In the US, the average age of vehicles in operation reached 11.9 years in 2020. Part of this increase is that 25% of all cars and trucks in use are at least 16 years old.
That’s impressive and all, but the thing is, the older a vehicle, the likelier it is to break down. What’s even worse is that its engine can sputter and die while you’re on the road.
Regardless of how old your ride is, it’s best you know what to do when your car breaks down. The more you know, the more likely you are to keep calm and stay safe in such situations.
To that end, we created this ultimate guide on the steps to take during emergency car breakdowns. Read on to discover the crucial dos and don’ts in such circumstances.
Gently Ease Up on the Gas
If one of your tires goes flat while you’re on the road, you’re sure to feel some vibration and thumping. From there, the flat tire is likely to emit a loud flapping sound. A flat front wheel also tends to make the steering wheel pull to one side.
If you have a misfiring engine, you’re likely to hear popping sounds. A misfire also usually causes the engine to jerk, vibrate, stall, or quickly lose power. You may also notice some steam or smoke coming out of your hood.
Reduce your speed as soon as you notice any of those symptoms. Make sure you do this gradually and avoid slamming the brakes on. Switch your signal lights on; if they don’t work, roll your window down and use your hands to warn other drivers.
Maneuver Your Car to a Safe Spot
Try to maneuver your car to the far right shoulder of the road if it’s still operable. Position and park your vehicle on an area with a level surface.
If you’re on a highway or interstate, you can go with the left shoulder. However, you should still try to pull as far away from traffic as possible.
Switch On Your Emergency or Hazard Lights
Make your car as visible as possible by turning on its emergency or hazard lights. This is even more crucial if your car broke down completely and you can’t pull off the road. You should also engage your emergency brake (sometimes called parking brake).
Assess Your Surroundings
For your safety, you need to base your next move on the exact location of your car. As such, look at all directions first before you get out of the vehicle. You may either have to stay put in your car, or you may have to exit from the driver’s or the passenger’s side.
When To Stay Put
An estimated 840,000 sideswipe accidents occur in the US each year. This can happen if you suddenly pop open one of your car doors while stuck in the middle of the road. That’s why it’s best to stay inside your vehicle if you can’t pull off to the side.
Next, look through the windshield to see if there’s smoke coming out under the hood. If there’s none, keep your seatbelt on, stay inside your vehicle, and call for help.
If your auto insurance policy includes roadside assistance, call your insurer. Let them know where you are and what happened so that they can send someone to assist you.
If your policy doesn’t have roadside assistance, do a quick online search for “towing near me“. Be sure to turn on your phone’s location services so that your browser can pinpoint where you are. By enabling your device’s GPS, your browser can give you a list of the closest towing services.
When To Leave Your Car
You can leave provided that your car broke down on the side of the road. You should exit from the door closest to the side of the road, though.
You should also exit your car if there’s a lot of steam or smoke coming out the hood. This is a common indicator of a misfiring or overheating engine, which can lead to a fire. Note that vehicle fires in the US are pretty common, occurring at a rate of 19 cases per hour.
Pop Open the Hood
Once you’re out, prop up your car’s hood. You can also tie a bright, vivid-colored scarf or piece of cloth to your ride’s antenna if it has one. If not, open one of your windows, slip a part of the scarf or cloth in, then close the window to secure it in place.
See If You Can Fix the Issue
You should only attempt to fix a broken-down car if it’s far from traffic. If you were able to pull your vehicle off the road and you have tools with you, you might be able to fix the issue.
One possible on-the-road repair is low oil pressure, as indicated by a lit oil pressure gauge. Open your vehicle’s oil tank to check how much oil you have left. Top it up if you have spare oil with you.
If you got a flat, but you have a spare and all the tools needed, you can do the swap on the side of the road.
If you don’t have spare parts or tools with you, or if your DIY repair attempt doesn’t help, it’s time to call for help. Get in touch with an emergency repair or towing service. Stay as close to your car while waiting for help to come.
Follow These Steps on What To Do When Your Car Breaks Down
Being stuck in traffic is one of the most common sources of stress in the US. If that’s enough to stress you out, imagine how much worse it can be if you get stuck on the road due to a broken-down car.
So, for your own safety and convenience, always make sure your car is in tip-top condition. As an added precaution, feel free to bookmark this guide on what to do when your car breaks down.
Interested in learning more about how to keep your ride in pristine condition? Then be sure to check out our automotive maintenance and repair guides!