Knowing how to handle a car breakdown is half the battle (the other half, getting your car fixed, comes later). Here we explain how to stay safe in 8 easy steps — especially when your car breaks down in a not-so-convenient location.
The first few minutes after a breakdown
Your first steps after a breakdown depend on where and when it happens. A quiet residential street is one thing — a busy highway during rush hour is quite another. But either way, your safety and the safety of your passengers always come first. These 8 steps can help:
1.) Turn on your hazard lights: This warns other drivers that something’s wrong. Keep your hazards on until the car’s safely towed.
2.) Pull over (if the car’s still moving):In an ideal situation, you’ll want to aim for the right shoulder of the road. If you find yourself on a road that doesn’t have a safe place to pull into, put on your turn signal and try to get into the right-hand lane as quickly as possible. Pulling into the left-hand shoulder is a last resort. If you’re driving on residential streets, try to pull into a free parking spot or parking lot if one’s nearby.
3.) Turn your wheel away from the road and put the emergency brake on: This prevents your car from rolling if you’re stuck on any kind of hill
4.) Triple-check before getting out of the car: Make absolutely sure the coast is clear before attempting to get out of your car, especially on a busy highway. Trust your gut here — if you feel you’d be safer in the car, go with your instincts and stay inside with your seat belt on. If you made it to the right-hand side of the road, get out through the passenger-side door. And if your engine’s smoking or you see flames, get out of Dodge.
5.) Call for help: If you have a roadside assistance provider, give them a call. If you don’t, call for a tow truck or call 9-1-1 if you need further assistance.
6.) Set up your flares or triangles if you have them: You want to put both flares behind your car (one near your vehicle, usually about 10 feet behind it, and the other one further away, so long as it’s safe). The California DMV suggests placing them 200–300 feet behind your disabled car.
7.) Pop your hood: A popped hood is the universal sign of a breakdown. Once you’re safely out of the car, pop your hood to let other drivers know what’s happened.
8.) Wait for help: Don’t try to fix your car by yourself
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