While some automotive problems on the highway require several steps to correct them, others can be solved very simply. For example, suppose your car engine quits as you move into heavy traffic from a side street or as you enter stop-and-go traffic in the morning. What has most likely happened is that you're trying to drive with a cold engine. A safer procedure is to warm the engine at idle for two or three minutes before moving the car. Do not run the engine in a closed garage.
Wheel slippage. If the wheels of your car slip off the roadway and onto the shoulder, do not try to swing back quickly or brake hard. This could throw the car out of control. If the right wheels are on the shoulder, keep a firm grip on the steering wheel, ease off the gas pedal, and try to keep the car moving straight ahead.
Gradually slow down and then move the right wheels back onto the pavement at slow speed. Do not stop half on and half off the roadway. If you cannot avoid a full stop, make sure the car is completely off the highway before stopping, even though this maneuver may get the car stuck. Wait for help.
Frozen slush in wheel wells. When the temperature drops below freezing, the slush and snow thrown up under the fenders can freeze. An ice tunnel can quickly build up. Then when you try to pass or turn, you may find the wheels of the car locked in a straight-ahead position. To avoid the problem, move the steering wheel slightly or even stop off the roadway to remove the ice buildup.
Wildlife in roadway. Animals, especially deer, can present a dangerous problem to the motorist. Be particularly alert to such creatures, especially at night. Drive at a moderate speed in areas where deer are present. If you spot an animal on the road ahead of you, slow down, flash the lights (at night), and sound the horn. Generally, they'll give you the right of way if you give them a brake.
Tailgating cars. Even though you're cruising on the Interstate at 55 m.p.h., the car behind is glued to your rear bumper.
If the rear-car driver refuses to pass, tap the brakes lightly a few times to indicate your wish that the car pass you. Should you still be unable to shake the tailgater, wait for a safe place to pull off the roadway and stop.
Don't be a tailgater yourself and always be alert to your place on the highway.
``The secret of safe driving,'' says Cale Yarborough, a professional race driver, ``is a condition of constant readiness.'' To learn to anticipate, drivers must build conscious habits to ``read'' the traffic picture accurately and make quick and automatic decisions.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers some techniques to improve driving skills and reduce mistakes. Experienced, courteous drivers take many of the following ideas for granted.
Look out for yourself and the other guy. Mix smoothly with traffic. Blending in with routine traffic is the result of conscious effort. Always look ahead for the line of least resistance and don't be an obstruction yourself.
Fourth of a series of articles on how to handle an emergency situation on the highway. The last article will appear tomorrow.