You’re cruising down the highway, making excellent time when you suddenly see smoke coming from the hood of your car… or one of your tires goes flat… or your engine dies. Whatever the specific cause, having your car die on the road is a nightmare scenario for many drivers, especially those younger or more inexperienced drivers who may not have had this kind of problem before and don’t know how best to handle it.
Although there’s no way to completely prevent car problems, you can make them less of a nightmare and keep yourself safe by familiarizing yourself with the best practices for breaking down. Being prepared will allow you to stay calmer, act rationally, and resolve the issue more quickly. Read on to learn how to handle a motor vehicle breakdown without losing your cool.
Be Prepared: Items to Keep in Your Car
It is far better to be over-prepared than under-prepared for an accident, so even if you regularly tune your car up and think it’s in great condition, you should still keep an emergency kit in the vehicle. AAA recommends a supply kit that includes:
- A cell phone and car charger
- Your vehicle operating manual
- Flares, reflectors, or warning triangles
- A signal flag or brightly colored handkerchief you can hang out your window
- Jumper cables and tire pressure gauge
- Jack with flat surface, lug wrench, and your spare tire
- Coolant and fire extinguisher
Get Off the Road Whenever Possible
If your car begins to break down and you are safely able to do so, take your foot off the accelerator and coast to the right shoulder of the road or highway so that you’re out of the way of oncoming traffic. Try to avoid stopping on the shoulder of a blind corner, as approaching cars may have trouble seeing you and you may have difficulty pulling back onto the road.
If your car breaks down while you are in the left lane of a multi-lane highway, it may be safer to pull off onto the left shoulder, if there is one, instead of going all the way to the right. Whatever you do, do not climb out of your car into traffic.
If You Can’t Get Off the Road, Make Your Vehicle Visible
If you are on a busy road or highway and are unable to pull off to the side when you break down, you should under no circumstances get out of the vehicle and try to push it. Even though it can be scary to have cars rushing by you, it’s safer to stay inside the vehicle. Turn on your emergency flashers to let other drivers know you’ve broken down, and if you can, stick a white or brightly colored handkerchief out your window as an additional warning to other drivers.
Never Try to Make Repairs on a Side of the Vehicle Sticking Out into Traffic
You may know how to change a tire or handle whatever problem you’re facing, but if the repairs require you to stand near a lane of traffic, you should wait for help to arrive. Only perform maintenance if you are on a very wide shoulder and do not need to stand anywhere near oncoming vehicles.
Illuminate the Path around Your Vehicle
In any situation where you are able to get off to the side of the road, climb out of your car on the side away from traffic and set up warning triangles (if you have them) starting 10 feet behind your vehicle on the side closest to the road. You can also use flares if you have them, unless you have a fuel leak or can smell fuel. It’s especially important to give oncoming traffic some kind of warning if it is dark out and other drivers may have difficulty seeing your broken down vehicle.
Call for Help
Use your cell phone to call for help while inside your car. If you are a member of AAA or another auto club, call them, and if you’re not, call the highway patrol. If you do not have a phone or your phone is dead, do not attempt to walk along the side of the highway to get help (although if you can see a nearby emergency call box and can safely get to it, you can make a call there). If you are on a well-traveled road, it should not take long for a highway patrol officer or other emergency personnel to come to you.
Remember, if have an emergency plan in mind, handling a breakdown won’t be as stressful—or as dangerous. You should also make sure you are keeping up with your car’s regular maintenance, especially if you are planning to go on a long trip.
If you are injured by another driver when you break down, get medical attention as soon as possible, and then contact an auto accident attorney to learn about your legal options.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphey. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”