Staying Safe When Your Car Breaks Down

 By Diane Tait

Image courtesy Pixabay

While vehicles today are much more dependable than they were a couple decades ago, they can still leave you stranded by the side of the road with little or no warning.  Depending on where and when your car blows a flat or flashes warning lights before the engine quits, you need to know how to safely deal with the problem or summon help safely. 

1.      What are dashboard lights trying to tell you? -  If you’re getting ready to pull out of your driveway or are driving down the road when a dashboard warning light comes on, should you pull over or keep on going?  That depends on which warning light is displayed and whether the light is steady or flashing.  Your vehicle’s owner’s manual has a section on warning lights that will let you know what to do when one comes on.  If you ignore the light without understanding what it’s trying to tell you, not only are you courting a breakdown, you could potentially damage the engine in the process.

2.      What’s the first step in dealing with a breakdown? – Safety of you, your passengers and other motorists is always paramount in a breakdown.  That means letting everyone else know what’s happening.  The best way to do this is to activate your vehicle’s emergency flashers to let other drivers know you have a problem.  The longer you wait to do so, the greater the danger of being rear ended by another vehicle.

3.      Get out of the way. – Whether you hear the thump, thump, thump of a flat tire or have half the warning lights illuminate suddenly as the engine stalls, you need to try to coast your vehicle to a safe place on the shoulder of the road or a parking lot to wait for help.   Sometimes this means exiting the vehicle to push it off the road if necessary.   

Image courtesy Pixabay

4.      Visibility equals survivability. -  What’s worse than surviving a breakdown is to have another vehicle plow into your bumper after the fact.  While hazard lights are a great way to let others know your vehicle is inoperable, road triangles and flares are an even better bet after dark.  Just make sure it’s safe to exit the vehicle to deploy them so you don’t wind up getting clipped by a passing car or truck.

5.      Stay inside to stay safe. – The safest place to be after a breakdown in most cases is inside your vehicle.  Anytime you exit your car you risk your life, especially if you break down on a busy highway.  Even in a well-lit parking lot at night it’s hard for motorists to see a pedestrian.  Better to call roadside assistance than to risk trying to fix a flat or tinker with a stalled engine.  This is doubly true if you run out of gas on the interstate.

6.      Don’t jumpstart a dead battery on your own.   If you have a dead battery, you may wish to have another motorist help you jumpstart it.  This could be a big mistake.  If done improperly, a jumpstart can damage your vehicle’s engine or even cause the battery to blow up in your face.  If your battery is dead, better to call roadside assistance than to try to do it yourself.

7.      Car won’t start? – Here’s another helpful tip if you climb behind the wheel only to find that your car won’t start.  Make sure it’s in park.  If you leave the car in gear or bump the gearshift before trying to crank your car up, the starter won’t engage.  If the battery is less than fully charged, try turning off the headlights, radio and air conditioning.  Sometimes this will be enough to give your vehicle the cold cranking power it needs to start the engine.  However, if this is the case, you need to take your car to the dealer or an auto parts store ASAP to check on the status of your battery.

8.      Is your vehicle making a weird noise? – Ignore it at your own peril.  Any time you hear a squall, a thump or a screech your vehicle is trying to tell you it needs to be serviced.  Ignoring the noise won’t cause it to go away, but it could be the harbinger of a breakdown that could result in serious damage to the engine, exhaust system or brakes. Today’s vehicles only have a single serpentine belt that if broken will stop your joyride in its tracks.

Image courtesy Pixabay

9.      Why are DIY repairs a bad idea? – Another thing that late model cars and light trucks have in common nowadays are computerization.  Everything in a vehicle today is monitored and calibrated by computer subroutines.  Try to swap out a battery or rotate your vehicle’s tires on your own and you could seriously compromise the delicately balanced computer control system that keeps your car running smoothly.

10.  Consider adding roadside assistance to your policy. – When you think of the investment you made in your vehicle, doesn’t it make sense to spend a few dollars a year to make sure you can call for help if you find yourself coasting to a stop by the side of the road should something go wrong?  Even an improper tow can do untold damage to today’s cars and trucks.  When you consider how little it costs to add roadside assistance to your existing auto policy, does it make sense to go it alone?

Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance.  To find out more about how you can save money on boat insurance, go to her site.


  1. It's way too dangerous to walk down the side of the interstate. Better to call for help than risk getting run over.


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