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Motor Vehicle Breakdowns on the Roadway

Before cars became computers on four wheels, there were cars that were ‘lemons’.  So many in fact that ‘lemon’ became a defined term in law and many jurisdictions enacted ‘lemon laws’ to enable a lemon-owner to recover damages and, in some cases, a replacement vehicle.

Generally, ‘lemons’ had to have significant problems.  ‘Non-conformity with the express warranties that resulted in a life-threatening defect or that substantially impaired the use, value, or safety of the new motor vehicle’ was the typical statutory definition. A lemon-owner’s right to a remedy entailed giving the manufacturer a chance to fix the problem.

Thanks to lemon laws recall regulatory schemes, and global competition amongst car manufacturers—especially the rise of the Japanese car companies in the 80s—significant quality control advancements have made lemons a rarity.  Standardization of basic parts, platforms, and powertrains, as Toyota puts it “across different vehicle segments” means that newer cars, regardless of their manufacturer’s marque, market segment, and price-tag are more or less similar.

Likewise, regulations for safety and fuel efficiency have lessened the gap between economic and luxury brands.  ABS brakes, for example, are now standard.  Of course, an offshoot of this broad-based standardization has meant that when defects do occur— for example in ignition switches or airbags—the problem explodes into massive global proportion.

Road Rules has written about lemons in connection with reminding our readers that despite the vastly improved reliability of the modern car, maintaining and regularly servicing it is important for safety reasons, for minimizing exhaust problems, for warranty maintenance, and for preserving value.

We were reminded of this topic by the recent spate of traffic radio reports of stall incidents.  As if traffic volume in the lower mainland’s complex network of bridges, tunnels, freeways, arteries, and streets isn’t enough to exacerbate the effects of every bottleneck, ‘stalls’ seem to have become epidemic.  This observation is based purely on anecdotal evidence to be sure, but statistical accuracy is hardly the point.

Any stall especially on a bridge or causeway or tunnel in the lower mainland during rush hours is obviously one stall too many…So the question needs answering: “What could cause your car to stall while driving?”  We can only speculate: — running out of fuel, leaking transmission fluid, a dying battery from a bad alternator or from corrosion or a bad or loose connection, a bad fuel pump, a clogged fuel filter, bad spark plug wires, a plugged exhaust system, or problems with sensors or the ignition system or with the computer system.

Note that almost all of these problems in vehicles manufactured in the past 10 or 15 years are announced by advance ‘dashboard’ warning and can usually be identified and avoided by regular maintenance and servicing.

There is also the most obvious cause, a matter of pure human miscalculation, forgetfulness or error, namely, stalling on empty.  This is a real threat when the tank is low and a traffic jam prevents the vehicle from heading directly to the nearest gas station.  Best plan – keep your tank at least half full at all times.

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