Cold Weather and Oil May not Mix

When I checked the temperature in Chicago this morning, it was six degrees, and the way I look at it, the only six degrees worthy of consideration is six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, whom I saw in the airport the other day. (By the way, he looked thinner than I expected.) But that is a wild digression from the subject at hand, which is extremely low temperatures, the kind that have been plaguing much of the U.S. this winter, no doubt the result of global warming. What does this have to do with you and your car? Simply this: In single-digit winter temperatures across the country, your vehicle’s oil and filter are put to the test in ways you might never imagine.

“The most obvious point to consider when temperatures dip very low is your choice of motor oil and filter,” said Ramon Nunez, spokesman for Purolator Filters.

Oil that’s too thin, explained Nunez, will not provide sufficient protection for your engine. Oil that’s too thick will keep your engine from starting in cold weather, because the thick, gooey oil challenges your battery and starter motor to spin the engine fast enough for it to fire. So, check your owners manual and choose oil viscosity (the measure of “thinness”) accordingly.

While many people understand that choosing an oil with the proper viscosity is critical, especially in the winter, they might not know that winter puts added strain on other parts of their car’s lubrication system, too. “Many people are surprised to learn that winter weather also puts extra demands on your oil filter,” Nunez said.

At 20 degrees F, most oils have the thickness of maple syrup. So when your engine first starts up, your engine’s oil pump forces cold, thick oil through all the passages in your engine, including those in your oil filter. A number of factors determine if the oil will find its way through the filter to provide lubrication to your engine, while particulates are filtered out.

Nunez points out three specific design elements engineered into filters to help them perform properly in winter weather: structural integrity, internal valving and the media of the filter itself.

Upon startup in cold weather, your engine will experience an initial surge of pressure. This pressure could compromise oil filters at their weakest point and manifest itself as a blown-out sealing ring, a split crimp or even a burst canister if the filter is not constructed robustly enough. Any of these can cause catastrophic engine failure. Premium oil filters (like Purolator's PureONE) are built and tested to withstand virtually all real-world pressure spikes.

Internal valving is equally critical. Purolator engineers have developed a special spring-loaded bypass valve so that if the filter goes unchanged for an extended period of time and is blocked with debris, unfiltered oil can flow to the engine, providing at least some lubrication, albeit with dirty oil. Instead of a reliable coil spring, some filter manufacturers scrimp by substituting “spring” steel that may not return to its original shape after cycling. The result can be unfiltered oil for as long as the filter is in place, with potentially catastrophic results.

Finally, the filter must remove the smallest particles while offering the least resistance to oil flow. According to Nunez, premium oil filters, like Purolator’s top-grade PureONE filter, are developed to hold as much as 13 grams of debris -- the equivalent of 31 standard size paper clips -- while still providing minimal resistance to oil flow. So when you specify the proper grade premium oil at your next oil change, also make certain you are specifying the installation of a premium-grade oil filter.

Use That New Phone Safely

This year million of drivers received new wireless phones for Christmas, and many of them were filled with a wide assortment of bells and whistles...not to mention games, onboard music storage and the ability to access the Internet. And now that you have all that technical wizardry, please be certain that you use it wisely. With more ways to get distracted, you have more ways to find yourself in an unfortunate situation if you're not careful. You must always remember that safety is your first responsibility behind the wheel. If you decide to use a mobile phone while driving, do it correctly.

"Road trips are a great American tradition, but drivers face many distractions in the car -- from eating lunch on-the-go, to kids playing in the back seat, to changing the radio station or CD," according to the CTIA -- The Wireless Association. "For years, the wireless industry has worked hard to educate drivers on the range of distractions they face, and to remind them that safety is always their first responsibility. That means using a wireless phone wisely, and recognizing when it's not the right time to make a call."

What are the wrong times to make a mobile call? In times when extra concentration on your driving is required -- in heavy traffic, in bad weather, in unfamiliar territory or when the conversation might be stressful or emotional. A good rule of thumb is to never talk to your mother-in-law while driving at all. (In fact, you might never want to talk to her period.)

Know Your Device
Here are some tips for living with a wireless phone while driving:

  • Get to know your wireless phone's features, such as speed dial and voice activation before you get behind the wheel of you car. Learn those features and how to use them safely and effortlessly prior to trying to use them as you drive. One key piece of equipment you should understand and use is a hands-free device. While not a panacea, a hands-free device can help you maintain solid control of your vehicle by allowing you to steer with both hands. Because they are so inexpensive, it's almost inexcusable not to use a hands-free device even in states and locales where it is not required by law.
  • Position your wireless phone within easy reach of your driving position before you get your vehicle underway. Reaching for a ringing phone in a briefcase located in the backseat is an invitation for disaster. And don't feel you always have to answer your phone either. Letting voicemail take your call is often a much better idea than reaching for the phone. If you're driving in hazardous weather conditions, in heavy traffic or on unfamiliar roadways the additional distraction of talking on the telephone might be just enough to cloud your judgment at a critical time. And no one wants their Christmas present to land them in the ditch.

Rove Safely in Your ROV

Formed by the major manufacturers and distributors to promote the safe and responsible use of a new and emerging category of recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs), the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association (ROHVA) received ANSI accreditation on November 3, 2008 to develop a standard for the equipment, configuration and performance requirements of ROVs. In addition, ROHVA has published safety rules for these increasingly popular off-road vehicles.

An ROV -- sometimes broadly referred to as a side-by-side or UTV -- is a motorized off-highway vehicle designed to travel on four or more non-highway tires, with a steering wheel, non-straddle seating, seat belts, an occupant protective structure and engine displacement up to 1,000 cubic centimeters. Current models are designed with seats for a driver and one or more passengers. ROV performance and durability make the vehicle ideally suited for a variety of outdoor recreational activities as well as many work applications.

The following “ROV Safety Rules” focus on safe and responsible ROV use:

  1. Always wear protective gear, use the seat belts, keep all parts of your body inside the ROV and wear a helmet when driving the ROV for recreational purposes.
  2. Never drive on public roads -- another vehicle could hit you.
  3. Drive only in designated areas, at a safe speed, and use care when turning and crossing slopes.
  4. Never drive under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
  5. Never drive an ROV unless you’re 16 or older or have a driver’s license. ROVs are not toys.
  6. Never carry more passengers than the ROV is designed for, and never allow a passenger who is too small to sit in a passenger seat to ride in the ROV.
  7. Read and follow the operator’s manual and warning labels.

“The safety of the driver and passengers of ROVs is the top priority of the ROHVA member companies,” said ROHVA Vice President Tom Yager. “ROHVA and our member companies strongly recommend that ROV drivers and passengers follow these important safety rules to avoid crashes and injuries.”

ROHVA submitted its application for accreditation by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) on June 13, 2008 and received accreditation to develop a standard for ROVs on November 3. ROHVA will manage the standards development process and make certain that the final standard is in full compliance with ANSI guidelines. An approved ANSI standard for equipment configuration and performance requirements in this emerging product category will benefit consumers.

In addition, ROHVA will serve as the primary resource for information on ROVs. To coincide with its ANSI accreditation, the association has launched a Web site, ROHVA online, and has published ROV Safety Rules as well as a description of this emerging vehicle category. Further specific ROV educational materials are currently under development and will be posted on the site.

ROVs offered in dealerships across the country include the Arctic Cat Prowler, Kawasaki TERYX, Polaris Ranger and Ranger RZR and Yamaha Rhino models.

Men Break More Traffic Laws

You might call it an old-school attitude, that men are fundamentally different than women, but now a new study draws that same conclusion, at least when it comes to driving. The recently released proprietary findings of a study by Quality Planning, the ISO company that validates policyholder information for auto insurers, reveal dramatic differences in the number and type of traffic violations committed by men versus women. The findings show that when it comes to traffic laws, women are far more observant of them than men and that the laws violated more frequently by men are those laws designed to safeguard people and property. One conclusion that could be drawn from a minute analysis of the data is men suck.

If you want evidence that men are bigger risk-takers behind the wheel than women are, look no farther than the finding that men are cited for reckless driving 3.41 times more than women. Reckless driving is considered one of the most serious traffic offenses by the justice system, since it implies a disregard for the rights and safety of persons or property. But that wasn’t the only driving-related violation that men commit far more often than women (or cocker spaniels, for that matter). Men are also much more likely to be cited for driving under the influence (3.09 times more than women), seatbelt violations (3.08 times), speeding (1.75 times) and stop sign and signal violations (1.54 times.) Arguably the most surprising statistic was that men were 1.54 times more likely to exhibit a “failure to yield,” because my wife, for one, is well-noted for her failure to yield, no matter what I say or how much I beg.  But perhaps we’re getting too personal here.

How did we arrive at this data? Quality Planning analyzed 12 months’ worth of 2007 policyholder information for U.S. drivers, comparing the number of moving and non-moving violations for both men and women. Overall, the data shows that men are much more likely to receive a traffic citation than women, and that this difference in driving behavior is consistent across all age groups, though children under 10 don’t do much driving.

“We were not surprised to see that men have slightly more -- about 5+ percent -- violations that result in accidents than women,” said Dr. Raj Bhat, president of Quality Planning. “And because men are also more likely to violate laws for speeding, passing and yielding, the resulting accidents caused by men lead to more expensive claims than those caused by women.”

Interestingly, women drivers were also about 27 percent less likely than men to be found at fault when involved in an accident. This again underscores the finding that women are, on average, less aggressive and more law-abiding drivers -- attributes that also translate to fewer accidents.

So what do they want from us, a medal?

DWI Courts: Cure for Drunk Driving Carnage?

It is abundantly clear that drunk driving is an important health and safety issue in the United States. The statistics make that obvious: There are more than 17,000 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the United States every year. What is significantly less obvious is the answer to the problem. Certainly, keeping all drivers who are alcohol-impaired off the road seems like an obvious solution, but in taking a closer look at the problem, it appears that huge gains can be made by dealing with those who are at the heart of the problem: the hardcore drunk drivers.

Hardcore drunk drivers are drivers with a high blood alcohol concentration of .15 and above and/or are repeat drunk driving offenders. These drunk drivers are responsible for 58 percent of alcohol-related traffic fatalities and are 380 times more likely to be involved in a crash than are other drivers. They are by far the most dangerous drivers on the road, and they could rightly be described as “accidents waiting to happen.” Unfortunately, statistics demonstrate that the often-used procedure of conviction without treatment is not effective in addressing these hardcore drunk drivers. Without rehabilitation, when they get out of jail, they will both drink and drive again, and the results are often tragic.

The good news is that innovative DWI Court systems like the one in the state of Georgia deal with hardcore drunk driving offenders by providing long-term, ongoing accountability and rehabilitation in addition to conviction. These courts have become the model for getting the most dangerous drunk drivers off our roads. Recently, an esoteric combination of DWI Court judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officials, representatives of the distilling industry and even NASCAR driver Robby Gordon assembled at the Georgia state capitol to discuss the lessons learned in the DWI Courts and highlight their contributions to the public at large. Preliminary research of Georgia DWI Courts shows that those who go through DWI Courts are 79 percent less likely than offenders who received traditional punishment to be re-arrested for a DWI charge. Currently, there are 445 DWI Courts across the country, with 13 of those in Georgia.

“DWI Courts are saving lives,” said the Honorable Kent Lawrence, State Court of Athens-Clarke County, Athens, Ga. “Georgia DWI Courts have proven that blending long-term treatment with the accountability, immediacy and certainty of court response is more effective than punishment alone. These courts truly promise better long-term outcomes, and their success has changed the mindset of criminal justice professionals. Georgia is a powerful example of how effective these courts can be.”

Some in the liquor industry have embraced this multipronged approach to the drunk driving issue. For example, Beam Global Spirits & Wine joined forces with the National Center for DWI Courts to shed light on the issue and seek long-term solutions.

“Beam Global Spirits & Wine is committed to eliminating drunk driving,” said Matt Stanton, the company’s vice president of corporate affairs. “We support programs that reduce drunk driving and are committed to working with any state willing to help save lives by establishing DWI Courts.”

While a procedure of figuratively throwing the book at offenders might seem a logical response to problem drunk drivers, statistics suggest that such an approach will lose its effectiveness the minute hardcore offenders get out of jail. Rescinding their driver’s licenses appears to have little effect on preventing them from drinking and driving again.

“We need to do all we can to keep our roads safe,” said Robert F. Dallas, director, Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “High-risk impaired drivers are causing the vast majority of alcohol-related traffic fatalities, and this issue needs to be addressed. DWI Courts make our communities safer by reducing the incidence of drunk driving. They work because we address the problem at its roots by requiring treatment and accountability in an intensive, long-term program.”