5 steps to take when your vehicle breaks down

If your car breaks down on the road, it’s more than inconvenient, it’s hazardous. When this happens, consider it a safety issue first and a mechanical issue second.

1. Get off the road.
Breakdowns rarely happen with a sudden stop, so you should be able to signal and drive or coast to the right. Find a spot with easy access into traffic after your car is fixed.

If your car is stopped in the middle of the road, exit the vehicle only if it’s safe to do so. Go to the side, beyond the guard rail. On busy roads, though, crossing traffic safely may be impossible.

2. Make your vehicle visible.
Use flashers, emergency markers, and flares to warn others. If stuck in a live lane, your dome lights will increase visibility.

3. Call or signal for help.

Call your auto club or insurance company if covered for roadside assistance and towing, like SECURA’s Roadside RescuerSM. You also could call 911; police can arrange towing. Lacking a phone or cellular signal, open your hood and someone else may call the police for you.

4. Lock the doors.
If your car is off the road, stay locked inside. You can roll your window down slightly to talk to strangers, but keep yourself safe. Wait for police. If you're on a busy road, they are patrolled heavily enough that help should arrive soon.

5. If you choose to leave your car, stay away from traffic.
Don’t change a tire near traffic. If you’re walking for gas, use extreme caution. If you feel uncomfortable with any stranger who offers to help, tell them a friend is already on the way.

Good maintenance may help avoid trouble, but when breakdowns occur, think safety first.

Three steps to evict varmints from your garage

It's unsettling to discover mice, rats, and squirrels in your garage, and overlooking them is about the same as inviting them into your home.

Rodents destroy insulation, adding to heating costs. They can gnaw through wiring, creating fire hazards. And they can do tremendous damage to the engine compartment of your car, too.

Check with your insurance agent to see if you’re covered for damage caused by rodents, and then follow these steps to send them packing.

1. Make your garage less desirable. Garages are notorious for clutter, providing nesting, homes, and hiding places for pests.
  • Keep it clean.
  • Store garbage outside if possible, or in tightly sealed sturdy containers.
  • Seal bird seed and pet food in thick-walled pails.
  • Stack firewood outside.
  • Keep food and wrappers out of your car.
  • Try peppermint oil, scented dryer sheets, or Fresh Cab to safely deter mice.
  • Use mothballs or poisons if there is no danger to pets or children.
2. Find and seal entry points. Rats can squeeze through half-inch gaps, and mice fit through quarter-inch holes. They run on and through pipes, and can crawl upside-down under screens and wire.
  • At night, shine a flashlight in corners, where plumbing and wiring enter, along the tops and bottoms of walls, and around doors and windows. From the outside, any gaps will show brightly.
  • Block floor drains with drain grates.
  • Temporarily plug holes with steel or copper wool, or copper mesh.
  • For a more permanent solution, plug using plaster or concrete patch over copper wool or welded hardware cloth.
  • Nail flattened tin over larger holes.
  • Close and seal windows and doors tightly.
3. Create an outdoor safety zone.
  • Remove vines from walls.
  • Clear a two-foot space between walls and vegetation.
  • Trim branches away from roofs and eaves.
In the meantime, take care when cleaning up mouse droppings and remains. Use gloves and disinfectant to prevent exposure to bacteria and disease.

SECURA honors 2015 top-performing agencies

We recognized our 2015 top-performing agencies this week. The winners were chosen based on their profitability, growth, and loss history with our company.

Our top-performing agency was eight-time award winner The Charles L. Crane Agency Company, from St. Louis, Mo. Tom Berra, Jr. and Mike Reedy accepted the award from Dave Gross, our President & CEO, at a ceremony during our annual Premier Agent Professional Development Conference. The Crane Agency has partnered with SECURA for 22 years.

These agencies also received awards:
  • Ansay & Associates, LLC, Port Washington, Wis., a three-time award recipient and partner since 1985. Tom Schaetz accepted the award. 
  • Beth & Rudnicki Insurance Agency, Inc., Rockford, Ill., a three-time award recipient and partner since 2000. Eugene Rudnicki accepted the award. 
  • Indianhead Insurance Agency, Inc., Eau Claire, Wis., a 10-time award recipient and partner since 1978. Bruce Freeland and Craig Jameson accepted the award. 
  • The Neckerman Agency, Madison, Wis., a three-time award recipient and partner since 1992. Doug Dittmann accepted the award. 
  • North Risk Partners, LLC, St. Cloud, Minn., a three-time award recipient and partner since 1993. Chris Meidt and Barry Quernemoen accepted the award. 
  • Spectrum Insurance Group, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., our Rookie of the Year award winner and partner since 2014. Darrel Zaleski accepted the award. 
Congratulations and thank you to these outstanding agencies!

5 musts for your winter car survival kit

Winter’s icy roads and plummeting temperatures present greater driving challenges and more dire consequences after mishaps. To prevent problems in the first place, good winter driving sense and a well maintained car are essential. Heed weather alerts, don’t let your gas tank approach empty, and make sure your tires have good tread.

When those precautions aren’t enough, a winter survival kit can help you get out of serious trouble.

1. Keep yourself warm
  • Carry wool or down-filled blankets or sleeping bags in case you are stuck overnight.
  • Keep a candle and matches in a clean coffee can for providing heat and melting snow.
  • Store non-perishable, calorie-dense food.
  • Pack extra warm clothes, especially hats, gloves, and boots.
  • Stock up on hand, toe, and body warmers.

2. Get back on the road
  • Have tire chains or cables.
  • Carry sand, road salt, or kitty litter for traction.
  • Keep a small shovel and ice scraper in the vehicle.
  • Pack a tow strap and jumper cables in case someone is around to help you.
  • Assemble a small tool kit, and keep a multi-tool in the glove box.
  • Include an emergency pump, spare tire, or canned inflator and tire sealant.

3. Communicate and signal
  • Have your cell phone and car charger.
  • Know phone numbers for emergency towing. Check with your insurance company to see if they offer a free service like SECURA's Roadside Rescuer SM.
  • Attract help with roadside flares, reflectors, fluorescent distress flags, and LED emergency beacons.
  • Keep a flashlight with fresh batteries.

4. Remember health and hygiene
  • Pack toilet paper, a garbage bag, and hand sanitizer.
  • Prepare a first aid kit.

5. Stay sane
  • Maintain children's morale with cards, games, or books if you have to spend several hours in the car.
  • Use a wind-up radio for weather reports and music, without draining your car battery.
Visit SECURA’s Find Your Advantage blog for more winter driving safety tips.

Top 5 tips for snowbirds: Protect your home while away

As cold weather moves in, a southern migration will feel even better if you are confident your home is safe while you're away. Start preparations early and work from a list to help you remember everything necessary to protect your home and property.

1. Make your home look lived in.
  • Set timers to control lights and a radio to confuse would-be burglars.
  • Have a trusted neighbor collect any deliveries.
  • Cancel newspapers and forward your mail
  • Forward telephone calls and turn off the phone’s ringer so these don’t give away your absence.
  • Arrange for thorough snow removal. Encourage a neighbor to park in your driveway.

2. Secure property.
  • Give police your travel plans and contact information.
  • Put small valuables in a safe-deposit box.
  • Put outdoor furniture and grills in a locked garage.

3. Reduce energy consumption and fire hazards.
  • Set thermostat to 50°.
  • Unplug electronics and cleaned refrigerators and freezers, with doors propped open.

4. Prevent water damage.
  • Clean gutters.
  • Turn off water supply to house if heating system allows.
  • Turn off and drain water heater.
  • Disconnect dishwasher and laundry machines. Winterize according to manufacturer instructions.
  • Drain and blow out pipes. Pour RV antifreeze down each drain to fill traps.
  • If water must stay on, open cabinet doors that conceal plumbing to allow circulation of warmer air and prevent frozen pipes.
  • Allow your trusted neighbor to monitor house temperature using a wireless outdoor thermometer; the sensor goes in your house and the receiver stays in your neighbor’s. Or, use a red bulb in a lamp connected to a temperature-sensitive outlet to signal your neighbor of dangerous temperature drops.

5. Consider harnessing technology.
  • Smartphone apps allow you to monitor your home and control lighting, temperature, and other functions from anywhere you have a cellular or Wi-Fi signal.