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Even if you drive a well-maintained car, you can still experience breakdowns and find yourself stranded by the side of the road from time to time. To help you deal with potential automotive emergencies, be sure to check out these handy tips:
If Your Car Breaks Down
At the first sign of trouble, let off the gas, indicate a lane change and carefully move your vehicle toward the breakdown lane. To maintain control, do not brake suddenly or steer abruptly. If you have a flat tire, try to bring the car to rest on level ground, which will help when jacking up the car and installing the spare.
Make sure you can be seen. Place highway flares behind your vehicle to alert other drivers. (You can also use hazard triangles if you have them.) Turn on your emergency flashers. If it is dark, turn on the interior dome light as well.
If you have a flat tire, make sure you can change it safely away from traffic. Otherwise, wait for police or other emergency assistance.
If you can’t fix the car yourself, wait for help. Raise the hood and tie a cloth to the radio antenna. (Or hang a “HELP” sign in your window if you have one in your emergency kit.) Wait for police or emergency assistance.
Don’t wait in your car if it is on the road – stand away from traffic on the side of the road and wait for help.
If your car is safely out of traffic, wait inside the vehicle with the doors locked. Use your cell phone to call for help. If someone stops to help, remain in your locked car. Crack the window slightly and ask him or her to call the police if you have not, or could not, do so. It’s important not to compromise your safety. Someone may want to take advantage of your predicament.
Avoid walking along the road, especially on an Interstate or in bad weather. However, if you know where help can be found and can reach it quickly without posing a risk to your safety, do so. Walk on the side of the road, keeping as far away from moving traffic as possible.
If you see steam escaping from under the hood and/or the engine temperature needle in your car starts to rise, your vehicle is most likely overheating. As you move your vehicle out of traffic, turn on the heater. This helps draw excess heat from the engine and cools it down. If the temperature gauge does not start falling right away, try turning the air conditioner on high. Many vehicles have a secondary engine cooling fan that only operates with the A/C on high. If the gauge needle won’t leave the red zone (or the temperature warning light stays on), find a safe place to pull over, turn off the engine, open the hood and wait for at least 30 minutes while the engine cools, then move the vehicle to a safe place. Do not attempt to continue driving the vehicle; doing so can cause severe engine damage.
IMPORTANT: Never take off the radiator cap before the engine has cooled. The coolant inside is hot and under intense pressure. If you open the cap, you will release an explosion of scalding fluid that can cause severe burns requiring immediate medical attention.
Even a new, properly inflated tire can blow out. Debris, potholes and other road hazards can contribute to tire failure, as can tire age, worn conditions and over- or under-inflation. How do you know when you have a tire blowout? Telltale signs include a rhythmic thumping sound, sometimes accompanied by a tugging sensation through the steering wheel. If you experience either, remove your foot from the accelerator, indicate a lane change, and then, while maintaining a firm grip on the steering wheel and taking care not to brake abruptly, pull off the road to safety and turn on the emergency flashers. If possible, bring the car to rest on level ground, which will be helpful when the time comes to jack the car up and change the tire.
You hit the brakes and nothing happens. What now?
First thing to do is stay calm. A cool head will allow you to take steps to control your car.
Second, take your foot off the accelerator and make sure the cruise control is disengaged. Regardless of whether your car has a manual or automatic transmission, you can usually engine-brake the vehicle by downshifting to a lower gear. Once it starts to slow, continue down through the gears as your speed decreases.
If the road surface is dry and you have successfully slowed the vehicle to less than 30mph, try using the parking brake. Remember, this is a separate braking system and should still work, although it is not nearly as powerful as your car’s regular brakes. Bring your car to a complete stop, off the road if possible, and turn on your emergency flashers. Have the car towed to a repair facility for inspection and repair.
One minute, you’re cruising down the road listening to your favorite song, not a care in the world. The next minute, nothing – no engine power, no dashboard lights, no headlights, no indicators, no power steering, just an eerie silence punctuated by the sound of your wheels as your car starts to slow down. Don’t panic. If you take these simple steps, you’ll be well on your way to managing a potentially dangerous situation.
Roll down the window and use hand signals to indicate that you are changing lanes in order to pull over to the side of the road.
Avoid any jerky motions. Provided the lane is clear, grip the wheel and carefully steer the car toward the slow lane, using the remaining forward momentum.
Once safely in the breakdown lane, try to make sure you can be seen. Raise the hood and tie a cloth to the radio antenna or hang a “HELP” sign in your window if you have one in your emergency kit. If possible, place highway flares behind your vehicle to alert other drivers. Remember, without electrical power, the hazard flashers will not operate.
Don’t wait in your car if it is on the road – stand away from traffic on the side of the road. If your car is safely out of traffic, wait inside the vehicle with the doors locked.
Use your cell phone to call for help. If someone stops to help, remain in your locked car. Crack the window slightly and ask him or her to call the police if you have not, or could not, do so. It’s important not to compromise your safety. Someone may want to take advantage of your predicament.
A Full Tank of Gas
Never set out at night or into bad weather without a full tank of gas and a cell phone. Make a point of refilling once the needle indicates that the tank is one-fourth full. If you miscalculate and are running extremely low, move over to the slow lane, which will allow you to get into the breakdown lane should you completely run out of gas.
While parked in the breakdown lane, make sure you can be seen. Turn on your emergency flashers. If it is dark, turn on the interior dome light, as well. Raise the hood and tie a cloth to the radio antenna. Or hang a “HELP” sign in your window if you have one in your emergency kit. If possible, place highway flares behind your vehicle to alert other drivers. You can also use hazard triangles if you have them.
If your car is safely out of traffic, wait inside the vehicle with the doors locked. If someone stops to help, remain in your locked car. Crack the window slightly and ask them to call the police if you have not.
Note: Provided you are away from traffic, you will probably be safest staying in your vehicle until help arrives, unless you can quickly walk to a safe spot away from your vehicle and the road. Be careful about walking along the shoulder. If you have to, get as far off the roadway as possible. Then, you can return to your vehicle when help arrives.
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