Your car might be an accident waiting to happen. According to Ph.D Walter Hayduk, author of "Crash Course: 157 Causes of Collisions and How to Prevent Them," a must-read for $24.95 from the author, http://walterhayduk.tripod.com, the condition of your car could increase your odds of being in a fender-bender -- or something worse.
"It seldom happens that a mechanical or electrical problem is the sole cause of a collision," says the chemical engineer. "The design of vehicles is very good from the standpoint of giving reliable service over several years when well- maintained."
"Well-maintained" being the operative phrase here.
Adds the knowledgeable Hayduk, "Poor maintenance can sometimes contribute to a vehicular smash-up. Of particular concern is the condition of the brakes, motor, steering gear, wheel alignment and tires."
But until any of these parts begin to cry out for attention, too many owners overlook regular checkups or maintenance -- until it hits them where it hurts.
To illustrate his point, Hayduk uses the following example:
The owner of a 2- or 3-year old car might be tempted to postpone brake work because they don't squeal. After a couple more years, the brakes definitely need work, and the garage estimates several hundred dollars worth of repairs are necessary. The ante is too rich for the owner's blood and he or she hands it over to their nephew as is.
Junior takes the car for a spin and races through a red light where another car is making a U-turn. He tries to stop, but the brakes are shot. Game over.
Whose fault was the "accident"? The kid with the hand-me-down car, the other driver making the U-turn, or the previous owner of the car who neglected to make sure the car was safe?
It's sort of a trick question. Who is responsible isn't really the question; but why did it happen? The point is, it could have been avoided.
That's why in Hayduk's book, there is no such word as "accident."
"Accidents" (a nice word that really means: to defer blame or responsibility) are, in many cases, collisions that could have been prevented if the driver was coherent, alert and responsible for his or her actions and the condition of their vehicle.
So, what's an owner to do? Err on the side of caution and inspect your car's vitals often; even more often than the owner's manual (another great book worth reading) recommends.
Also, if you're in the market for a cheap set of wheels, don't necessarily go by the safety certificate (if your area requires it) when buying a previously owned vehicle. Often they only cover the bare minimum. The brakes might still work, but the question should be, "How well do they work? Are you willing to bet your life on it?"
That extends beyond the old clunkers that you see puttering around. It's equally important to keep a new car in check. Better handling and improved safety aside, they still haven't come out with a car that drives itself.
New-car owners shouldn't be lulled into a false sense of security by safety ratings. Some of the features we lap up -- like the promise of a smooth, quiet ride -- aren't all they're cracked up to be.
If the cabin is too isolated or quiet, it makes it difficult to hear the sound of the engine to detect small noises before blowing a gasket ... and a small fortune.
So, what is this car-loving world coming to?
Our dear Hayduk predicts we might take a cue from professional race-car drivers and that helmets might one day become mandatory safety equipment.
So much for my hopes of ever having another good hair day. But it's better than the alternative.
Rhonda Wheeler is a journalist with Wheelbase Media, a worldwide supplier of automotive news, features and reviews. You can email her by logging on to www.wheelbasemedia.com and clicking the contact link.