Dealers in Houston and Galveston, Texas, with outlets in the predicted path of Hurricane Rita, are taking steps to secure their businesses such as moving stock to multi-level garages to protect them from flooding, according to Automotive News.

Rita, now a Category 4 hurricane (down from 5), is expected to reach land late Friday or early Saturday in the Gulf Coast region of Texas and southwest Louisiana.

At around noon GMT (6am Central) Friday it was around 290 miles south-east of Galveston and its predicted point of landfall had moved a little north of earlier forecasts.

A mandatory evacuation of Galveston and inshore areas on Thursday led to 100-mile traffic queues leading north through Houston and beyond with many vehicles experiencing overheating and fuel shortages. The tailbacks eased a little early on Friday but there is still massive traffic gridlock, not helped by a fire on a bus evacuating elderly people.

Walter Wainwright, president of the Houston Automobile Dealers Association, told Automotive News of a dealer who worked out an arrangement with a big shopping centre area to put his cars there because they are on higher ground than his dealership.

Wainright reportedly estimated that more than a quarter of Texas' 1,300 new-vehicle dealerships could be in harm's way because of Rita. Those outlets employ about 40,000 people and sell more than 500,000 new and used vehicles and service nearly two million vehicles a year.

The owner of three Dodge and Ford outlets told Automotive News he is storing vehicles in the garages of each of the three dealerships and has hired security guards to protect his store from potential looters. He has taken down some of the stores' signs so they won't blow away in high winds.