Bambi is dangerous.
Bambi is cute, but not in your headlights at 55 miles per hour.
Over 1 million people hit a deer each year in the United States. This kills most of the deer. It also kills about 200 people each year. Yes, Bambi kills. Deer are far more dangerous than wolves. Really. In fact, only two people in North America have been killed this century by wolves.
The American Deer Lottery.
Your chances of meeting a deer head-on depend upon where you live and drive. Overall, your chances of hitting a deer are 1 in 169.
These numbers vary drastically from state to state, with Pennsylvania usually topping the list, to Arizona near the bottom (Hawaii always is at the very bottom. Virtually no one in Hawaii every hits a deer. But hey- they have sharks to worry about.)
In every state, the odds against you go up in the Fall, when romantic bucks are moving around a lot. It's mating season. Nearly half of deer collisions occur between October and December.
It doesn't matter when or where it happens. It's no fun if it happens. The average deer-car collision costs over $3,000 in damage to your vehicle, makes a huge mess, and pretty much ruins your day (or night).
Suddenly, it's your turn. You won the Deer Lottery. What do you do?
Defensive strategies that work.
Besides wearing your seat belt and driving the speed limit, there are five things you can do to miss a head-on appointment with a deer:
1. Slow down at dusk and dawn.
Consider driving a little under the speed limit during the time when deer are most active. That's dusk and dawn, and those times are also the most difficult to see deer.
2. Hug the center lane or line when possible.
Even a few feet of added space between you and the edge of the road could make a huge difference. This may add additional response time. Of course this depends upon all kinds of things like: are you on a multi lane freeway, what are current road conditions, and of course keeping it safe and legal.
3. Use highs and watch for eyes.
High beams on your headlights will illuminate deer eyes in a really cool and almost creepy way. There's all kinds of science behind that. (You can read about it here.) This will give you more advance warning, especially after a full sunset. Of course, don't shine those brights on the oncoming cars. Be safe and legal.
4. Watch for the gang. Deer are almost never alone.
If you see one set of eyes on the side of the road, slow down and watch for the rest. And if one deer bounds across the road, you can bet more will follow. No one wants to be left behind.
5. Honk, brake firmly and don't swerve.
Let's assume that impact is unavoidable. A deer is literally in your headlights and you are closing fast. Practice this in your mind a few times. HONK. Stay on the horn. No little polite "toot-toots." This often will jolt the deer out of its stupor and save both of you. But if that doesn't work, for goodness sake, HIT THE BRAKES. (That should go without saying.) Now here's where your brain will have trouble: DON'T SWERVE. Everything in your instincts will tell you to swerve. That's a really bad thing to do. The deer may jump at the last second and you will end up hitting it anyway. More likely though, you'll flip your vehicle, or lose control and hit something else like a tree or another vehicle.
If a collision is unavoidable- HIT THE DEER.
Your odds are better. Experts agree. Don't swerve.
The good news.
Auto insurance companies know that it's not your fault when you run into a deer on the road. You most likely have comprehensive coverage on your auto insurance, and that should normally cover it. If you don't have comprehensive coverage on your car (or you don't know what that is)... call your local insurance agent. Like right now. Get comprehensive coverage. It's deer season.
I'm not sure if I'm ready to get into a driverless car and let it take me to the store. Images of Skynet dance in my brain. I don't think I'm alone.
"Human decisions are removed." This short clip from Terminator 2 is funny... and a little creepy.
The future is here now.
But it doesn't matter if I'm comfortable with smart cars. Self-driving cars are already on the road. They've logged more than a million miles, and that's just the start. Google has made self-driving cars front page news. By 2014, articles about these little robotic cars started showing up in my news feed almost every week.
Most major auto manufacturers have already begun working on driverless cars, including Audi, Ford, Mercedes, Nissan, Toyota and Volvo. And General Motors is offering a hands-free super cruise system with automated driving on some freeways in 2016.
The future will be at your local auto dealership in just a few months.
How soon before your car is smarter than you?
It may be a while before your car fires you from your job as "Driver-in Chief." After all, airplanes still need pilots, even with auto pilot so good that it can land a 747 on a dime. There are several reasons why self-driving cars aren't anywhere near replacing mom at the wheel:
Of course, there are more obstacles than this. This Popular Mechanics article lists additional challenges to self-driving cars. We're years away from being able to take a nap while your car drives you to work.
But experts seem agreed that self-driving cars will be a normal part of the driving landscape by 2020. Your friend will have one. You know *that* friend- the guy or gal who has to have the coolest new gadgets. By 2035, as many as 25% of all new cars sold will be self-driving.
Will you be able to drop your auto insurance?
Nope. Probably not in this lifetime. At least not while you have the ability to take the wheel back from your super-smart car. Human error will still be a risk for decades to come...maybe indefinitely. And human error is what your insurance was made to protect you against. Whether it's your error or the other person's, it doesn't matter. If a human makes a mistake, the car isn't going to get blamed.
However, insurance companies will have to reduce rates when self driving cars hit the road in significant numbers. Google's first million miles proved that the accident rate for self driving cars is incredibly lower than "human only" driving. The computer simply won't make errors like we do. After 1.8 million miles, Google's test vehicles had only 16 minor accidents- none of them the fault of the vehicle. So accidents and fatalities will go down, and your rates will too. Eventually. Hopefully. Some experts predict premiums as much as 60% lower than today's premiums... 15 years from now.
You will still need auto insurance.
I'm sorry to break it to you, but there are going to be crazy drivers and unpredictable situations for many years to come. Technology may eventually replace every single driver. But until it does, you're going to need an insurance agent.
What are your thoughts? Are you ready to give up the steering wheel?
Why buy it when you can build it?
There are dozens of pre-built car emergency kits. They range in price from $20 to $200. Typically they will include a lots and lots of "pieces" like this 73 piece kit from AAA. But when you count the pieces, you realize that they count "bandages" as 20 of those pieces, because, after all, there are 20 bandages. So which car emergency kit should I buy? Maybe none of them.
Build your own kit.
It will be better. It will be fun. And it will have only what you need.
Start with simple questions.
Building your own emergency kit can start with role playing questions. Start by imagining a breakdown in the city, and then a breakdown in the country. Role play the seasons too- is it summer or winter? Rainy or dry season? Is it in your part of the state or are you on a trip? With these scenarios in mind, ask these five questions, and any others you may think of too:
1. What do I need to do first?
Maybe the answer is as simple as: "I need to make sure no one hits my car because I'm in traffic." This tells you that you need reflective warning triangles and maybe even flares.
2. What will I do if I'm hurt?
This could start you thinking about what type of first aid kit you need. You may have unique health concerns, like asthma. Do you need an extra rescue inhaler in the kit?
3. How will I contact someone?
This can start you thinking about a car cell phone charger or an extra battery. It will also make you think of what to do if you don't have a signal or your phone is broken. Maybe you'll want a bright colored flag, or a marker and paper for a sign that tells passing motorists to call for help.
4. What if I'm stuck for hours?
It happens. People get stuck in their vehicles for hours- even days in rare cases. We've all seen the stories on the news. Answering this question should take you in many directions. Take notes; don't trust your memory. Items you will want in your emergency kit will begin with simple things like "extra water" and progress up to "emergency hand crank radio." It'll be fun!
5. What basic tools will make it easier for me to get back on the road?
Don't just think of your own skills with tools. Think about the shade tree mechanic who stops to help. What will they need? Of course we start with the handyman's secret weapon- duct tape. Talk to friend who knows how to fix basic car "owies." They can help with this part of the kit.
Now build your list of items.
After you've done the role playing exercise, and had fun imagining all of the "what if" scenarios, it's time to write out a list of things you will need in your emergency car kit. You can compare that list to many of the lists already on the Internet, like here and here and here. I'll highlight some things that everyone ought to have on their list:
Your kit will be better!
Will your own emergency car kit be better? You betcha! You will have thought through what you need in your own geographic area. You will have added items unique to your own needs. You will know everything in your kit, because you chose it item by item. And you will have purchased quality items, because after all, you want this kit to work right if it's ever needed.
Now let's get building your emergency kit!
Need insurance? Call St. Clair Insurance at (951) 284-0400.
If you've driven for many years, you've probably seen the "Check Engine" light come on in the dashboard of your car at least once. You are in good company. 10% of all cars on the road are driving around with the Check Engine light on. If that's never happened to you, or if you have a new teenage driver in the house, I'll share a few things with you that can keep your anxiety levels down before you head to the repair shop.
If the light is not flashing, don't panic. You can keep driving. These lights all look a bit different depending upon the car you drive, but they usually are shaped like an engine, or say "Check Engine" or both. If it's a solid color, you don't need to slam on the brakes in traffic.
If the light is flashing, or if your oil or temperature light comes on at the same time, pull over as soon as you can safely do so. A flashing light means it's much more urgent, and your engine could be at risk. Call a shade-tree mechanic friend. Most of us one of those, and they are good to have on speed dial. Let them advise you. If they don't answer their phone, call a tow truck.
Here's what it could be:
Different websites list a different number of things your Check Engine light could mean. There's even a blogger who gives voice to the frustration many people feel when it comes on. So I'll list the 5 most common things that this light can mean, and maybe you won't feel so powerless and frustrated:
Loose gas cap.
Yes. Really. Your vehicle could simply be telling you... "hey, my gas cap is loose or cracked!" Then why doesn't it just say so? I don't know. But a loose gas cap can cause the entire system to mix gas and oxygen improperly, and eventually mess with the performance of your vehicle. Fortunately, this is the easiest thing in the world to check and the cheapest problem to fix.
Faulty oxygen sensor.
Yeah, I know... what the heck is an oxygen sensor? Basically it's a very small computer in the engine compartment that tells the engine how much oxygen and fuel to mix. You probably have between two and four of these little gizmos in your car. When they go bad (and they always do eventually), they send either too much or too little oxygen to the engine, and you get a very rough ride. And you pollute the atmosphere. The good news is that they don't cost a fortune to fix, and as long as your car is running, there's no need to take care of it right this minute. This is the most common thing wrong when the check engine light comes on.
Bad catalytic converter.
Good news: this one can be dealt after you save up for the repair. Bad news: it's the most expensive of the problems I'm listing, (it can cost up to $2,000) and it does need to be fixed. If it's bad, you won't pass any required emissions tests in your community. Your mileage will suffer. You will pollute the air. Eventually your car can suffer major problems. This is a tough repair. You'll need a real mechanic to replace it.
Faulty mass airflow sensor.
This is another car part similar to the oxygen sensor. It's not very big. It does what it sounds like; it senses air flow to the engine and sends signals to the car to adjust things so everything works just right. If it goes bad, it can also cause the oxygen sensor to go bad. The good news: it's not super expensive, and it's easily replaced. Just like the oxygen sensor, there's no need to panic. You can schedule a repair for next payday.
Aging spark plugs and wires.
The good news: your shade-tree mechanic friend can probably fix this. On most cars, this is a Sunday afternoon task. And like all of these common engine light alerts, it can wait a bit. But you do want to replace these. They can make your engine run rough, hurt your mileage and eventually cause problems for your (expensive) catalytic converter.
Here's what you should do:
Assuming the light isn't flashing, and it's the only light that stays on, here's a simple plan:
I hope this helps. If you want to read more, check out LifeHacker's pretty good post on this.
Need an insurance quote? Call me at (951) 284-0400.