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Vehicle Breakdowns and Seven To-Do’s

Equip your car with an emergency road kit

If you experience vehicle problems while driving, your first priority is to pull off to a safe location away from the flow of traffic. Take your foot off the gas pedal. Do not brake hard or suddenly.

See also: The Car Skids — What You Should Do

Once off the road, make your vehicle visible. Put reflectorized triangles behind your vehicle to alert other drivers; use your emergency flashers. If it is dark, turn on the interior dome light. When you are safe, you can call your road service provider.


If you have a flat tire, do not attempt to change it unless you can get to the side of the road, and the tire is on the side of the vehicle that is safely away from traffic. Remember, safety must take precedence over your schedule or other concerns you may have.

Turn on your hazard lights

This warns other drivers that something is wrong. Keep your hazards on until your vehicle is safely towed.

Pull over (if the vehicle is still moving)

In an ideal situation, you will want to aim for the right shoulder of the road. If you find yourself on a road that does not have a safe place to pull into, put on your turn signal and try to get off the right lane as quickly as possible. Pulling into the left-hand shoulder is a last resort. If you are driving on residential streets, try to pull into a free parking spot or parking lot if one is nearby.

Turn your wheel to prevent rolling and put on the emergency brake

Turning your wheel to the right if you are facing downhill, or to the left if you are facing uphill will limit your vehicle from rolling very far if you are stuck on a hill.

Triple-check before getting out of the vehicle

Make sure it is safe to get out of your vehicle, especially on a busy highway. If you feel you would be safer in the vehicle, 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. If your engine is smoking or you see flames, get out of your vehicle as quickly as you can.

Call for help.

If you have a roadside assistance provider, give them a call. If you do not, call for a tow truck or call 9-1-1 if you need further assistance.

Set up flares or triangles, if you have them.

As long as it is safe to do so, put flares or reflective triangles behind your vehicle as follows: one near your vehicle, usually about 10 feet behind it, and the other one farther away.

Wait for help.

If you are driving alone at night, be careful about accepting help from strangers and stay inside your car if you can. Make sure your doors are locked and your windows are up.

The following items are suggested for an emergency road kit that will make it easier to deal with most problems on the road:

Most important

  • Spare tire in good condition
  • Jack and lug wrench for changing tires
  • Flashlight with good batteries
  • Fire extinguisher
  • First aid kit
  • Flares or reflective day/night devices
  • A white rag or flag to signal for help
  • Spare fuses
  • Jumper cables

Good to have

  • Ice scraper
  • Pocket knife
  • Rags
  • Water
  • Empty container (at least two gallons)
  • Pair of pliers
  • Flat head and Phillips head screwdrivers
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Electrical and duct tape
  • Sandpaper (to clean battery terminals if the car will not start)
  • Tire chains, sand or kitty litter for extra traction in snow or ice
  • Small shovel
  • Camera to document a crash

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