Car Care Safety


  1. Brakes
  2. Bumpers
  3. Frame / Unibody
  4. Safety Glass
  5. Horn
  6. Lights
  7. Seat Belts
  8. Air Bags
  9. Side Impact Air Bags
  10. Air Bag Switch
  11. Safety Inspections
  12. Tires

 

Brakes

Description: Your car’s brakes use a hydraulic system, including the master cylinder, disc brake calipers (disc brakes), wheel cylinders (drum brakes), hydraulic lines and hoses, and combination/proportioning valve. When you push on the brake pedal, the force of your leg generates hydraulic pressure in the master cylinder, which then flows through the hydraulic lines and hoses to the wheel cylinders and calipers. The hydraulic force applies pressure through the wheel cylinders and calipers, forcing the brake shoes against the drums (drum brakes) and the pads against the rotors (disc brakes).

Cars and light trucks also have a parking brake, which mechanically activates the rear brakes of the vehicle through a cable. This is also sometimes referred to as the emergency brake. In the early 1960s, cars began using split hydraulic systems and tandem master cylinders. Essentially, this divided the hydraulic system into two separate systems (front and back), ensuring proper hydraulic and braking on one side of the system, if a leak developed on the other side.

In the 1980s, some carmakers began to use diagonally split systems, which took safety a step further. Instead of splitting the system into front and rear, the system was now hydraulically divided into left-rear/right-front and right-rear/left-front. By maintaining one front and one rear brake, the result is more balanced braking when the system develops a leak. Today all cars use some type of hydraulically split system.

Purpose: The brake system absorbs the energy of the moving car and converts it into heat. Proper brake operation is critical to the safety of your car. Brake safety has increased even further due to the widespread use of antilock brakes (ABS).

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: Have your car’s brakes inspected annually to make sure everything’s OK. It’s always best to be able to plan ahead for brake work by knowing brake condition as your car ages. Brakes are a normal wear item for any car, so sooner or later they’re going to need replacement.

Planning can also save you money, because the brakes won’t get to the “metal-to-metal” point, which usually means expensive rotor or drum replacement. Symptoms of brake problems may include dragging brakes, squealing brakes, a pulsating brake pedal (with ABS not functioning), grinding brakes, a low brake pedal or pulling when braking.

On cars with ABS, if the BRAKE, ANTILOCK or ABS light on the instrument panel stays on or flashes, or comes on while driving, it indicates a fault in the ABS system. the If your car exhibits any of these symptoms, have it checked out by a qualified technician as soon as possible.

Bumpers

Description: Bumpers are located at the front and back of the vehicle and may be chrome, black, matched or coordinated with the rest of the vehicle’s colours. Bumpers usually incorporate a plastic cover and lower panel, and a reinforcement bar. Bumpers on 1983 and newer cars are required to withstand a 2.5 mph impact. This safety standard does not apply to vans, pickups and SUVs.


Purpose: Bumpers used to serve a largely ornamental function and were almost exclusively chrome. Today, automobile bumpers complement vehicle appearance, but are also designed to minimize damage from low-speed collisions by absorbing crash energy.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: Your car’s bumpers are not designed to absorb unlimited low speed collisions. During an impact, the energy absorbing material will likely be damaged and need replacement. Just because the bumper looks fine on the outside doesn’t mean that it still can absorb additional impacts. If your car is involved in a collision — no matter how minor — have the bumper damage evaluated by a qualified collision repair professional.

Frame / Unibody

Description: The frame or unibody is the main structural piece of the vehicle. Though they provide similar functions, they have different designs and purposes. When combined with all the braking, steering and suspension systems, this is commonly referred to as the chassis, or undercarriage, of the vehicle.

Purpose: The frame or unibody provides the structural strength of the vehicle and also a location and mounting points for other systems that make the total chassis. The frame design is the oldest, made of steel and designed so that the body of the vehicle is mounted on top. The unibody, on the other hand, differs from the frame in that it is actually stamped out as part of the body structure. Also referred to sometimes as unitized construction, today’s automobiles most commonly use the unibody design because its inherent ability to absorb energy during a collision.

Most light trucks continue to use body-on-frame construction. Even though a car or light truck is usually built one way or the other, there are some vehicles that use a partial frame (sometimes called a sub-frame) along with unibody construction.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: The frame or unibody is not a separately serviceable item, so it does not require regular maintenance. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to periodically clean the undercarriage of the vehicle, especially in parts of the country where road salt is used during the winter months.

Should your vehicle be involved in an accident, have the damage inspected immediately by a collision professional. Sometimes damage that appears to be merely cosmetic may wind up being more severe and affect your vehicle’s structural integrity, which could impact your car’s safety. Such damage may also affect wheel alignment, since proper alignment relies on a frame or unibody that’s within manufacturer’s specifications.

Safety Glass

Description: Safety glass is a critical safety element of your car. The windshield is made of laminated safety glass, made by sandwiching a sheet of plastic between two or more layers of glass. The side windows are made of tempered safety glass, which is made by heating, then a rapid cooling process.

Purpose: Safety glass performs several crucial tasks:

  • Greatly reduces the size and number of flying glass pieces during an accident, lessening the chance of injury to those inside the car.
  • When the glass breaks, it results in small pebble-like pieces rather than the jagged, sharp pieces from conventional glass.
  • When used in a windshield, safety glass helps keeps occupants inside the car during an accident and also serves as a deflection panel when the passenger side airbag deploys.
  • Because of its high strength, it can provide structural support for the roof in the event of a rollover accident.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: Keep the glass clean at all times. Insects and other debris can be removed with the use of a “bug sponge” and a proper cleaner, but be careful not to use strong abrasives that may scratch the glass.

Make sure that the windshield washer solvent reservoir is full so you can use your windshield wipers to clear your view when driving. This is critical during the winter months. Inspect your wiper blades frequently. If worn or damaged, bad wipers can damage the windshield. To help improve visibility further, consider a dirt and water repellent that you apply directly to the windshield.

Minor windshield damage such as chips and cracks can be repaired using methods now accepted by insurance companies. If complete windshield replacement is needed, it must be installed properly to yield all its safety capabilities. If you’re in doubt about the condition of any glass on your car, consult a qualified automotive glass professional.

Horn

Description: The horn system usually includes a horn switch, horn or pair of horns, fuse, relay and related wiring.

Purpose: The horn is used to alert other drivers of sudden situations. The horn system is also used as a signalling device for anti-theft systems.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: The horn is an important safety device and should be checked out immediately if it doesn’t work. First, check the horn fuse (refer to your car’s owner’s manual for the fuse locations and assignments) and replace it if needed. If the fuse is OK, check the connection at the horn to make sure it’s secure. If the connection at the horn is OK, make sure the horn relay is located securely in its socket (this location is also specified in the owner’s manual). If everything seems OK and the horn still doesn’t work, have the system checked by a professional technician.

Lights

Description: Your car’s lighting system consists of several different systems integrated together: Headlights (high and low beams), fog lights (optional), parking, tail and marker lights, instrumentation lighting, turn signals, emergency flashers, stoplights, backup lights and interior lights.

Purpose: The lighting system provides nighttime visibility under different driving conditions, signals and alerts other drivers, and supplies light for viewing instruments and the interior.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: During normal driving, you may not notice a light that isn’t working. That’s why it’s best to have your car’s lights inspected at every oil change. Most often, the cause of a faulty light is a bad bulb. If a whole portion of the lighting circuit doesn’t work, such as the taillights, check the fuses. Refer to your car’s owner’s manual for recommended bulb and fuse types, their locations and for information on how to change them. Most bulbs and fuses on today’s cars are easy to change.

If you’re changing a halogen headlight bulb, do not touch the bulb with your bare hands. Oil from your skin can cause the bulb to fail prematurely. A turn signal that flashes in one direction, but not in the other direction, usually means there’s a bad bulb on the side that does not flash. If the bulbs and fuses seem OK, but the lighting problem persists, have the lighting system looked at by a qualified service professional.

Seat Belts

Description: High-tensile strength belts and harnesses, connected to high-strength buckles, make up today’s seat belts. Once an option in the 1950s, seat belts are one of the most important standard safety features of your car.

Purpose: Seat belts have been statistically proven at preventing injuries and saving lives. Seat belts save over hundreds of lives each year. Safety belts and harnesses play the primary role in passenger protection. They provide protection during accidents from all directions, security during a rollover and proper passenger positioning when an air bag deploys. They can also prevent the passenger from being hurled forward during mild front collisions.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: Keep your car’s seat belts in good operating condition. Replace any belt that is cut, frayed or shows signs of weakness. Make sure that the buckles engage completely and don’t separate when pulled. Seat belts sometimes have defects that are covered under a recall from the manufacturer.

Air Bags

Description: Some cars have just an airbag on the driver’s side; others have both passenger and driver’s side airbags. During a front collision of sufficient force, impact sensors close. This triggers an electrical signal that travels to the air bag module. Upon receipt of this signal, current arcs across both pins of an igniter and starts a chemical chain reaction. This arc ignites a canister of gas that ignites sodium azide pellets. The pellets burn rapidly and change to nitrogen gas. The rapid build-up of nitrogen fills the bag quickly. The rapid expansion of the air bag tears the steering wheel cover open at specific locations. The bag reaches full deployment shortly thereafter.

Purpose: During a severe frontal collision, the air bag deploys and absorbs the forward force of the driver’s or passenger’s upper body as it spreads out over the large surface area of the bag. Air bags and safety belts make a team. Air bags don’t replace belts. They only supplement them during severe front collisions.

Side Impact Air Bags

Description: Side-Impact airbags come in two different types: torso protecting and head/torso protecting. Of the car models built in 2003, 40 percent offered head-protecting side airbags (24 percent standard equipment, 16 percent optional equipment). An even larger number of 2004 model year passenger vehicles are offering side airbags with head protection (27 percent standard equipment, 21 percent optional equipment).

Purpose: Side-impact airbags provide supplemental protection during side impacts. Some types provide protection for just the torso, or for both the head and torso. According to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the United States, side-impact airbags have reduced deaths among passenger car drivers involved in driver-side collisions by about 45 percent when the side airbag included head protection and by 11 percent when the side airbag was designed to protect only the torso.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: Side-impact airbags do not require any periodic maintenance. However, to ensure that the system is operating properly, make sure that the airbag indicator light works exactly as described in the owner’s manual. With the ignition in the on position, the light should come on momentarily and then go out. If the light stays on or comes on while driving, have the system checked by a professional service technician. Also, air bags sometimes have defects that are covered under a recall from the manufacturer.

Air Bag Switch

Description: An air bag on-off switch overrides the automatic deployment function of vehicle airbags and can be installed for the driver, passenger, or both. To operate the switch, a special key is required to reduce the chances of misuse. When the air bag is turned off, a light appears stating DRIVER AIR BAG OFF or PASSENGER AIR BAG OFF. The air bag remains deactivated until the key is used to turn the system back on.


Purpose: An air bag on-off switch allows an air bag to be turned off for special circumstances. Some scenarios where air bag deployments may be risky include:

  • When absolutely essential to transport infants riding in rear-facing infant seats in the front passenger seat.
  • When absolutely essential to transport children ages 1 to 12 in the front passenger seat.
  • When drivers cannot change their customary driving position and keep 25 centimetres between the centre of the steering wheel and the centre of their breastbone.
  • For people whose doctors claim that because of a medical condition, an air bag poses a special risk that exceeds the risk of hitting their head, neck or chest in a crash when the air bag is turned off.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: Deactivating your air bag will not benefit you or other users of your vehicle. Instead, it will increase the risk that you and the other users will suffer a head, neck or chest injury by violently striking the steering wheel or dashboard in a moderate to severe crash. The installation and use of an air bag switch is only allowed under the above conditions and should be performed by a trained service professional. Not all repair facilities install air bag switches.

Safety Inspections

Description: Safety inspections consist of a series of safety-related checks for various systems and areas of the vehicle. For example, some common checks include glass, horn, tires, wipers, lights, turn signals, brakes, mirrors, steering, suspension, and restraint systems. Some Canadian provinces require safety inspections at different times, such as when selling your vehicles.


Purpose: Many other countries often adopt safety inspections as a means of regulating improved safety for motorists. Research shows that jurisdictions with annual safety inspection programs have accident rates that are 20 percent lower than in jurisdictions without safety inspections. Safety inspections represent a good opportunity to have minor problems corrected before they become major problems or hazards.

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: If you live in an area that requires a safety inspection, welcome it as an opportunity to have your car looked over thoroughly. There’s more at stake here than just safety; an inspection can also detect problems that could cause major breakdown headaches in the near future. Plan your inspection into your schedule at a time when the inspection facility isn’t backed up with other work. This often happens at the end of the month when everyone suddenly rushes at the last minute to schedule an inspection. Planning ahead gives you time to make better choices about different repairs or services that may be needed as determined during the inspection.

Tires

Description: Tires are simply the wearable and therefore replaceable part of the tire/wheel assembly. Although many different types of tire designs have been used since the dawn of the automobile, the radial tire has virtually replaced all other varieties. Radial tires, by far, deliver better safety and handling, fuel economy, steering, traction and cornering. The typical radial tire consists of a bead, a casing, belts, and tread.

Today, nearly all tires have belts made from steel. Radial tires also last much longer than any previous tire design. Although driving habits and tire care play a key role in tire life, radial tires may last as long as 160,000 kilometres. Virtually all of today’s tires used on automobiles, and many used on light trucks, have a tubeless design. This means there is not a separate balloon-like tube inside the tire, as was the case with older tire designs.

Purpose: Tires serve as the wearable part of the overall tire/wheel assembly, but they also play a large role in vehicle safety. Today’s tires must provide good traction under a wide range of driving and road conditions while providing long tread wear.
 

Maintenance Tips/Suggestions: Check tire pressure frequently and also inspect the tires for abnormal tread wear and cuts and bruises along the sidewall. Rotate and balance the tires on a regular basis. If your car has a flat, have the tire professionally repaired. Since most flats are caused by damage to the tire, such as a puncture, anything less than quality repairs can affect the integrity of the tire. The best way to repair a tire is to have it removed from the rim, the inside inspected and corrective measures taken. The quick plug, done from the outside, is no longer recommended by the tire industry. According to experts, the repair could fail, inviting a blowout. When replacing tires, install only tires of the size recommended for your vehicle. Installing the wrong tires can result in contact with body panels or steering and suspension parts. The wrong tires can also affect speedometer readings and engine/transmission control.