Everybody wants cheap car insurance. One of the easiest ways to lower your car insurance premiums is to not have accidents. Before you say, “Well, duh!” think about your car maintenance habits. How conscientious are you about checking, adjusting and maintaining your car’s basic safety features? Along with driving responsibly, they are the best way to avoid traffic encounters that lead to higher insurance rates.
Your car horn is a fundamental piece of safety equipment. It’s essential for communicating with other drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists. It’s also illegal to drive a vehicle that doesn’t have a properly functioning horn (one that can be heard from a distance of 200 feet). According to Mark Gittelman’s AutoRepair.Answers.com, “The Department of Transportation mandates that each vehicle be equipped with an audible warning device and that it operates as per design intent.” You’ll also probably fail a safety inspection in most states without a functioning horn. Checking your horn is easy. So is getting it fixed.
Do you routinely adjust your rear and side-view mirrors before you pull into traffic? It’s a good habit to adopt. The American Safety Council recommends that mirrors be adjusted to reflect a view of at least 200 feet behind your car. To check for blind spots (most cars have them), have someone stand in different locations to either side of your car while it’s parked. Auxiliary, add-on mirrors can help eliminate blind spots to make lane changes and merging safer.
You may have never thought about it, but your windshield wipers are a critical piece of safety equipment, and another item that can make or break you in a safety inspection. RainX.com recommends that you replace the blades every six months to a year, or as soon as using them causes smearing, chatter, skips or streaks that impair visibility.
It’s kind of a no-brainer that your vehicle lights need to be in good working conditions. That includes headlamps, tail lights, brake lights, back up lights, parking lights, turn signals and emergency flashers. Checking, adjusting and fixing them is a lot easier and cheaper than getting a ticket or getting in a wreck. Get in the habit of doing a routine light check once a month or so. Do it after dark so you can also see if your headlamps need to be aligned. And don’t overlook the little white light over your rear license plate. It’s a legal requirement in most states.
Every car comes with a standard braking system and a parking brake that serves as a last resort. According to SafeMotorist.com, the foot pedal brake must be capable of stopping a passenger vehicle traveling 20mph within 25 feet on a dry surface free from loose material where the grade doesn’t exceed one percent. They point out that today’s anti-lock brakes won’t help you stop any faster, they’ll just help you avoid skidding and limit or prevent wheel lock-up during hard braking.  Zack Bowman, writing for Driverside.com, say the most obvious indicator that your brakes need attention is a squealing noise when you stop that sounds a lot like fingernails on a chalkboard. It’s intentionally caused by a piece of metal that touches the rotors when the brake pad wears thin. However, he cautions, sometimes that metal rusts and falls off, so be alert to other indicators like taking longer to stop or a brake pedal that pushes down further than it used to. When any of these things happen, get the brakes checked ASAP.
The granddaddy of safety equipment, tires really are all that stands between you, the road and a wreck. Yes, they are expensive, but like the old Michelin ads said, “There’s a lot riding on your tires.” Keeping them in good condition will extend their life. That means maintaining proper air pressure. Check it monthly and adjust it for cold weather (tire pressure can drop about one PSI for every 10 degree drop in temperature). Rotating your tires twice a year will decrease wear and prolong life, too. And you should inspect your tires for wear monthly, too. Tread needs to be at least 1/16th inch; less than that and it’s time for new tires.
Today’s cars come with a dazzling array of passive and active safety features ranging from night vision to back-up sensors and forward collision avoidance systems, but maintaining your vehicle’s most basic safety equipment and driving defensively is still the best way to avoid accidents.
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 “How to Care for and Use Your Vehicle’s Safety Equipment,” http://www.safemotorist.com/articles/safety_equipment.aspx
 “Car Brakes: How Do You Know When to Change Them?” http://www.driverside.com/auto-library/car_brakes_how_do_you_know_when_to_change_them-22