Friday, April 26, 2013

Fix That Leak!

Don’t Drip and Drive – Fix That Leak!

As a “welcomer” volunteer at the free auto leak check event at WWU, my job was to wear an oversized I love Puget Sound t-shirt and hand arriving drivers a card that said “Yes!  Please check my car for leaks!”  Cars arrived in droves, without slowing down to get a card, in a hurry to get to class on time.  So instead of politely standing at the entrance of the parking lot, I made haste and ran after the cars as they parked, and waited for each driver to open their door.

Most arriving students didn’t see me standing by because they were engaged in a variety of activities, from texting to hair brushing to makeup applications to adjusting things in their ears.  By the time they noticed me I was grinning from ear to ear waiting to blurt out “We’re doing free leak checks today!!”  And “  We won’t touch your car and you don’t need to do anything - can we PLEASE check your car for leaks while you’re in class today?”  Few people declined.

One person arrived in a large truck with huge oversized tires, and declined my offer for a free leak check.  As soon as he declined, he tossed a burning cigarette butt out his window, which landed near me.  I moved towards the butt, intending to pick it up. Guilt ridden, he beat me to it.  Then we had a brief conversation about the fate of litter in streams.

The decliners muttered “I’m very mechanical, so I know if my car is leaking” to “this car only has 30,000 miles” to “I just had the car serviced” to “this is a company car so it’s not leaking” and “I’m only here for one hour.” 

Meanwhile, the other volunteers unfurled a special white vinyl sheet under the engines of the cars whose owners agreed to the leak test.  The sheet was left in place for about half an hour.  Then the sheet was removed, and the color and approximate amount of drips on a post card counted.  The tally was written up and left under the windshield wiper with the discount coupon and tips for getting the leaks fixed. In six hours we checked 305 cars and found 57 leaks.

Why check car leaks?  Pollution from vehicle leaks and exhaust is one of the primary sources of toxic pollution to the Salish Sea.  In Washington State, we release 7 million quarts of motor oil into our lakes, rivers, streams, and the Salish Sea every year.  Oil causes harm to wildlife through physical contact, ingestion, inhalation and absorption. Floating oil can contaminate plankton, algae, fish eggs, and the larvae of various invertebrates. When fish feed, they can subsequently become contaminated through ingestion of contaminated prey or by direct toxic effects of oil. Larger animals and humans consume contaminated organisms as they feed on these fish.

Leak check was sponsored by the City of Bellingham with funding from the Washington State Department of Ecology.  It was mostly staffed by volunteers.  We had a good time, got inspired, and learned to how to check for car leaks.  If you want to check your own car, it’s easy.  But most of all, it’s important.  While your engine is still warm, put a sheet of cardboard under the engine, and check it in an hour.  If you find leaks, please get them fixed. Finding and fixing leaks is a great way to keep your car on the road longer, and keep help prevent water pollution. We all need to pitch in for clean water.

Want more info about how to check for leaks?  Check here:
Want more pollution prevention tips?  Check here:

Thanks, City of Bellingham, for hosting this event!


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  2. It's bad that you were being disregarded, even though the car leak inspection you offered was free of charge. Most of us do not realize that it’s important to have our cars inspected for leaks; aside from its harmful effects to the environment, it’s not good for the engine as well as the leaks tend to bring further damage to the engine if left unattended.

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