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A Guide for Seasonal Car Care
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    Roadside Emergencies

Tips to make sure your breakdown doesn’t become a catastrophe.   


Dennis Shortino

Thanks to modern technology, today’s vehicles are more reliable than ever, but they aren’t perfect. Sometimes they break down, and when they do, you need to be able to get your vehicle safely off the roadway and seek help. The following tips will help keep a breakdown from becoming a catastrophe:

  • Get out of traffic as safely, smoothly and quickly as possible. Coast toward the right shoulder of the highway, where traffic is usually moving slower.
  • Once on the shoulder, activate your emergency flashers and open the hood of your car. Be on the alert for approaching traffic. If possible, exit on the curb side of the vehicle.
  • Return to your car and secure your seatbelt until help arrives. If it’s after dark, never leave your car and never walk alone. If someone approaches you, keep your doors locked and roll the window down just far enough to ask them to send help. Don’t get out of the vehicle or leave with them.
  • If your vehicle can’t make it to the shoulder, activate the emergency flashers, and stay in your car. Step out of the vehicle and you are taking the chance of getting hit by passing traffic. Whatever has gone wrong with your car is not as important as the safety of you and your passengers.
  • Determine your location. Try to determine how far is to the next exit, rest area, service center or town.
  • Next, try to determine what’s wrong with your vehicle. A flat tire is obvious, but there are dozens of other things that might have gone wrong, which might not be apparent. You may not know what’s wrong, but your car may be trying to indicate it to you. What are the lights and gauges on your dashboard telling you? Is there smoke or steam coming out from under the hood? What sorts of noises did the car make when did it started acting up?
  • What kinds of communications are available to you?
Make a Plan
Cars are like computer hard drives. It’s not a question of if, but when, something will go wrong. With a little forethought, life can be easier in those trying moments. All it takes is some preparation and establishing a minimal emergency plan. It might be as simple as reaching for the cellular phone and dialing 911, or as complicated as crawling under the car and doing emergency repairs. Either way, the time to start planning for such an incident is now, before the steam starts rolling out from under the hood on the freeway at rush hour.

Is the car you are driving covered by a manufacturer’s roadside assistance program? There are many such programs available, including motor clubs and insurance companies that offer roadside assistance options on their auto policies.

Even so, there are still times when it is a good idea to have some basic auto knowledge and a few minimal mechanical skills. Know how to use the jack and lug wrench before you have a flat, and check your spare to make sure it’s properly inflated at each oil change. A canned tire sealer/inflator is an inexpensive way to get a few extra miles out of a punctured tire to get to a service center.

Take along plenty of fluids: a gallon of water, a gallon of antifreeze, a couple of quarts of oil and a bottle of automatic transmission fluid. It is also a good idea to stock a fire extinguisher, tow strap, jumper cables and a set of tire chains.

Other items to keep in the trunk include flares, spare belts, pliers, screwdriver set (regular and Philips), a crescent wrench, locking pliers, vinyl electric tape, duct tape, plastic wire ties in assorted sizes, gloves, coveralls, a couple of old blankets, first aid kit, an empty one-gallon gas jug, box of emergency food (nuts, granola bars, etc.) and bag of kitty litter to sprinkle on ice and snow for extra traction.

In the glove box it is a good idea to keep the vehicle registration, insurance papers, vehicle owner’s manual, small flashlight with extra batteries, ice scraper, pocketknife and change for a telephone call (even if you have a cell phone.) Make sure that phone numbers for insurance agent, attorney, auto club, and a reputable towing service are also included. This might seem like a lot of stuff to store in a small space, but you only need to use these items once to appreciate their value.

While traveling, pay attention to mile markers or road signs, so you know your present location. Make sure you have a good idea of how far it is to the next exit, service center or town.

The best pre-planning for roadside breakdowns is following recommended service and maintenance intervals for your vehicle, as well as keeping an eye on your car’s fluid levels and vital signs. Have your service writer or technician give a short overview on preventative maintenance. Pay attention to the needs of your vehicle before something goes wrong and you can minimize the chances of having a roadside emergency.

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal or professional advice.