As we head into the new year shampooing carpets, getting DOT inspections, and generally refreshing and renewing the fleet, the focus turns toward the ever interesting prom season. For those operators that do not target this market, it is business as usual. For many of the rest of us, it is a harried season of full-time weekends for three straight months. With the advancement of technology and the “bling” dependency of the young adults we transport, it is up to us to meet their desires. The prom you drive this year may be the wedding you drive five years later. That could turn into a corporate job as they grow older. Yet as we strive to meet their demands, we first must consider their safety.
Many operators tend to modify or “pimp out” their vehicles with little or no regard to how it will affect the performance or safety. In many cases, wheels and tires have failed due to improper load ratings, or the vehicle catches fire because an operator overloaded the fuse system attempting to operate a “rolling boom box” stereo system. A little forethought mixed with a lot of common sense will go a long way.
INSTALLING LARGER TIRES AND RIMS
While driving down the street, it’s easy to notice the large chrome rims that dominate the automotive culture today. I get many e-mails asking about a particular brand of wheel or tire. My answer always is the same. Make sure whatever you put on the car is rated for the load that will be placed on it. It is too often you hear about an accident caused by a failing tire or wheel which collapsed due to improper load capacity.
Wheels and tires are rated by load capacity and size. A wheel that will fit on that Excursion, Escalade, or other SUV, will not necessarily stand up to the huge loads placed on it by the stretch version and its passenger load. Be sure to research the wheel maker and verify that the wheel in question can carry the load safely.
Anyone that has replaced a set of tires on a 120-inch stretch has probably noticed the word REINFORCED molded into the side wall. Simply putting the local tire store’s “deal of the week” on a limousine is a recipe for disaster. The four tires on your limousine are carrying the weight of the original vehicle and the extra components of the stretch portion of the vehicle. Add a group of adults reaching maximum passenger capacity and their bags, and you have added another ton to the weight on the tires, usually into the 8,000-to-10,000- pound range. The reinforced tires are actually truck tires modified to have the dress appeal you need for a limousine.
Many out there have SUVs and are running 20-inch and larger rims on them. You also can find the reinforced tires in those sizes. Using the correct load-range tires and wheels will insure that you get the longest use from those expensive accessories that we cannot do without. Proper inflation is critical to the life of a tire. A low tire will overheat and disintegrate with sometimes deadly results. On the side of every tire there is a statement that reads something like this: “Tire rated for XXlb at XXlb max inflation.” As the tire pressure inside drops, so drops its ability to handle weight.
I recommend keeping tire pressure at the high end of the specifications, but never exceeding it. If you check the tire pressure when it is cold, it will be a few pounds less than it will be after a five-mile trip. When adding air, remember the temperature of the tire.
HERE ARE A FEW OTHER TIPS:
• Check to be sure the new tires and wheels will not void any warranties.
• Check QVM/CMC standards to be sure tires and wheels will meet required specifications.
• Consider that the larger and wider tires/wheels will put more strain on your suspension and front-end components. These parts need to be checked and replaced with more frequency.
• Remember that these low-profile tires will not handle as well in winter driving conditions.
LIGHTING THINGS UP
It seems strobe lights are turning up everywhere on limousines; some are mounted on the outside and some in the coach area. Exterior mounted strobe lights are illegal to use while the limousine is in motion — any color, any time, PERIOD. Several operators in my area have found this out the hard way. Police will write you a large ticket. Under-car lighting is also becoming more popular. The Department of Transportation mandates that such lights are not to be used while the vehicle is moving, but enforcement often is hit or miss.
There is also another problem with this: I personally saw another company’s limousine catch fire because of a short in the under-car lighting system. The fire was put out with the onboard fire extinguisher, but it could have been a very bad situation had it not been caught in time. All wiring to the exterior of the car needs to be securely mounted to the vehicle, away from any possibility of contact with moving parts, or chafing against the metal, causing a short. Never bypass the fuse; substitute a larger fuse or straight wire exterior lights. Solder and tape and heat-shrink tubing should be used at any junction in the wires.
When adding interior lights, strobes, or power points, be careful about wire routing. Be sure to look for screws and welds that can cut the insulation, causing a short. Always point strobes and laser lighting toward the rear of the coach. This will minimize the possibility of the glare being reflected in the rear-view mirror, distracting or blinding the driver.
INSTALLING NEW ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEMS
With the popularity of DVDs and iPods, and heavy pounding bass, many companies are adding subwoofers, amps, and docking stations for MP3 players. The amp for a sub-woofer uses a lot of energy and has a large wire that provides power for it. Proper installation can help you avoid the all-too-frequent electrical fire.
Be sure that the installer uses a fuse at the battery on that feed, no further than 12 inches away from the connection point. Another excellent idea, for sanity’s sake and to protect the equipment from overzealous knob twisting, is to put a remote subwoofer cut-off switch near the driver. I have them in every car we own. I prefer to use a lighted switch on the dash, so that it can be rapidly located and used if the volume gets out of hand.
If you install an MP3 docking station, DVD player, or other entertainment device, be sure that it is mounted securely. That piece of equipment will become a missile in an evasive maneuver or panic stop. The same rule goes for the sub-woofer box. Make sure the installer puts a mounting bracket to keep it in place.
There was a limousine in my market involved in a collision. Another vehicle ran a stop sign, and the limousine T-boned it. There were eight passengers on board. The passengers, the glasses, the decanters, and everything else in the cabin ended up against the divider, in a heap. Fortunately, there were no injuries other than minor cuts and bruises. Had there been a sub-woofer box or game platform in the cabin not secured, the accident could have been much worse.
HERE ARE A FEW OTHER TIPS:
• Be sure the maximum volume of the stereo system doesn’t affect the chauffeur’s ability to be alert and in control of the vehicle.
• Mount main speakers and bass systems as far away from the chauffeur compartment as possible.
• Be sure chauffeurs are instructed to have the divider closed when the stereo is at excessive volume. A distracted chauffeur can lead to an accident.
• Never allow any “fog” machines to be operated when the divider is open.
• All electronics should be routed through the main control using the factory-installed “aux” ports. The chauffeur’s main control panel should have overrides to every system in the car.
• Be sure to perform frequent checks on all non-factory installed equipment for signs of frayed or burnt wires, loose grounds, and any other potential hazards. GPS units are another favorite for operators and chauffeurs. Make sure that if it is a portable unit, it is securely fastened where it cannot move around. Tie the extra cord up with a twist tie, or zip tie so it does not get tangled in the driver’s feet. Make sure the drivers locate the units so they don’t interfere with their views of the road ahead.