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What to Do If Your Car Breaks Down on the Road

Owning, and even driving, a vehicle is a huge responsibility. Beyond getting your oil changed on time and paying for insurance, you also need to know what to do if your car breaks down on the road.

A car breaking down on a highway, at night, or in a foreign place can be a stressful event for anyone. And if you have younger siblings or friends in the car, it can feel doubly horrible. Following these five steps will help you handle guy calling for helpthe situation confidently and safely.

Get off the road, safely. When you notice your car failing or experience a flat tire, gently take your foot off the accelerator. Apply the brakes slowly and smoothly, if you can. Signal your intentions with your blinker and steer the car to the nearest shoulder, breakdown lane, highway exit ramp shoulder, or driveway/parking lot.

Put the car in park and set the emergency brake. Turn the steering wheel away from the road. Turn on your hazard lights (also called emergency flashers). It will be a button, switch, or toggle with two red tringle outlines.

Make your car as visible as possible. You’ll want your car to be obvious to not only other motorists as they navigate around or near you, but also to the tow truck, state patrol or police, or parent who comes to help. If you have reflector triangles in your car and it is safe to exit the vehicle, place them along the shoulder behind your car. Raise your hood and tie something white to the radio antenna or hang it out the road-side window. This is a universal sign that your car is broken down and you need help.

If it’s dark outside, turn off your emergency flashers and turn on your headlights and the inside dome light. It can be dangerous to have your emergency flashers on in the dark because an approaching motorist may think you are only driving slowly on the highway and run into the back of your car when they accidently follow your lights off the highway.

Note where you are and assess, if you can safely, the car’s problem. Make note of the nearest mile marker or highway exit, any cross streets you may have passed, or any businesses you can see. When you call for help, they will need to know where you are and will probably ask if you know what’s wrong with the vehicle. It’s OK to say you don’t know and describe what happened when the tow truck arrives.

If you have a flat tire, only attempt to fix if you feel safe and are clear of any traffic. If you see smoke or flames from under the car’s hood, or smell something funny, get out of the car and as far away as quickly and safely as possible.

Call for assistance. You should always carry your car insurance or road-side assistance membership information with you. Now’s the time to pull out that card or paperwork and call for a tow truck. If you’re unsure which number to call or need to know how to pay for the tow truck, you might want to call your parents first. It’s also a good idea to call 911 and let them know where you are and what happened. A state patrol car may be sent to stay with you until the tow truck arrives.

Wait safely. If your car is safely out of traffic, the best course of action is to wait inside the vehicle with the doors locked, the windows cracked for ventilation if it’s hot, and the car turned off. If a stranger pulls over and offers to help, you can tell them through the window that you’ve already called the police or ask them to call for you. There are some good Samaritans out there, but if you’re alone on the road, it’s better to err on the side of caution and not get out of your car.