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Beat Car Breakdown Blues

Follow these steps to stay safe if and when your vehicle conks out.

woman leaning on disabled auto phones for help from snowy roadside, picture
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Photo: Candybox Images / Shutterstock
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Stay to the side of your car and off the road.

No one plans for car malfunctions, but they do happen. Here's how to stay safe if you run into trouble on the road.

GET THE GEAR No matter where your vehicle breaks down, it's vital to be able to communicate and to make your car visible. Always carry a cell phone and charger with you, and keep flares or reflective triangles on hand as well. (Find them at an auto parts shop or a big-box store.)

REMAIN CALM If your car stalls completely and simply won't move, turn on your emergency flashers. When there's a possibility of getting rear-ended, exit the vehicle—if it's safe to do so—and carefully make your way out of traffic. Don't put yourself at risk by trying to push the car onto the shoulder.

KEEP RIGHT If your car can move, but you can't make it to an exit or rest area, signal, slow down, and pull as far onto the right shoulder as possible without leaving level ground. On a shoulder-less road, pull as far into the right lane as you can. Leave the car if you safely can, preferably through a passenger-side door. Stay clear of traffic, and never stand behind or in front of your vehicle.

SHINE ON Make yourself visible to other drivers by turning on your hazard lights and popping the hood. Set flares or reflective triangles behind the vehicle, watching for traffic as you do so. To give other motorists time to react, place the first set of flares about 100 feet behind the vehicle's right side; the second set also 100 feet behind the center of the vehicle; and the third set 10 feet behind the vehicle's left side (the side closest to the road).

CALL FOR HELP Once you've reached a safe place, call 911 (if needed) and then AAA Emergency Road Service at (800) 222-4357. (Members are entitled to roadside assistance 24/7, in any car, as the driver or passenger.) To help responders find you, note surroundings, prominent buildings such as malls, and mile markers and other road signs.

This article was first published in Winter 2018. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.