Most kids at 16 can’t wait to drive alone for the first time: Freedom at last. I wasn’t one of them. I lacked confidence, and a week or two passed after I’d gotten my license without so much as me entering the garage.
It was up to my dad to give me the push. “Get in the car,” he said sternly one morning, “and drive yourself to school.” Arms crossed, he stood in the driveway until I was gone.
I wasn’t happy at the time, but it was just what I needed to overcome my fear. My dad’s been giving me driving advice ever since.
Of course, in the six years I’ve been writing this column I’ve been inundated with driving insights from all sorts of people.
Police officers, driving instructors, Registry of Motor Vehicle officials, federal highway officials, traffic engineers, parking gurus, auto mechanics, motor vehicle law attorneys . . . the list goes on. With Father’s Day next Sunday, it seems like a natural time to highlight some of the best advice from my sources. Dad’s included.
►Buying regular-grade gasoline — the cheap stuff — is just fine unless your owner’s manual says otherwise. Buying 93 octane could increase your fuel efficiency by about 1 percent, but you’d have to buy it all the time to see that effect.
►Put sunscreen on your left arm for long drives in clear weather and wear a hat if you’ve got a sunroof. Dermatologists see a higher rate of skin cancer on the left side of drivers’ bodies because they’re more exposed to the sun.
►It’s not worth fighting over a parking space if someone beats you to it. State law says the first driver to pull into a spot — even one you’ve been waiting for — has rights to it.
►Don’t drive with a dog in your lap. It may be cute, but it’s also illegal ($35 fine).
►When you get pulled over, police like you to shut off the engine, turn on the interior light, roll down the window, and keep your hands in sight, preferably on the wheel. Don’t reach for your wallet and registration until asked. Follow these steps, and you’ll increase your chances of leniency.
►If you get a dead battery from leaving lights on overnight, don’t keep driving after getting a jump as if nothing happened. Go to a service station and have your battery recharged to full capacity, over two to three hours. Otherwise, you’ll shorten the battery’s life.
►Wax your car in the shade, not the sun, to prevent the wax from hardening faster than you can wipe it off.
►Flash your headlights to let a trucker know when he’s got room to move back into your lane after passing; with a 40-foot trailer behind him he might not be able to tell.
►To maximize fuel economy, set your cruise control to 65 miles per hour on the highway. (You’ll actually get better mileage at 55 m.p.h., but the flow of traffic is usually too fast to allow that.)
►Clean the inside of your windshield as often as you clean the outside to cut down on road glare. If glare remains a problem, have an optometrist apply antiglare coating to your glasses; it will cost around $70.
►When stretching after a long drive, don’t bend down and touch your toes, which might hurt your back. Twist from side to side, make arm circles, or march in place.
►Come to a full stop at stop signs, even when it seems unnecessary. One of the easiest tickets police can write is for failing to make a complete stop, as state law requires.
►If you have to wait a few minutes at Logan Airport to pick up someone, park for free for 30 minutes in the airport’s cellphone lot (follow the signs to find it). Sure beats paying $3 at central parking.
►If you’re on a road with a bicycle lane and you are going to make a right turn, move into the bicycle lane (if it’s clear) prior to your turn. That way, cyclists won’t be caught off-guard or try to pass you on the right as you’re turning.
►Resist your urge to swerve to avoid a sudden obstacle. Instead, quickly slam on your brakes to shift the vehicle’s weight onto your front tires, which will give you greater control, then turn the wheel. Think “stomp and steer.”
►Written warnings don’t affect your insurance or driving record, nor do police from one community share them with another. So pay them heed, but don’t sweat them.
►Keep your gas tank full. Fuel pumps usually sit in the middle of the tank surrounded by gasoline, which acts as a coolant. When your tank's empty, the pump burns hotter, and might burn out if you consistently drive with low fuel
►Don’t pay extra for rental-company insurance if you’re renting a car anywhere in the United States or Canada. Your Massachusetts car insurance plan protects you, as might your credit card company.
►When jump-starting a car, the last step should be to connect the negative clamp to any unpainted metal on the dead car’s frame, as far from its battery as the cable allows. The old method of connecting the clamp to the dead battery’s negative terminal is no longer recommended, as it might produce a spark that could explode the battery or damage your car’s computer system.
►If you need to make a U-turn on a road where they aren’t allowed, simply make a left into a retail parking lot, turn around in the parking lot, and make a right turn back onto the road. Totally legal.
►Before buying a used car, have a mechanic inspect the vehicle, on the lot or at his/ her shop. It’s your right. Don't believe dealers who say cars have passed “certified’’ inspections or have “clean mechanical histories.’’
►It’s illegal to tuck your seat-belt shoulder strap under your left arm, even if it’s more comfortable that way. You’re also inviting additional injuries if you get in an accident.
►Even when it’s frigid outside, your car only needs a minute or so to warm up before you start driving. Just go slowly for the first mile.
►You can’t throw an apple core or banana peel out your window, even though they are biodegradable. Littering is littering, says the law.
►If you’re stuck in traffic on a scorching day, watch your car’s engine temperature gauge. It should run at 190 to 200 degrees; if it rises above 215, pull over and let the engine cool. If you can’t pull over, shut off anything electrical you don’t need and blast your heat. You’ll be uncomfortable, but it’ll help cool the engine.
Buckle up in Maine, after all
In my previous column I wrote that Maine has a “secondary” seat belt law, which means police can fine you only when you’re stopped for another violation. That’s wrong: It has a primary seat belt law, which means you can get pulled over for not wearing a belt.
The fine is $50.