What to do if you have a car breakdown while on the road

car-breakdownIf you’re driving along and suddenly have a flat tire or some other car malfunction, it can be pretty unnerving, even downright scary if you’re on a highway or a remote location. The main thing to do in a car breakdown is to keep calm and get your vehicle safely off the road.  You can reduce the stress and uncertainty by planning for an emergency in advance so you’ll know just what to do.

Here are some tips we’ve amassed from experts.

Be prepared before you hit the road:

  • Be sure to have your phone fully charged when taking road trips
  • Have flares or reflective triangles in your trunk so you can have a way to indicate your car is in distress
  • Consider buying a cheap reflective vest to keep tucked under a seat so you would be visible if you do need to leave the car
  • Keep an emergency kit with seasonal supplies in your trunk
  • Have a plan in advance of what you’d do and who you’d call if you were to break down. Do you have an emergency road service plan or an auto-installed service? Does your insurer offer service? Or do you have an app to access emergency service? Plan in advance and keep phone numbers and any procedures or coverage rules in your glove compartment.
  • Learn about any state emergency road services. For example, Mass DOT has a Highway Assistance Patrol sponsored by MAPFRE Insurance. Here’s a list of state-by-state cellphone highway emergency assistance numbers.

If your car breaks down:

  • Put on your emergency/hazard lights at the first sign of trouble
  • Stay calm, slow down and get your car off the road. If possible, pull off at an exit, a street, or pull over to a breakdown lane
  • Pull as far off the road as is safe – keep emergency/hazard lights on. If it’s night time, turn on your interior light or flashlights
  • If you can safely do so, pop the hood or deploy flares or triangles to alert other drivers. Exit the door that is away from traffic – most likely on the passenger side
  • Do not stand in the road by your car; do not flag down other vehicles
  • In most circumstances, waiting in the vehicle with locked doors is safer than standing in the road, but you may need to use your best judgement depending on the specific location and situation, If you must wait outside, remove yourself from traffic and wait on the other side of the guardrail.
  • Call for help. If you aren’t sure of the exact location, your smart phone GPS may help. If you don’t have a roadside assistance plan, call state police.
  • If someone stops, crack your window enough to ask them to call the police for you
  • Wait for help. Avoid walking for help unless there is no other choice, and do so with extreme caution.

AAA has an in-depth guide covering trip planing, emergency supplies you should have on hand, and in-depth advice about what to do if you break down. Of course, their advice also focuses on how to reach them and what to expect – but even if you don’t have AAA, the guide has great information: What to do when your vehicle breaks down (PDF)

A summary of the main steps are:

  • Note your vehicle’s location
  • Assess your vehicle’s operating problem
  • Pull off the road
  • -What to do if you can’t pull off the road
  • Alert other motorists
  • Communicate your situation
  • Remain with your vehicle

The remaining tips have to do with AAA’s road service – what to expect, etc.

Consumer Reports has a recent article on Roadside Assistance: Who You Gonna Call? It covers apps, roadside services and insurers and where to get help when you break down. Another handy recent article is Hidden helpers in your phone, which covers some road travel apps.