When Your Car Breaks Down on the Side of the Road

We’ve all had that sinking feeling before as we drive down the highway. The car’s engine starts sputtering, the gas light flashes on and the next thing you know, your car is dead and you’re stranded on the side of the road. Getting stuck on the side of the road is a dangerous predicament no matter how long you’ve been a driver. In fact, according to a recent survey from Allstate Roadside Services, among drivers who had been stuck on the side of the road, 62 percent of respondents said they felt anxiety, 52 percent noted feelings of anger, 47 percent stated being overwhelmed and helpless and 36 admitted to being scared.
Preventative measures
Before embarking on any long-distance trip, you should always take some preventative measures to reduce the need for reactive ones. As AAA noted, vehicles that have been well-maintained. It’s always wise to regularly schedule tune-ups for your car, including oil changes, fluid checks and belt and hose inspections. In addition, make sure your tires are always properly inflated before leaving. Consider adding an emergency kit to your car as well. One of these should include an extra cell phone charger for the car, the vehicle operating manual, flashlight with batteries, a tool kit, first-aid kit and, depending on the time of year, either some blankets or warming pads. Be sure your spare tire is not flat since the underutilization of a spare tire will cause it to lose air over time. Also, ensure the car has a tire jack and lug wrench in case you or someone else needs to change the tire. Lastly, always make sure to have jumper cables in case the battery dies.
However, if an emergency does force you to stop on the shoulder or side of the road, here are some tips to help you stay safe and get help:


1. Pull Over
Even something seriously wrong happens to your car – a tire blowout, running out of gas or an engine failure – it won’t automatically stop moving. Usually, you can use momentum and what little power is left in the vehicle to pull off to the side of the road. Often there’s not enough room for the car on the shoulder, or if there is, it’s not paved. These spots are designed solely as a means for vehicles having problems and should not be used simply to talk on a cell phone or check a map. Pay attention to your location by taking note of the road’s mile marker, a major exit or landmarks.
2. Alert Motorists
Alert other motorists of your problem by putting on your hazard lights. If you have a vehicle safety kit in your car, it might come with neon orange warning triangles or flares that you can arrange around your vehicle so other motorists know there’s a problem. However, if you smell fumes and suspect there’s a fuel leak, do not light any flares around the vehicle. Popping the hood is also another clear signal to other motorists that you’re having car troubles.

“If you can call for help, do so immediately.”

3. Communicate the Problem
No matter what time of day it is, or how busy the road, you should never get out of your vehicle. Your best bet is to call a tow truck. If you can call for help, do it. According to the Allstate survey, the first response for 40 percent of respondents was to immediately call for help. While the majority of individuals now have cell phones, there’s still a chance of the cell phone battery draining or you not getting any reception. In a scenario where you don’t have cell phone usage, you will have to wait until a law enforcement agent or department of transportation crew makes their regular rounds.
4. Remain with the Vehicle
Despite a possible desire to walk away to find assistance, remain with your vehicle at all times. An abandoned vehicle can be towed away without notice. Walking down the side of a highway is not only dangerous, it is also typically illegal in most places. Do not keep the engine running or the lights on since this can drain the battery.
5. When Is It Safe To Change A Flat Tire?
If you get a flat and you’re on the side of the highway, is it safe to change the tire? “Only if the distance between where the vehicle is, as far as the tire change, does not afford you in any way being an obstruction to a live lane of traffic, If the distance between the white line that actually signifies where the shoulder is, if you’re really close to the white line, forget changing the tire.” The preference is that you stay in your car, turn the hazard lights on, and call a tow truck.
6. You See Someone Who Needs Help At The Side Of The Highway
Find a safe place to pull over and use your cell phone to call for help. The idea is that you’re not putting yourself in the position of potentially causing another accident by using your phone while you’re driving.
7. How To Come To A Stop Safely

  • Make sure to signal and come to a gradual stop
  • DON’T make a sudden move across multiple lanes
  • If possible, stop at least 5-10 car lengths ahead of the stranded vehicle – use the extra space as a buffer zone.
  • Right your wheels AWAY from oncoming traffic.  That will lessen the likelihood of causing another accident if your car is rear-ended
  • Keep your four-way flashing lights on
  • Make sure your parking brake is down
  • Assess the situation carefully before deciding whether or not to get out

8. If You Decide To Get Out To Help
Getting out of a vehicle on the highway is extremely dangerous.  Make sure you’ve looked at all your options before you get out:

  • Never exit from the driver’s side if you can avoid it
  • Don’t wade into oncoming traffic. If you’re leaving passengers inside, make sure they’re all properly strapped in
  • The first thing to do once you’ve left your vehicle is to secure the area
  • If someone is hurt, call 911 immediately.

Other Tips:

-Tie a cloth to your radio antenna or door handle and raise the hood to indicate you’ve broken down

-Let the situation determine if you stay with your vehicle or not. If there’s a service station not far away, it may be better to try to reach it than to remain in a car in the dark, especially in the winter. But if you’re stranded somewhere remote, you may want to stay inside the automobile.

-Keep your car tuned up and well maintained.