What to Do and How to Stay Safe if Your Car Breaks Down
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If you find yourself experiencing car troubles while driving, make sure to memorize your location, safely pull over, alert other drivers, call for help, and stay in your car.
Car trouble is often an unavoidable part of owning a car, but if you plan your trips ahead of time, prepare your car for travel, and know what to do in case of a breakdown, you should be able to handle any car problems without much hassle.
And if your car does break down? Have no fear—Jerry is here! Jerry’s emergency roadside assistance program can help you out in all sorts of car-related jams, including but not limited to towing, jump-starts, fuel delivery, and much more.
But before you hit the road, make sure your car insurance is up to snuff. Using Jerry to score a great policy at an affordable price has never been easier. Jerry is a car insurance broker and comparison shopping app that scours the databases of the country’s top insurers to bring you the best quotes out there.
Keep reading to ensure you know what to do if anything goes wrong on the road.
Plan your trip
Before heading out in your car, make sure to plan your trip, keeping weather, road conditions, and any potential hazards in mind for as smooth a ride as possible.
Also, if you’re heading out on a long road trip, take your car to a reputable mechanic to ensure it has a clean bill of health. Just knowing that your vehicle is in good working order can bring peace of mind before a road trip.
MORE: Types of insurance
Prep your car
Aside from taking your car to a mechanic before a road trip, diligently maintaining your car regularly will do wonders for its performance and keep it road-worthy.
If you take your car in for service, ask the mechanic to do an overall inspection to ensure your car is in good shape. Ask them to pay special attention to the following:
- Headlights and rear lights
- All fluids
Another good thing to do is read the owner’s manual—yes, we mean that thick tome gathering dust in your glove box! Give it a read-through and make sure you know what all your car’s warning lights mean, in case they pop up on your display.
Double-check that your spare tire and jack are in good shape. If you have road flares, make sure that you know how to use them, in case your car breaks down at night, in bad lighting, or in bad weather and you want other motorists to be able to see you.
Key Takeaway Regularly maintaining your car will go a long way to ensure few, if any, problems when you head out on a road trip.
Just like your car, you need to be prepped before a long car journey—check the weather, plan your route, and tell a family member or friend where you’re going and when you expect to return.
A good rule of them when driving long distances is to keep distractions to a minimum. Most importantly, do your best to leave your phone alone—if you need to make a call, use hands-free mode or, if possible, pull over safely to the side of the road.
Do what you can to be alert when driving. Get a good night’s sleep the night before and avoid driving if you’re too tired, in an emotional state, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
If you’ve got company on your trip, don’t let a lively conversation steer your attention away from where it needs to be—on the road.
Friends and family can keep long road trips fun, but for everyone’s safety, it might be best to keep any chatty Cathy’s or Carl’s relegated to the back seat.
Key Takeaway Always keep distractions to a minimum when driving, and never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Jerry’s roadside assistance program
Before hitting the road, it is always smart to be a member of a comprehensive emergency roadside assistance program, and—not coincidentally—Jerry offers just that!
With Jerry, you’ll have access to a slew of roadside services, including towing, winching, fuel delivery,rental vehicle roadside reimbursement, and much more.
Not to be outdone, Jerry’s exclusive member benefits are something to behold—you’ll get up to $100 towards key replacement, trip interruption credits worth up to $750, and up to $25 worth of Uber credits to get you where you need to be in case you need a tow (and you don’t want to ride in the tow truck—we get it).
You’ll even get up to $100 to fight a ticket, amongst other benefits.
Jerry’s emergency roadside assistance covers up to four roadside incidents per year. So sign up and hit the road, knowing that if you run into car issues, Jerry will be at your side.
Your car breaks down, what do you do?
If you still run into car trouble despite your thorough preparations, the first thing you’ll want to do is get your bearings and familiarize yourself with your surroundings, in case you can’t fix the problem yourself and need to call for help.
You’ll want to note the major streets and cross streets near your location. Also, be aware of any major landmarks or buildings that may help roadside assistance find you.
If you run into trouble on the highway, do your best to safely pull over to the shoulder and note the closest exit number, rest stop, and emergency call box.
Key Takeaway Familiarize yourself with your surroundings by noting street names, exit numbers, and any major landmarks in case you have to pull over and direct assistance your way.
What’s the problem?
Most people aren’t car experts, but if you feel like there’s a problem with your vehicle, try not to panic and, at the same time, safely pull over to the side of the road.
Once safely stopped, it will be a bit easier to diagnose what’s gone wrong.
Was it difficult to steer the vehicle before you pulled over? Does it feel like you’ve got a flat or punctured tire? If you think either of these issues is the culprit, a call for a tow or roadside assistance may be in order.
If there is smoke or steam coming from the engine bay, your engine stops, or you’ve simply run out of gas, turn your emergency flashers on and gently guide your car off the road. If possible, try to avoid hitting the brakes.
If you are hearing unusual noises, that’s just as good a reason to safely pull over to try and figure out what’s wrong. Granted, your rambunctious 10-year old in the backseat may be the source of those noises, but if not, calling for help is always a good idea.
Key Takeaway If you can’t diagnose what’s wrong with your car—let alone fix it—remain in your vehicle and call for help.
When pulling over, exit onto the far right shoulder if possible, and on level pavement. If you’re on an interstate, you may be able to pull over to the left side. In both cases, try to stay as far away from traffic as you can.
If you need to get out of your car, do so carefully. If you’ve pulled over at night or in bad weather, it may be difficult for other drivers to see you.
As a rule of thumb, never stand right in front or right behind your car, as other drivers might not see you and you could get hit.
If you cannot pull over and your car has lost power, first turn your emergency flashers on. If you think you won’t be able to get your car to a safe location, and fear you might get hit if you stay in the car, get out of the car when it is safe to do so. Then, find a safe area and call for help.
Also, it’s not a good idea to try and push your car to safety—it is dangerous and you may get hit!
Key Takeaway So long as it is safe to do so, safely pull your car over if you’re having trouble driving, and call for help if necessary.
Alert other drivers
Once you’ve safely pulled over, it is important to stay visible and alert other drivers to your position by using your emergency flashers, road flares, and/or warning triangles.
Always turn on your emergency flashers, especially if you’ve pulled over at night or in bad weather. Pop the hood, and if you have a bright scarf or handkerchief, fasten it to the antenna or close a window on it to make yourself more visible.
So long as there is no fuel leak and you don’t smell gas, you can use road flares (or warning triangles if you have them) to alert other drivers.
Place the first flare or warning triangle about 10 feet away from your car, directly behind the side of the vehicle closest to the roadway. Place the second flare or triangle directly behind your car, in line with the license plate (or mid-bumper) another 100 feet away.
If you’re pulled over to the side of an undivided highway, place the third flare or triangle another 100 feet away, but this time on your car’s right side. If you’re off to the side of a divided highway, that third flare needs to be placed about 300 feet away from the second flare or triangle.
Key Takeaway Use your emergency flashers, a popped hood, a scarf, road flares, or warning triangles to alert other drivers of your presence at the side of the road.
Call for help
Once you’ve safely pulled over, use your phone to call for help from inside your car. If you can’t stay in your car, make sure you and any passengers are a safe distance away before calling for help.
Note any landmarks, highway exit numbers, or street names to help direct any roadside assistance or emergency responders to your position.
Stay with your car
Safety experts conclude that, in most cases, staying with your car and waiting for help to arrive is the safest thing to do once you’ve safely pulled over. Make sure you have a flashlight handy, in case you have to pull over at night.
Open the windows a crack, but keep all your doors locked if you decide to remain in your car. If a passing driver stops and offers to help, do not open the doors but ask them to call for help.
If leaving your car is the best option, make sure traffic is light before getting out of your vehicle. Try to plan as safe a route as possible if you (and your passengers, if you have any) are going to head out.
It’s a good idea to leave a note on your dashboard explaining where you are heading for help, and what time you think you’ll be back. Exit your car from the passenger side doors to stay away from any oncoming traffic.
Finally, if you decide to leave your car and accept help from a friendly passerby, ask for your helper’s name, address, and phone number before getting into their car.
Leave a note with a person remaining with your car or, if you’re on your own, leave the note on your dashboard with this information on it. Make sure to list where you are going, with whom, and for what purpose.
Key Takeaway If possible, stay with your car. Keep your doors locked and your windows open just a crack while waiting for help to arrive.
Roadside assistance programs, like the one you can get with Jerry, provide a variety of services to help get your car back on the road, including fixing flat tires, jump-starting your battery, or delivering fuel.
Most roadside operators will be able to problem-solve a way to get your car running again. However, if your car has suffered a significant breakdown, they might have to tow your vehicle to a nearby garage for repairs.
What information to give roadside technicians
When calling for roadside assistance, be prepared with the following information:
- Your roadside assistance membership number and insurance information
- Your phone number in case the technician needs to call you
- Your exact location, or closest intersection, highway exit, or highway marker
- Describe your car, including the make, model, year, and color
- Your plate number
To help the technician when they arrive, describe your problem in as much detail as possible while on the phone arranging for roadside service.
Let the dispatcher know if you’re driving an unusual vehicle, if you have a lot of cargo, or if any passengers need medical help. Also, let them know if your car uses alternative fuels or diesel.
If you know where you want your car to be towed, let the dispatcher know. If not, insist that it be brought to a reputable repair shop.
Key Takeaway When calling for roadside assistance, give the operator as many details as possible about the problem you're having, a description of your car, and your location.
How long will you need to wait?
This all depends on circumstances such as location, time, and weather, but the dispatcher should be able to give you an estimate of when help will arrive.
If you’re in a remote location or dealing with severe weather, be prepared to wait longer for help to arrive.
Also, if you feel unsafe, either in your location or from passersby who don’t feel friendly, let the operator know. They’ll try to arrange for help to arrive as quickly as possible.
What to do when help arrives
While it may be tempting to rejoice and kiss the boots of your just-arrived roadside technicians, that won’t be necessary—just be cooperative and calm, as professional technicians are trained to handle a variety of different roadside situations.
Once your help arrives, they should show identification to verify that they are who they claim to be. Once the service technician arrives, don’t try to help them do their job—if they need anything, they’ll ask.
If your car is being towed, you can ride with the roadside technician, but not in the car being towed.
Your rights and responsibilities—what you need to know
Be sure you know exactly what services are covered under your roadside assistance plan or insurance policy.
Some plans are set up for roadside operators to use direct billing, with no charge (or a minimal fee) to you. With other policies, you may have to pay for the roadside service and then request reimbursement after the fact. If you’re unsure, ask your provider.
If you don’t have a roadside assistance plan and call for help, you will likely need to pay for the cost of the service with a credit card or cash.
Some roadside plans will cover their members no matter the car being driven, but others won’t service certain types of vehicles. Be sure to ask whether your vehicle is covered under your roadside assistance plan. After a service call, always ask for a receipt and keep it for your records.
Key Takeaway Make sure your roadside assistance plan covers the vehicle you’re driving.
Car and insurance and roadside assistance with Jerry
Dealing with an automobile breakdown isn’t fun, but having an expansive car insurance policy as well as a roadside assistance plan can help get you out of any sticky situation.
With Jerry, finding an excellent car insurance policy at a great price is as easy as a few clicks. This AI-powered car insurance broker and comparison shopping app will generate competitive quotes from the country’s top insurers. Not only will Jerry sign you up for your new policy while canceling your old one, but Jerry will search for better rates for you before every renewal period!
And if that wasn’t good enough, Jerry now offers an emergency roadside assistance membership to make sure you’ll always have a helping hand whenever and wherever you need one!
"How is this real?! I got an ad for this app and figured I had nothing to lose. I was making breakfast and by the end, I was saving $125 a month in insurance! I am so thankful for this app. It really saved the day and I am so grateful!"—Satisfied Jerry user
Should you stay in your car if it breaks down?
Safety experts agree that staying in your car, with doors locked, windows open a crack, and your emergency flashers on is the best thing to do when waiting for help. Only under unsafe circumstances should you exit the vehicle and set out for help.
Should you call 911 if your car breaks down?
If your car breaks down and you or a passenger need medical attention, do not hesitate to call 911. If you are only dealing with a breakdown, call your roadside assistance number for help to get your car back on the road.
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