Do You Know What To Do To Stay Safe If Your Vehicle Breaks Down?

it's easy to make a mistake in a high-stress situation

Do You Know What To Do To Stay Safe If Your Vehicle Breaks Down?
Image: NCCC
February 19, 2018

Vehicle breakdowns are a fact of life. While many can be prevented with simple precautions and preventive maintenance, some are sudden and can't be avoided. Whatever the case, breaking down on the side of the road may put you in a dangerous situation.

personal safety is your first priority

Whether you've been involved in a collision, have a flat tire, are waiting for an overheating engine to cool, or you've simply run out of gas, your personal safety should always be your first priority. If you neglect your personal safety, you can turn a simple inconvenience into a life-altering event.

braking might not be the best instinctive reaction

While you can't choose where your vehicle finally says that it's had enough, you may be able to guide your vehicle to a safer place by keeping your cool. If you are still in motion, you might instinctively brake when something unforeseen starts to happen. But that could be a mistake. If you are traveling at a decent speed and your engine loses most power, you can still use your momentum to pull far off the roadway or into a parking lot, even if it's into the dirt and you've just washed your car. If your first instinct is to brake, you're suddenly coming to a stop in the middle of the road with no power to move.

call for help

If your can't be driven, call for help. If you have an auto club membership or a new vehicle with roadside assistance, it might be a simple matter of waiting for rescue. If not, you'll need to reach out to someone who can get you or a tow truck company. Don't forget that you'll need to know where you want your vehicle towed. You can always tow it home and then tow it again to a repair faculty once you've had time to research them.

If you are in a dangerous situation, such as in the middle of traffic, call the police and stay in the vehicle. They can assist you with traffic control and with getting a tow truck dispatched more quickly. They are there to help you with the immediate danger, not to help you push your car, change your tire, bring you gas or give you a ride. But most will volunteer to do these things if the call volume is low and there are no other pressing emergencies.

If you are on a North Carolina highway or if you do not know which local jurisdiction you are in, you may call the North Carolina Highway Patrol by dialing *HP (*47) from your cell phone. State Troopers are great about stopping to assist disabled motorists.

always be prepared for a breakdown, even if it won't ever happen

You should have a roadside safety kit consisting of flags, flares or reflective triangles just in case you need to mark your location in an emergency. Carry jumper cables, a tire inflater, rope, gloves, blankets and first aid supplies. You might consider carrying bottled water, but remember that bottled water can go bad when left in hot cars for long periods of time.

stay inside the safety cage

You've just broken down, not embarked on a camping trip. So unless the vehicle is on fire or in danger of suddenly blasting into pieces, stay inside and forget about wandering around while you try to look like you know what you're doing. Your vehicle is designed to keep the occupants safe, but it can't do that if you're not inside. If you stay inside the car, even when it's hot, you are much safer than you'll be on the side of the road, even if you're well on the shoulder. A runaway vehicle or an errant piece of flying debris can end your life quickly.

making emergency roadside repairs

If you are making emergency repairs, use some common sense. Keep unneeded passengers inside the car and pull off the road as far as you can. You can still move the vehicle on a flat tire, albeit slowly. Go to an area that affords you plenty of space and safety. If you are planning on using a jack, make sure the vehicle is on a stable and level surface as the jack can sink into the ground and cause the vehicle to fall.

stopping to help someone

If you are stopping to help someone or someone is stopping to help you, the second vehicle should park about three car lengths or more behind the disabled vehicle with the wheels pointing sharply away from the shoulder, which is your escape route. If another vehicle hits it from behind, it will go in the direction of the wheels and will hopefully protect you.

accepting a ride from a stranger

Any time you accept a ride from a stranger, you're taking a big risk. Most good Samaritans are there to help you out. But some might want to do you harm. Never get into a car with someone you don't know, even if the person seems trusting. If you do decided to accept a ride from a stranger, don't be afraid to snap a photo of the vehicle, license plate and the person giving you a lift. Don't feel shy. Just say that you've heard horror stories before and just want your friends and family to know who you're with in case something happens to you.