In 2014, AAA responded to more than 17 million roadside assistance calls. The majority of these calls were for vehicle breakdown. Given the frequency of breakdowns, it helps to prepare for and know how to handle one.
How to Prepare an Emergency Car Care Kit
Put together a kit containing the items you might need during a breakdown. When it comes to supplies, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Your car care kit should consist of a canvas bag or plastic tote bin and contain the following:
- First-aid kit
- Jumper cables
- Flares or reflective warning triangles
- Flashlights and extra batteries
- Paper towels
- Drinking water
- Nonperishable snacks
- Any medication that you or one of your regular passengers may need
- If you live in an area that gets snow: a window scraper, small shovel and kitty litter.
You should also make alterations to your kit based on the season. In the wintertime, you may want to include extra garments, such as gloves and hats. Add extra water bottles, sunblock, instant cold packs and bug repellent in the summer.
What to Do if Your Vehicle Breaks Down on the Road
Your top priority when your vehicle breaks down is to get it to the safest position possible. From there, you can signal for help. If you’re capable of making repairs you can also do that.
Move your vehicle to a safe location. Vehicle breakdowns can be terrifying and dangerous. Without warning, your vehicle’s engine may stop. Power steering and anti-lock brakes may stop as well. If your vehicle breaks down, you should try to coast over to the right shoulder. Avoid using your brakes unless you’re going to hit an object. You will need as much momentum as you can get to stop your vehicle in the safest place possible. Follow the same rules of the road that you would if you were changing lanes. Use your turn signals and check your mirrors. Only move into the left shoulder as a last resort.
If possible, pull over on a straight part of the road or before a curve. Avoid stopping your car after a curve. This will make it more difficult for cars to see you, for you to see cars, and for service vehicles to stop and help you. Once your vehicles come to a complete stop, put your car in park and engage the e-brake. If you stop your vehicle on the shoulder, turn your steering wheel as far as possible away from traffic. Doing this can help prevent you from rolling into traffic if you’re hit from behind.
It’s okay to stay in your current lane if you’re not able to change lanes when your vehicle breaks down. Again, resist the urge to hit your brakes unless you’re going to collide with another vehicle. Allow yourself to coast until you have come to a stop. Then put your car in park and pull up on the e-brake.
Only make the repairs you feel comfortable making. Making repairs on your broken-down vehicle is a judgment call that only you can make. You shouldn’t make this call lightly. You need to assess the situation that you’re in to determine if you should get out of your vehicle. If your vehicle has broken down on the highway you may not want to get out of your vehicle. If your vehicle has broken down in a residential or low traffic area, it may be safe to get out. But only get out if there’s good reason.
You should also consider how comfortable you are with making repairs on your vehicle. If you’re not used to changing your tires in your garage then you shouldn’t change them on a busy highway. Also, don’t make repairs on the side of your vehicle that is exposed to traffic.
Busy roads and highways are the worst places to make vehicle repairs. Fortunately, though, they are the most traveled by tow trucks and emergency services. If your vehicle breaks down in a high-traffic road, it’s likely that a police officer will soon spot you. The officer should be able to help you or direct traffic around your vehicle while you make repairs.
Get assistance. It’s important that you let other drivers know that your vehicle has broken down. Doing this can help them avoid hitting your vehicle and also help you get assistance. If your cell phone is available, contact a roadside service such as AAA, or the police department. Also, be sure to hang a white cloth out a window that is facing traffic and turn your hazard lights on.
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Hold tight. You can run the heater in your car as long as you know the tailpipe is not obstructed. There’s a chance that accumulations could be blocking the tailpipe if you break down in heavy snow. In this situation, turning on your heater could result in carbon monoxide poisoning. If you can safely get out of your car, use the shovel in your emergency car care kit to clear the area behind the tailpipe. You should also bundle up immediately with as many layers as you can get. Do this even if it feels too warm because your car can quickly lose heat. It’s easier for you to warm up the layers if there is still heat in the car than it is if the cabin has become cold.
If your car breaks down in the summertime you can roll the windows up and turn on the air conditioning. This should help you and your passengers stay comfortable. If you do roll your windows down, use the sunblock and bug repellent from your emergency car care kit.
In both seasons, make sure that you leave enough gas in your tank to be able to drive once your vehicle is repaired. Also, never go to sleep in your car with the engine running.
Vehicle break downs can be scary because they’re often unexpected. But if you prepare for a breakdown, it’s no longer unexpected—it’s just inconvenient. By following these steps, you can help stay safe during a breakdown and get back on the road sooner.