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Jul/Aug 2011 Issue

Pushing your gas tank to its limits can put you and your car in jeopardy, AAA cautions

With some states reaching record fuel prices, an increasing number of motorists have been trying to stretch a tank of gas too far and are ending up stranded at the roadside, a practice that puts drivers in potentially dangerous situations and could result in costly repair bills, AAA cautions.

During the spring, AAA received 13 percent more fuel-related calls than the same period last year. Running out of gas can put the personal safety of motorists and their passengers in jeopardy. Power steering and brakes can be lost when the engine dies, and drivers can end up stranded in the middle of a busy highway without the ability to move their vehicle.

Running a vehicle extremely low on fuel also may cause sediment in the bottom of the tank to clog the fuel pump pickup, the fuel filter or even the fuel injectors. In addition, when a minimum level of fuel is not maintained, it could cause the electric fuel pump inside the tank to overheat. The cost to replace that one component alone can be $500 or more.

AAA recommends drivers always maintain at least a quarter tank of fuel. AAA can help in that quest with several free tools drivers can use to plan their fill-ups in advance so they both save money and avoid running out of gas. Both the TripTik® Travel Planner on and the free AAA TripTik® Mobile iPhone app can help drivers plan efficient routes for errands and locate the best places to stop for gas.

While on the go, AAA TripTik® Mobile provides motorists with turn-by-turn navigation and audible directions. Both tools allow drivers to compare frequently updated fuel costs at gas stations near their location.

In addition, AAA offers more than 40 ways motorists can reduce the amount of fuel they consume in its Gas Watchers Guide available at in the news and safety section.

Power steering and brakes can be lost when the engine dies after running out of fuel.


“Broken” cars test high school technicians in repair contest

Speed is part of all automotive races, but the speed required in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition is achieved not with a gas pedal but with a wrench, diagnostic tools and a quick mind.

The annual auto repair competition, which is held in all 50 states each spring, is designed to encourage talented young people to pursue careers as automotive service technicians. At stake for the high school students is more than $10 million in automotive scholarships and a chance to be named top technicians in their states and even the best in the country.

To qualify for the competition, the students had to take a written exam. Then the top students advanced to the hands-on portion of the challenge. In each state in April and May, contests were held as teams consisting of two students each raced to repair deliberately bugged Ford cars. The 10 faults in the vehicle included problems affecting the lights, fuses and the smooth performance of the engine. Students had to find and repair all of the faults to win, and scores were based on their time and accuracy.

In Arkansas, Francisco Echavarria and Nick Matthews of South Arkansas Community College in El Dorado were named state champs at the contest, which was held at the Mark Martin Museum in Batesville. Their instructor is Karsten Tidwell.

The top team in Louisiana’s contest, which was held in Alexandria, was composed of Casey Higginbotham and Mitchell Odom from Livingston Parish Literacy and Career Center in Walker, La. Their instructor is Van Guarino.

And Clinton High School students Chase Mitchell and Eric Vong continued the school’s winning tradition by taking first in the Mississippi contest, which was held in Jackson. Their instructor is Charlie Melton. Clinton High School has won the event for the last four years.

By winning the hands-on contest in their states, each student received his or her choice of scholarships from a number of technical institutes. Also, the winners received an all-expenses-paid trip to Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., to represent their states in the national championship, which was held in mid-June after press deadline for this issue.

Repair contestants
Students competing in the Arkansas contest, which was held at the Mark Martin Museum in Batesville.

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