Back to School Safety: College – Prepping Your Car

Back to School Safety Guide

If your child is heading off to higher education, then you want to make sure that he or she is well prepared for life on their own. There are a lot of different things that can happen during college life, so it’s imperative that you talk to your teenager about how to stay safe in the process.  This week, we have a couple of tips for students going back to college.

Prepping Your Car for the Trip

If the university is a long distance away from home, then you will want to be sure that your teen’s car is up to the challenge. That being said, here are the most vital systems to check and update as necessary.

  • Check fluids. Brakes, power steering, and oil are all essential. Other options include windshield wipers, antifreeze, and possibly transmission fluid.
  • Check for leaks. If the car is leaving wet spots wherever it goes, there is a good chance that you have to get something fixed.
  • Test the battery. Unless it’s less than a year old, it should be tested to make sure that it will hold up, especially in hot or cold weather.
  • Check your tires. First, make sure that they have sufficient pressure. Next, check for balding, as that’s a sign that they need to be replaced. Also check to make sure that you have a properly-inflated spare tire that is in good working order.
  • Test your lights. Although brake lights and headlights are crucial, you should also check things like license plate lights and dome bulbs as well.
  • Find a local mechanic. Since you won’t be on hand to remind your teenager about car maintenance, it’s best to find a local shop that can help out.

More Back to School Safety to Come

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What If… A Recall is Issued for my Vehicle?

What if...

Vehicle recalls happen when a manufacturer or the government determines that a car has a safety defect. Recalls rarely mean that a car will be replaced, but often the repairs needed to fix or replace the defect may be covered at the manufacturer’s expense.

If there is a recall on your vehicle the manufacturer is required to send a letter to all owners of that particular vehicle. The mailing addresses they use are generally those that come from the DMV or where the car is registered, so it’s important to keep your mailing address updated when you register your vehicle each year.

If you purchased a used vehicle, you can check the NHTSA’s website for recalls as you may not receive a letter if it had already been sent to a previous owner. The recall letter or information provided by the NHTSA will include what the next steps are in handling the recall. Normally the information will have you make contact with the closest dealer that services your make of car to set up repairs.

Please note that a safety recall does not mean that driving your vehicle will place you in immediate danger. Generally it is safe to continue to use the vehicle until it can be taken in for repairs. However, the severity of the issue will be listed in the letter or on the NHTSA’s website, and that should be your first indication of how immediate the repairs are needed. Of course it’s best not to tempt fate, so if there is a recall of any sort on your vehicle it should be taken in for repairs as soon as it possibly can be.

Another item of note is that any recalls that have not been repaired appropriately may affect your car insurance rates, as a safety defect can raise the liability for which you are responsible if an injury or accident occurs. To be sure that the recall won’t affect your insurance premiums, it is best to contact Bob Johnson Insurance as soon as you receive the recall notice for recommendations about what should be done.

What If… My Car is Getting Old?

What if...

Cars get older every day they’re removed from the factory, and that age carries some serious liabilities with it. Older cars are harder to repair, and they need more frequent maintenance as the parts start to break down and fail. There comes a point when it’s time to ask yourself, what should I do with my old car?

If the maintenance costs per year are becoming more than the monthly payments for a new vehicle would be, then replacement is the best option. Why spend more for less, when it’s clear that you are already going to have to put the money out there one way or the other.

If the car has been well maintained and isn’t costing much from one year to the next then it may be worth it to fix those little issues that could use some attention. The old adage of “if it isn’t broken then don’t fix it” can be applied to cars by saying “if it isn’t broken then don’t replace it.”

Another aspect of car ownership that has to be considered is registration and insurance. These bills pile up every year, and in some states the registration fee can get worse with older vehicles than with newer ones. Likewise, if you’re paying for additional insurance that may not be necessary or worthwhile in the case of an accident then you may be throwing money away as well. (This is something your agent can help you determine during your annual insurance review.) If your car is paid off, you should give your insurance agent a call without a doubt to see if there is somewhere you can save money or determine if it may be more worthwhile to upgrade to a newer model after all.

While many cars become classics as they age, there are many more that just become scrap. While it’s tough to know what will become a valuable vehicle when it ages, sentimental value may be a reason to hang on to the car.  If you’re lucky then that sentimental value could turn into a return on value for that car you cared for.

Ultimately, knowing what to do with an older car comes down to understanding the cost of that car. If the car is becoming more costly to maintain and register than it should be, then the choice is clear. If you want to preserve your car and keep it as it reaches classic status then it’s important to care for it correctly. Either way, knowing all the costs from registration fees, maintenance costs and insurance costs are critical to making the right decision. Your next step should be to check in on those fees with the DMV and your insurance agent so you can start planning what to do with that old car.

Prepping for Spring: Easy Ways to Get Your Car Ready for Spring

Prepping your vehicle for Spring

Cars are a very important part of our daily lives, and as such they should be well maintained and ready to tackle every new season that rolls along. Getting your car ready for spring is a snap, if you pay attention to these tips.

Check on Your Tires

As winter comes to an end, it may be time to change from snow tires back to summer tires. If not, then it’s still a good time to check out your tires to make sure the air pressure is still adequate and the tread is good for another season. After winter driving it can be worth it to have tires balanced and rotated as well, as the changing road conditions could have an impact on how well they ride.

Give the Battery a Once Over

 Popping the hood to see if there’s any built up corrosion, road salt or mud where it shouldn’t be is a good idea. Cleaning the battery terminals and checking the strength of your battery along with that is a great idea as well. Batteries with corrosion won’t work as well, and over time their strength dips, so making sure your battery is ready for spring should be part of a regular spring cleaning routine.

Consider Replacing Wiper Blades

Winter freezes and snow can be a nightmare for wiper blades. Take the time to make sure they are free of cracks, breaks or brittleness to make certain they can handle those spring showers. If there are signs of damage, or if it’s been awhile since they were replaced, including new wiper blades with your spring shopping list can save you the hassle of not being able to see in the rain later.

A New Season Should Mean New Oil

Depending on your manufacturer’s recommendations, it’s likely time to replace the oil in your vehicle as well. While the three month rule has been pushed to the wayside a bit with modern cars and engines, it’s still a good idea to check on the oil now, and it doesn’t hurt to have it changed to keep your engine running at its best for the coming summer months ahead.

Double Check Your Paperwork

While you’re doing spring cleaning on your car, it’s a good time to clear out the glove box and make sure that only the most current registration and insurance paperwork are inside. Having old paperwork can lead to mistakes if anything happens while you’re on the road, so it’s best to get rid of outdated documents. It will also remind you to make sure the registration hasn’t expired.

Did You Do Your Insurance Review?

An insurance review is when you sit down with your insurance agent and go over the specific details of your policies. It’s best to do this with all of your insurance so that you can catch any gaps in coverage and solve that issue immediately. If you didn’t do an insurance review in January, then this is a good time to call Bob Johnson Insurance to see if any changes should be made to your policy. (865-922-3111 or toll free 1-800-624-3339)

Prepping for Spring SeriesPrepping for Spring Series

Prepping for Spring Fun: Recreational Vehicles

With spring time approaching now’s the time to start thinking about getting ready for fun outdoors and traveling.  When it comes to recreational vehicles, here is a quick rundown of some of the most important things to remember follows:

Check the tires to make sure they are still good.

The winter break can leave them low on air, or if the tread level wasn’t checked before winterizing then it is a good time to be sure they are roadworthy. Along with the tires on the axles, be sure to check on the spare as well, as getting a flat and having a bad spare is a nightmare all of its own.

Do a maintenance check on the gas lines and appliances.

Gas is one of the most volatile parts of an RV, because any issues with the gas line or appliances could be explosive. Rather than risk taking your RV out on the road with a gas leak, make sure to check all of the lines and appliances before hitting the road.

Test your batteries.

Batteries aren’t known for their ability to hold a charge when they’re not in use, so testing the RV batteries where they can be charged if necessary is a critical checklist item. Along with recharging, some batteries need replacement water added as well. Check the water levels of any batteries that need it, and remember to replace the water after charging is complete.

Flush, clean and replace water throughout the water system.

If water has been sitting for awhile, or if an antifreeze was added to make sure the lines didn’t freeze in the cold months, then flushing out the water system is a good idea. Make sure that any drinking water is clean and safe to use, and top up the potable water tanks before taking off on your first trip.

Make sure all your registration paperwork, license plates and insurance is up to date.

The last thing you want to do is hit the road only to find out that your tags are expired or worse, that the insurance has lapsed. Being pulled over by the police for those items is not fun and can be very costly. Check out the registration and give your insurance agent a call to make sure everything is good to go so you can hit the road.

If you’d like to find out how Bob Johnson Insurance can help you find competitive rates for your RV coverage, or even if you just have some questions, please tell us how we can help you…

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Preparing Your Vehicle for Winter

Preparing for Winter

Depending on the kind of car you drive, winter weather can be a hassle for several reasons. First, the roads are going to be tough to traverse, with black ice and snow causing you to skid and slide all over the place.

Second, if your car is exposed to the elements, it may get damaged in the process. In many cases, your battery will die from the cold temperatures. In extreme cases, some of the fluids in your engine could freeze, or the whole engine block could crack.

So, with that in mind, here are some ways to keep your car in good shape this winter.

Prepare a Winter Supply Case

If you live somewhere that gets a lot of snow, you never know if you will get stranded somewhere. In these situations, it can be crucial to have supplies on hand to get out safely. Some items to include are road flares, emergency blanket, radio, an ice scraper, some water and snacks, and jumper cables. If you really want to be prepared, then keep a spare charger for the battery.

Check Your Fluids

Antifreeze and coolant are going to be the most vital liquids for your engine during the winter, so make sure that they are topped off before the first snowfall.  Be sure to test them to make sure they are appropriate for the surrounding temperature.

Inspect Your Tires

Although you may have to rely on chains to get around, you also want to be sure that your tires have sufficient traction for the roads. If they are getting bald, you need to replace them ASAP. This is also good advice in general, not just for winter.

Another thing to make sure of is that your tire pressure is sufficient. With cold weather, it’s best if they are a little underinflated (maybe five psi lower than normal) so that you can get better traction.

Switch to Winter Wiper Fluid

Usually, the fluid that stays in your car to keep your windshield clean is going to freeze during the winter. A specialized mix will remain viscous during the season and allow you to clean your windows without worry.

Use Winter Oil

Like wiper fluid, your oil may not be optimized for colder weather. As such, be sure to get an oil change before the temperatures drop dramatically so that you can keep your car in pristine shape during the frozen months.


Preparing For Winter Series

Brake Safety Part 5: What to Look For When Buying Brake Pads

closeup of brake disc mounted on car

When it’s time to change your brakes, you might ask yourself, there are many factors to consider.  What types of breaks should you buy? What are the brands you can trust?

Unlike foods, there are no content labels for brake pads. The formulas for brake pads are highly-guarded secrets and vary even within a single brand depending on the use of the pad. For example, a truck may need more medal than smaller cars that can use organic pads just as effectively. A particular manufacturer may offer a number of different pads for the same type of vehicle, but it is not always clear which is best. Sometimes the most expensive is not the safest.

Consider Your Normal Load and Driving Situation

Normal, certified pads should be sufficient for regular driving.  You should consider upgraded pads if you tow (boat, trailer, etc.), carry heavy loads (including passengers) or travel regularly on roads with steep grades.

Types of Brakes

There are 3 different types brakes:


These types of brakes began to be used when asbestos became a problem. They are composed of materials like rubber, glass, carbon, fiber and many more.  These are affordable and quiet but they don’t last long as compared to other types of brakes.


These brakes are made of iron, copper, steel, or other metals with graphite lubricants. These perform better than organic brakes and do a good job of drawing heat away, but they are more expensive and noisier than organic brakes.


Ceramic brakes are the newest commonly-used pad. They are made of hardened ceramic material that is combined with copper fibers. They last the longest, and they are quiet, but they don’t perform as well as the semi-metallic in colder climates. They are also the most expensive among the types of brakes.

What Brand to Use

If possible, go with trusted name brands. Sometimes, the cheap ones are not always the best. Affordability may be a factor, but keep in mind that choosing the right brake pads could save your car and your life. Your mechanic or the representative at the auto parts store should be able to explain the difference in the brands and may be able to tell you the best for your car.

Check the Warranty

Some brakes offer them, others don’t. If they do not, some retailers offer warranty programs. You will also find lifetime replacement policies with some brands. While considering price, take into account the warranty info as well.

Check the Certification

Check for Certification. Look for D3EA (Differential Effectiveness Analyisis) and BEEP (Brake Effectiveness Evaluation Procedures) Certifications. Make sure they reach a certain minimum Standard.


Brake Safety Part 4: How to Know When to Change Your Brakes

closeup of brake disc mounted on car

If you have ever pressed the brake pedal and the car did not begin slowing down, you know the sinking feeling you get in your stomach as you begin pumping the brakes. By taking a few steps periodically to check your brakes and paying attention to warning signs, you can avoid the cost in time and money from an accident as well as ensure the safety of others.

Here is a short-list of common signs that it may be time to change the brakes.

Strange Sounds

Listen for sounds that are out of the ordinary.  One that you need to recognize is your brake pad’s wear indicator.  Your brake pad has a small metal piece that will produce a high-pitched sound when it is time to replace the brakes.  Sometimes, it can almost sound like a bird chirping.  If you hear this sound, it’s time to check the brakes.

Squeaks, squeals and grinding are also sounds that you may hear from your brakes.  If you hear a grinding noice, your brake pads may be completely worn off.  If so, there is a good chance your rotors are being damaged.

Visual Check

Watch your warning lights on your dashboard for indicators that your brake fluid is low or that there is an issue with the braking system.  However, be sure to visually check the brake pads themselves.

If you know what to look for, you can see when brake pads need changing. The pad will appear thin.  If you are not sure, go to a car tech who will recognize not only how the brake should appear but also will have an instrument to measure your brakes for wear.

Pulling to the Right or Left

If your car seems to be pulling to the left or right while driving — especially if it happens more strongly when you press the brake pedal — check your brakes. One of the brakes could be sticking. If so, the brakes will wear down more quickly and they could damage the rotor.  (Think more expensive fix!)  Pulling doesn’t always mean it is a brake problem.  It could be poor alignment, a suspension problem, or even worn/unevenly inflated tires.


Feeling a pulse or vibration in the brake pedal when braking is NOT normal.  It could be signal of a warped rotor.  A warped rotor is a sign that something has been wrong for some time.  You should notice other signs well before this happens, but if you feel a vibration, get your car checked as soon as possible.

Take Advantage of Every Opportunity

If you care for your vehicle properly, you probably change the oil regularly.  While you (or your mechanic) are working on the car, make use of the time to check the thickness brake pads, inspect the rotors for grooves caused by the pads, and look closely at brake lines for any leaks. (There should not be even a drop of brake fluid anywhere near the wheel.)

If it is time to change your brakes, you should now how to choose appropriate brakes for your vehicle. The next article will help you know what to look for.


Brake Safety Part 3: How to Spot Problems with your Brakes

Brakes are essential for your vehicle.  You use brakes to stop, yield and even change directions when driving.  If they are not working properly,  you may be putting your family and yourself at risk not to mention the cost of an accident or insurance claim.  That’s why it is very important to have a regular car maintenance check-up which includes making sure that your brakes are in fine working order.

Know the Signs of Brake Problems

Brake problems are a common cause of vehicular accidents.  By knowing the early signs of brake problems, you can  avoid possible accidents and their consequences.

Listen for Strange Sounds

When you tap on your brakes, listen for any strange or out-of-the-ordinary sounds.  These sounds could be a sign of brake problems.

Pay Attention to Stopping Power

When you press the brake pedal, you should be able to stop quickly.  If it takes longer than normal for your vehicle to come to a complete stop, you might have a brake issue.

Look at Your Dashboard

A light on your dashboard may turn on if you have brake issues. This brings up two good points. First, the lights on your dashboard depend on sensors on your car. If those sensors are not working properly, a light may not come on. Therefore, you should not depend on your dashboard light as the sole notification of brake issues.

Second, lights on the dashboard are usually icons — small pictures meant to communicate something to you.  Pull out your user manual and learn what the lights mean.  It will help you with other car systems in addition to your brakes.

Notice Car Behavior

Remember all those parts of the braking system from the last post? If your vehicle drags to the right or left when you stop the car, there is a good chance you have a problem in one of those systems.

What to Do if You Suspect Your Brakes are not Working Properly

Cars with brake problems should not be driven and should be brought to a vehicle mechanic for proper diagnosis and repair. However, every driver has a responsibility to check their car regularly and keep it in good condition. Knowing when to change your brakes can help stop problems before they start.


Brake Safety Part 2: How Brakes Work

closeup of brake disc mounted on car

We all know what brakes do–they stop the vehicle. What you may not realize is that knowing a little bit about how the brakes actually work will help you understand how important it is to maintain your brakes.

The amount of force that you apply to the brake pedal is not actually enough to stop the car.  Brakes use hydraulics which are a system of fluid-filled pipes that multiply force and move it from one place to another.  Here’s what happens when you press the brake pedal.

  1. You push the brake pedal.
  2. The brake pedal pushes as class 2 lever that increases your pushing force.
  3. The level pushes a piston into a narrow cylinder full of hydraulic brake fluid which squeezes the fluid out of the end.
  4. The brake fluid squirts down a long, thin pipe until it reaches another cylinder at the wheel which is much wider.
  5. The fluid pushes a piston in that wider cylinder with greatly increased force.
  6. The piston pushes the brake pad bringing the pad into contact with the brake disc which generates friction (and head).
  7. The friction slows down the outer wheel and tire, stopping the car.

All this happens with a simple push on the brake pedal.  All the different parts of maintaining your brakes are to help keep the above process happening.

In the next article, you will learn about how to tell if there is a problem in the brake system.