If you drive in metro Seattle, don't let car breakdowns make a bad situation worse

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It's bad enough to be stuck in traffic because of a road closure, but having your car break down in the middle of the mess takes the aggravation to a whole new level.

If your "Check Engine" or "Service" light is coming on, a major traffic jam is not the place to discover you have a problem. To avoid being "that person," who makes the back up even worse, AAA Washington's Dave Armstrong says don't ignore warning signs under the hood.

Coolant leaks, dirty or no engine oil, worn belts and hoses, alternator issues and more are common breakdown culprits that are easy to catch and fix — if you pay attention and plan ahead.

"Engine problems, transmission problems, brake problems — can all be inspected during a standard service, and those items corrected before you hit the road," said Armstrong.

Armstrong says when people call for help during a vehicle breakdown, their anxiety level often skyrockets, not to mention the traffic backing up behind them and the upset motorists trying to get by.

"We have redeployed our trucks in different positions around the city in anticipation of trying to reach people as quickly as possible," Armstrong said. "But don't forget, the emergency road service responding vehicles are also stuck in that traffic backup, so it's gonna take us time to get there."

You should also be aware that one of the most common reasons people stall in traffic has nothing to do with mechanical or electronic breakdowns. Drivers simply just run out of gas.

AAA Washington says it responded to more than 10,000 "out of gas" calls last year, which is fairly typical for any given year.

Bottom line: don't take a chance on deferred maintenance. If your vehicle is overdue for servicing, get a reputable technician to check the oil, filters, belts and everything else. And don't let your tank get below half full.

And make sure your headlights are not yellowed and clouded.

AAA says over time, your headlights can get so cloudy they can lose as much 80 percent of their light power, compared to when they were new. You can buy a headlight restoration kit in stores or online, for between $10 $25 dollars. But in some cases, safety experts say the best solution may be to just replace the lights.

AAA Washington also urges us to make sure our tires are in good shape — with adequate tread and air pressure, to help avoid getting flats or blow-outs in the middle of a heavy commute.

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