Weathering the storm: Hurricane car survival tips

Consumer Reports News: August 26, 2011 11:08 AM

As Hurricane Irene approaches the East Coast, we have prepared a few helpful safety tips related to your car, which can play a key role in surviving such a natural disaster.

People will be affected in a wide range of ways from this storm system from direct home damage and power loss, to the interruption of goods and services. The most important tip is knowing that extreme weather is no place for driving. Don't drive in the storm. Risks such as hydroplaning and striking unexpected submerged objects in deep puddles are too real, and emergency services will have their hands full. Don't add to their challenges.

That said, here are some things to consider.

Fill the gas tank.
If your county loses power for days, it may be essential to drive to shelter or travel to obtain services. In good weather, that is an easy task, but when millions of other people also need a hotel, the distance you must drive can be considerable. And in the end, you may end up sleeping in the car.

Install new windshield wipers, or at least freshen the existing ones by wiping with a paper towel moistened with window cleaner. In our tests, we have found that simple action can often add months of service. (See our windshield wiper advice and ratings.)

Check the tire pressure, including the spare tire. When it is time to go, you don't want a simple flat tire to hold you back. If debris litters the streets, the chance of a tire puncture is much greater.

Pack a go-bag. It is highly recommended that each family member prepare a go-bag. Likewise, you should have a go-bag in the car, with cash, water, food, clothes, and other living essentials in case you have the need to bolt. Should the house sustain significant damage, you can't count on being able to retrieve everything that you might otherwise want for travel.

Maps. Have paper maps with you, including an evacuation route printed from your state government's website. A GPS with traffic services can prove valuable, but of course, some traffic information may be compromised by power outages. (Connecticut, South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.)

Car charger. A cell phone can provide a vital lifeline to friends, family, and emergency services. Should the neighborhood lose power, make sure you have a charger in the car to power up your phone.

Check the windows. It seems simple, but it is important. Make sure the windows and sunroof are all closed tight.

Take pictures. This goes for the car, as well as the house. Snap a few before pictures in case you need to prove damage was caused by the storm.

Park the vehicle on high ground, removing the risk of flooding. A water-damaged car is an expensive, disappointing boat anchor.

Protect the garage. In the south, modern homes are built to hurricane codes, with structures and even garage doors engineered to withstand harsh storms. That is not the case for much of the region about to be introduced to Irene. Consider parking your car outside, tight against the garage door—sideways—to block high-speed winds and hopefully preserve the door's integrity. Should true hurricane-force winds break through the garage door, the storm can do serious structural damage. With an attached garage, that damage can quickly translate to the house.

Insurance paperwork. If possible, keep a copy of the car insurance paperwork in a Ziplock within your go bag. Should the car be damaged, don't delay calling the insurance company for days. Chances are, you're not alone. The insurance phone lines will be clogged, and the local repair shops will quickly be booked up.

Evacution. If you decide to drive away from the storm, before the harsh winds arrives, drive safely. Don't speed, especially in the rain. The faster you drive, the greater the risk of hydroplaning—when water causes a vehicle's tires to lift off the road surface. Stick to major roads. Avoid short cuts, as they are more likely to have problems, especially after the storm (trees down, flooding), and less likely to have emergency workers keeping the road clear. Try to limit the family to one car, so as to minimize road congestion. And stay away from flooded areas and downed power lines.

With some quick preparation, your car can play a key role in weathering the storm. Good luck.

For more information on hurricane preparedness, visit and

How to keep your food safe if Irene knocks out your power
In a disaster, favor texting over voice calls
Packing your baby's emergency bag
Weathering disaster: Generators

Jeff Bartlett

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