on the final bill and your heart plummets into your stomach. Your heart continues to beat heavily way down there while you are mentally reviewing your bank account. How am I going to pay for this?

Andrew and I know the feeling all too well. For us, it doesn’t come from maintaining and repairing our vehicles since we can do it ourselves, but in other areas of life we know what it’s like. I recently gave birth to our first son. He was barely four days old when I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. I then had two major surgeries and spent nearly three weeks in and out of the ICU.

When I was getting ready to be discharged, we got down to business about how much this was going to cost. Let me just say, the amount was way more than we would have been able to pay ourselves, so that bill was terrifying! (Thankfully, we had planned ahead for such an emergency and had access to a resource that covered the bill in full; that’s another story for another day, but you are welcome to ask).

You don’t have to look at a bill in panic when it comes to your car. There are ways you can plan ahead and, in many cases, have enough in your bank account to fully cover all the costs of owning and maintaining a vehicle.

Purchase Cost vs. Ownership Cost

When a person buys a vehicle, whether new or used, usually all they’re thinking about is the upfront cost of the vehicle purchase. In our experience, very few people have in mind the varying costs of maintenance and repairs. For example, the cost of an oil change can range in cost from vehicle to vehicle depending on the type of engine. Some oil and filters are higher in cost than others. That’s just the beginning, however, if you consider the variance in labor times and parts costs for everything from a simple repair to a complex multiple-day repair procedure.

It’s wise to ask the right questions and do your research before buying a vehicle so you have a better idea of what it is going to cost you, not just to purchase the vehicle, but to own the vehicle over several years. One of your first steps here should be to consult with a trustworthy mechanic, which can help you focus your research effectively.

Planning Ahead for Repairs and Maintenance

$1,000 a year is a conservative figure to expect for repairs and maintenance. Many vehicles will easily exceed this figure. The degree to which you want to maintain your vehicle (Do you want to limp it along? Or do you want it reliable and safe?) also affects this number. So we suggest this number only as a starting point for budgeting. While we understand that for some people, that’s a lot of money to put away every year when you have so many other expenses to consider (it certainly is for us!), but if you think about it, $1000/year – $83.33/month – is less than a car payment. Even at $2,000/year (or $166.66/month), we’re barely approaching car payment territory. We have a customer that bought a new used vehicle with financing and after she paid her car off, she kept making the same payments into a savings account. She used this for oil changes and had no qualms about sinking a couple thousand into repairs when the time came.

The Value of Regular Inspections

A vehicle that hasn’t had much attention for several years is probably due for a significant investment of preventative maintenance and repairs (Remember, $1,000/yr is a conservative number!).  However, to keep costs down and expenses more palatable, every vehicle owner should consider to planning to have your mechanic put your vehicle through a comprehensive inspection and plan maintenance and repairs every 2-3 years.

At our shop, this type of inspection means we go through your vehicle with a fine-toothed comb and hand you a comprehensive list of everything we’d like you to consider for the next 2-3 years, barring inevitable unforeseen repairs (which should be fewer and farther between). This includes urgent safety concerns, things that are wearing down but can wait, and maintenance items on the manufacturer’s schedule. Think about it this way, a vehicle is a machine and machines wear or break! Many of these issues can be caught in advance, saving you time, money, and stress.

Investing money in a vehicle doesn’t always feel the most cost effective at the time, but it often costs less than replacing it. However, we won’t hesitate to tell our customers when it’s time to invest in a replacement vehicle over repairing the current one.

We understand how difficult it can be to save money. We also understand wanting to get the most out of what you pay for. Please let us know how we can help you make financial plans and decisions that you feel confident in.

-From the Mechanic’s Wife

Getting Your Car Ready for the Road Trip to Grandma’s

Getting Your Car Ready for the Road Trip to Grandma’s

Some of my fondest childhood memories involved piling in the car with my parents and siblings to drive down to Nana and Papa’s house. My sister, the youngest, usually sat between my brother and I. Maybe  this was because she was smaller, or maybe because it reduced the amount of, “Mom! He’s touching me!” and “Mom, tell her not to…”. I can’t say the car rides were enjoyable, but the anticipation of being with family made them a faint memory compared to the visit itself.

Arriving at Nana and Papa’s involved a lot of fanfare and we got special treatment during the whole visit. Even though my sister and I never really liked the matching outfits – complete with hats, gloves, purses, and lacey socks – that Nana put us in, we put up with it because of how proud she was to show us off to her friends at church. The memories are so fond, I can still feel the hugs, smell the food, and picture the family sitting around the den on the orange shag carpet. Then, back in the car for 5 hours with my family and a humming carousel of photo slides projected on the wall to click through on our next visit at my grandparent’s house.

Now, as an adult, these trips are just as much about the drive as the time spent. Before I met Andrew, I used to just hop in the car and go. However, I’ve learned that a little planning can make the trip go a lot more smoothly with more assurance of a safe arrival to my destination and back home again.

Whether you are just visiting grandma a couple hours away for the weekend or staying with family and friends several states away, here are some things you should consider before you hit the road:

1. Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute to Schedule Service

If you have any concerns about your vehicle, do not wait until a day or two before your trip to have them addressed. Give your mechanic ample time to diagnose and repair the concern. Some issues can be handled within a day, but others may take a couple, or even several days depending on the problem, parts availability, and time needed to complete repairs. Keep in mind that repair shops tend to get really busy a couple weeks prior to a major holiday as people prepare to spend time with out of town family and friends.

2. Check Your Oil

You should be checking your oil level monthly, anyway. Whether due to oil leaking or burning, or normal engine operation, some vehicles require oil top-offs between oil changes, and road-trips put a lot of miles on the vehicle in a short time. Furthermore, oil will sometimes leak faster during extended cruising because it gets very hot and thins out with the heat! We suggest you check it before you leave, occasionally during your trip (gas stops are a good opportunity), and once more after you return.

3. Check Your Tire Pressure

The last thing you want is for your tire to blow-out half-way to your destination. A low tire reduces your vehicle’s ability to handle properly, and, strange as it may sound, increases the risk of a blow-out due to increased friction against the road and heat that builds up in the tire. Again, this is something you should check on a monthly basis, but right before a trip can prevent an especially unpleasant situation. Please remember that you should not use the maximum pressure shown on the tire sidewall, but rather the manufacturer’s recommended pressures listed in the driver’s door area.

Make sure your spare tire is inflated as well (we check them during inspections, and they usually aren’t!). Even if your tires seem to be in good condition and properly inflated when you leave, there are certain road hazards that simply can’t be controlled. You don’t want to be stuck with a flat only to find your spare is also flat!

4. Preventative Maintenance Items

For example, has your brake fluid ever been serviced? Since brake fluid is hygroscopic, it will pull water moisture out of the air over time, which lowers the boiling point of the fluid. This is particularly important if you expect to be driving in hilly or mountainous areas.

Also, check your wipers. You don’t want to get stuck driving in rain or snow with worn out wipers.

When did you last replace your battery? If it wasn’t recently, it may be worth getting it tested. Additionally, make sure you’ve got jumper cables in the car in case it runs low for some reason (I’m really good at leaving my lights on accidentally when I’m out of my usual routine).

How old are your tires? Limited use vehicles (or vehicles that sit for long periods) sometimes have dry-rotting tires that still have plenty of tread on them. If you’re not sure how old your tires are, or whether you have obvious, visible dry-rot, these are good questions to ask your mechanic.

5. Consider Your Driving Conditions

Driving through the mountains? Make sure your brakes are in good condition. Driving to the chilly north? You may need antifreeze washer fluid. Also, get up to speed on defensive driving tactics for ice and snow.

On top of that, you might consider how your car handles in wet and high-speed conditions. If your tire tread is low or your suspension has gone soft, you may have less control over your vehicle at higher speeds and/or in rain, sleet, snow, or ice. Low tire tread increases the risk of hydroplaning and increases your stopping distance. Worn out suspension components can reduce the car’s ability to handle emergency maneuvers (worn shocks or struts can increase stopping distance as well.).

6. Be Prepared

You and your family may be really looking forward to being together in the upcoming Holiday season and the last thing you want is for car trouble to interrupt that valuable time. Being prepared in advance can greatly reduce that risk. However, it’s smart to stay on top of your vehicle’s condition regardless of a planned road trip because you never know when a family emergency may warrant an unplanned trip. Being proactive can not only save you the stress of the unexpected, it can also help you plan your budget and possibly even save you money by preventing a domino effect of surprises.

Most importantly, enjoy the precious moments you are able to spend with your friends and family. Have a fun trip and enjoy the journey!

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