Cars break down at the worst moments. It always seems to be during severe weather or when you are already late for work. When your car suddenly sputters or clanks to a stop on the road, whether through accidental neglect, forgetting to fill the gas tank, or some unforeseen mechanical issue, it can be somewhat scary and overwhelming. Even if you use the last bit of momentum to veer off the road onto the shoulder, you’re still not in a safe location for you or other drivers around.
Preparing for emergency situations such as a car breakdown ahead of time can help in situations like this where you could end up completely stranded. It’s important to know how to get your stranded vehicle off the road to avoid leaving it in the unsafe location.
There are really two options to get your stranded car off the side of the road: a tow truck or, in dire circumstances, physically pushing the car along by foot. Here are some things to keep in mind as you step through the process: Part 1 helps you assess the situation, Part 2 advises that you call for assistance, and Part 3 explains how to push your car if it needs to be manually moved.
Part 1 of 4: Do an assessment of your surroundings and assets
The first question you should ask yourself is “is it safe to get out of my vehicle here?” Hopefully you’ve made it far enough out of traffic to be able to get out of your vehicle. Step out on the side of your vehicle opposite from traffic if possible, especially on highways and fast-moving streets.
Time of day and the surrounding area could also impact your safety. If you break down in the middle of the night in a sketchy neighborhood, getting out of your vehicle might not be the best idea.
The assets you have already in your vehicle will make or break you in these situations so make sure you have a fully-packed emergency kit in your car at all times. Some things you should consider carrying with you:
- Fully charged cell phone
- Cell phone charger
- Emergency markers
- 4 road flares or LED strobe lights
- Reflective gear or clothing
- First aid kit
- Snacks and water (make sure to change the snacks and water out frequently to avoid spoiling)
Step 1: Get your car out of the way of traffic. If it is operable, pull the car over as far as you can onto the berm (level space beside the road).
The right berm is preferable but, if you are on a divided highway and the car breaks down in the left lane, pull over onto the left berm.
Step 2: Turn on your flashers. This should be done right away so that other drivers can see that your car is broken down.
Step 3: Set up flares or LED battery-operated strobe lights behind and in front of your car. Be careful to stay out of oncoming traffic.
This is especially important if it is dark out or if you couldn’t get your car completely off the road. Keep flares away from vegetation that could catch fire.
Set one flare or strobe light 100 feet away from the front and back of the vehicle and another one 50 feet away.
Part 2 of 4: Call for help
- GPS tracking device
Step 1: Stay in your car and lock the doors. If it is hot out and you can’t put the windows down for air circulation, remain beside your car. Stand with your car between you and the traffic.
Step 2: Figure out your exact location. If you don’t know what road you are on and the nearest exit or crossroad, turn on your GPS device. It will give you your exact location. Most cellphones have a GPS device; however, it will quickly drain your cellphone battery after you turn it on.
Step 3: Call a friend or relative. Let them know exactly where you are.
- Tip: Always keep a blanket, first aid kit, flashlight, road flares, a GPS tracking device, bottled water, and a snack in your car.
Step 4: Call a tow truck or your emergency roadside service provider.
One thing to keep in mind is that many car insurance companies offer roadside assistance and towing coverage as options. Some of the companies include:
These are just a few of the many options out there so it’s worth researching ahead of time to get the coverage needed to help you in case of an emergency. One call to your insurance company is all it takes to get help sent to your exact location.
- Warning: If a stranger approaches you to offer help, get in your car, lock the doors, and open the window only far enough to talk. Tell them you have already called for help and someone is on the way. Do not leave with them or get into their car to wait.
Step 5: Call 911, if appropriate. This would apply if you feel that you are in danger, have small children with you, or the weather is extremely cold or hot.
Part 3 of 4: Get out and push your vehicle
If you absolutely cannot call because your phone is dead or without service, the only remaining option is to get out and physically push your car to a safe location. Preferably this is done with at least two people so one individual can steer and handle the brakes.
Here are the basic steps you should take to push your car yourself:
- Turn on your emergency blinkers
- If possible, put on reflective gear or clothing to make sure you’re seen by passing motorists (hopefully some good samaritan will notice and pull over, but at least you’ll be seen and not hit)
- Put the car in neutral
- Find the best position and push (if you’re alone you will only be able to push with the driver’s door open as you steer simultaneously and remain ready to hit the brakes)
Part 4 of 4: Get the car off the road within 24 hours
Step 1: Get the car running, if possible. Have your relative, friend, or emergency roadside service provider bring gas, if you think the car is out of gas. If a tire is flat, let them know that’s all it is. Check to see if there is a spare tire in the trunk and let the responders know if you don’t have one.
- Tip: If you are stranded in a snow storm, run the car for a short while to warm up then turn it off to conserve fuel. Clear the snow away from the tailpipe to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Step 2: Have the car towed to a nearby service station. The tow truck driver may have to take the car to a certain repair shop. If that’s the case, you will have to get it repaired there or make arrangements to get the car to the repair shop of your choice.
There are many steps you can take ahead of time to make a stranded car situation a little safer and easier for you. Learn the processes and fully stock your car with emergency items to make sure you’re prepared if you ever find yourself in this situation.