It’s a scenario no one wants to experience: You’re driving down the road, when all of a sudden your vehicle starts to shudder, or a warning light illuminates on your dash, or you blow a tire – the stress-inducing possibilities are nearly endless. In this scenario, you have no choice but to pull your vehicle to the side of the road and figure out what’s wrong, and whether you can resolve it on your own or need to seek roadside assistance.
It’s a situation where you have to think and act quickly, and it is inherently dangerous. As such, it’s important to know what to do when this scenario occurs, and be ready to respond in the moment. Here are a few tips for staying safe and resolving the situation when your vehicle breaks down.
#1 – Keep Calm
The last thing you want to do when your vehicle starts acting up is make sudden or erratic moves. Other drivers aren’t privy to the information you’re getting from your dashboard, the funny noise your vehicle just started making, or the weird way it’s starting to handle. Chances are, most other drivers will be entirely focused on their own drive – staying in their lane, if you will.
Don’t panic. Turn on your hazard lights and reduce your speed as best you can. If you are able to, get off at an exit or turn into a service station (or really any parking lot) as quickly as possible. In the case of a low-pressure indicator on your tire, you could be dealing with a slow leak, a tire that just hasn’t had air added in a while, or a catastrophic loss of air pressure. The degree to which an issue with your vehicle presents an immediate problem in terms of its performance and handling will influence your immediate reaction, but no matter what, you want to get off the road calmly and carefully and figure out what’s going on.
#2 – Get Visible
Preparation is essential for driving – that’s something we’ll get into in a bit more detail later on in this article. But no matter your degree of preparedness, you need to get as visible as possible to other drivers if you are on the side of the road. Turning on your hazard lights is a great first step. If you have emergency triangles, the reflective kind, that’s even better. For low light, road flares are also an excellent choice. Use whatever you have on hand to increase your visibility, and prop up the hood of your car, if you can do so safely, to let other drivers know you’ve broken down.
#3 – Consider the Circumstances
The most critical part of staying safe after a breakdown is ensuring that you are out of harm’s way. If you cannot safely swap your tire for a spare given the position of your vehicle, then it’s time to call for assistance. Do not risk your life to get back on the road.
You want to be as far off the road as possible, and, ideally, you want to pull off on the right side of the road. If you have to park on a slope, turn your wheels away from traffic and set your emergency brake. If you do get out of your vehicle, make sure it is safe to do so first, and exit on the side of the vehicle that is furthest away from traffic.
#4 – Make Your Move
Once you’ve evaluated your circumstances and decided whether to work on your vehicle yourself (if you can do so safely) or request assistance, you need to make your move right away. Call for help or get started on your tire change or basic repair. The longer you sit on the side of the road, the higher the chance that something could go wrong. Move decisively to address the situation and figure out the details later.
#5 – Prepare Well Ahead of Time
This is the most important tip by far: Prepare, prepare, prepare. Check your tires, your fuel, and your oil before trips. Don’t ignore warning lights on your dash. Take care of routine maintenance. Purchase a flash light, road flares, reflectors, a first aid kit, a toolkit, jumper cables, and a jump starter, along with any other supplies and accessories that you believe will help enhance your safety on the road. The preparations you make today to ensure your safety in the event of a breakdown could pay off big tomorrow.