As we approach the vacation season, I want to cover the basics of preparing for roadside emergencies and dealing with car breakdown. I have had my fair share of roadside emergencies and breakdowns. My experience includes minor incidents such as punctured tire, malfunctioned windshield wiper, drained battery, and locked in key. And the more serious stuff like overheating, engine failure, and sliding off the road into a ditch during a heavy snow storm.
Photo by andrijbulba via Flickr
Well Maintained Car Is The Best Medicine Against Roadside Emergencies
One of the best things you can do to avoid or minimize breakdowns and emergencies is to keep your car in the best shape possible. Beside from the regular maintenance, you should:
- Check the air pressure in all tires, including the spare — a good tire gauge is a must in this case.
- Check tire thread wear.
- Check all fluids to make sure they properly filled between the max and min line.
- Check all belts and hoses for signs of deterioration and fluid leak.
- Check all lights
Learning how to do these basic inspections on your own will save you a lot of money. However, you should consult a mechanic if you’re not sure.
Roadside Emergency Kit
Beside a cell phone* and the stuff that comes with the car — i.e., spare tire, lug wrench, and car jack — you should invest in a good roadside emergency kit. However, you might have to buy individual pieces if you want the really good stuff. Here are a few important ones that I want to highlight.
* Unsecured items, including cell phone, will be thrown about if you are involved in an accident. Make sure you keep vital items like your cell phone and escape hammer in a secured but easily accessible location.
Unless you planning to travel only when the sun is out, carrying a good flashlight in your car is essential. I prefer the ruggedized and water resistant type, but any flashlight with a good set of batteries will work fine. Another good option is to get flashlight that comes with magnet or clip-on attachment, or a headlamp that you can wear on your head, so both hands are free.
Heavy Duty Jumper Cable (Power Booster Cable)
Alternator and battery can fail unexpectedly, and you can leave your lights on by accident. A good jumper cable is a must, especially for older cars. My jumper cable certainly saved me, as well as other stranded drivers, a number of times — yes, I do occasionally stop to give people a jump.
If you’re really desperate, you could also use the jumper cable as a temporary tow rope to pull your car out of a ditch.
Tire Sealer Inflator
I have never experience a blowout before, but have my fair share of flat tires. I was able to get myself to safety on those occasions, and tire sealer inflator helped me get to the nearest shop a few times.
Heavy Duty Tow Rope
I don’t have a tow rope in my car, but I am glad the guy in the Jeep Cherokee did. About 10 years ago, I was trying to come home from college during a heavy snow storm. There was a tricky stretch of road down the mountain, unfortunately my little Honda Civic fish tailed and spun out. My friends and I didn’t hit anything, but we did end up in the ditch. Fortunately, a rally nice guy pulled over and towed us out. He definitely saved us that day.
Other Items You May want to carry
- Portable air compressor with gauge
- Reflective warning triangles
- A pair of work gloves
- Rain poncho
- A roll of duct tape
- Cable ties
- Basic tools, such as a pair of pliers, flat head screwdriver, Phillips head screwdriver, utility knife,
- Shop cloths
- First-aid kit
In addition to roadside emergency supplies above, you may also want to carry some survival supplies in your car. About two years ago, I had to drive in another heavy snow storm and it took me 6 hours to make a 2 hours trip. Along the way, there were at least 20 cars that either hit the median or in the ditch. Rescue could take a couple of hours for these folks and I am sure some of these items would come in handy:
- Food – You can keep a couple packs of granola bar or even canned food in the car
- Blanket and extra winter clothes – If you’re stuck when it’s cold, blanket and extra clothes are essential.
- Candle and matches – Flashlight can’t start a fire or warm things up. Besides starting a fire, a candle can warm up canned food or water in a metal cup.
- Car escape tool
Roadside Safety Tips
Being out of the car on the highway is one of the most dangerous things you can do; however, it might be a necessary thing for you to do. If your car breakdown on the highway, you should employ every mean possible to maximize your visibility.
Here are some roadside safety tips:
- Try to pull as far away from the roadway as possible while staying on the paved road.
- If you are dealing with a flat or blown out tire, try to pull over into a flat area so that you can safely jack up the car.
- Turn your wheel away from the roadway so that it doesn’t accidentally roll into the oncoming traffic.
- Turn on your emergency blinkers (aka, hazard flashers)
- If you are traveling with children and/or pets, move them to a safe location away from the car. If this isn’t possible, make sure they are properly secured inside the car.
- Exit and enter the car using the door opposite the roadway to stay as far from moving traffic as possible.
- Use cones, reflective triangles, or flares to give you as much space as possible. At the minimum you should have 3 of these. Place the first flare at least 50 feet directly behind the car. Place the second flare midway between the first flare and your car, but a few feet further toward the open lane, place the last flare toward the end of your car and a few feet into the roadway so you can divert traffic away from your car.
If you’re facing adverse condition, call the police. Don’t try to fix the problem on your own!
What about car accident?
I am not going to cover car breakdown that is the result of an accident here. If you’re involved in an accident, make sure you read these articles:
- 14 Things to Do Before and After a Car Accident at Squawkfox
- Not Having The Police At A Car Accident Can Cost You at Free From Broke
Roadside Assistance Program
If you travel frequently, you should consider joining Roadside Assistance program. Many insurance companies offer some level of roadside assistance that include emergency help and free towing; however the best program is probably the AAA (American Automobile Association).
AAA is an association of regional automotive clubs. However, you can enjoy member benefits from anywhere in the country. AAA clubs primarily provide emergency road services, which include services such as, lockouts, winching, tire changes, automotive first aid, and towing. These services are handled by private local towing companies contracted by a state AAA club.
AAA also offers many other benefits, such as road maps, travel publications, rate restaurants and hotels rating, discounts, reservations, and more.
Do you have any tip to help other readers deal with car breakdown and roadside emergencies? Please share your thought!
Pinyo Bhulipongsanon is the owner of Moolanomy Personal Finance and a Realtor® licensed in Virginia and Maryland. Over the past 20 years, Pinyo has enjoyed a diverse career as an investor, entrepreneur, business executive, educator, financial literacy author, and Realtor®.