It is bound to happen eventually. You are motoring along and your trusty vehicle breaks down. It may be close to home, near a service station or in a populated area where help is nearby, but it may not be. It may be in the middle of nowhere, with no help in sight.
Before you hit the road, make sure you have an emergency kit in your vehicle. Although not necessarily practical for every trip, every time, every destination, the ideal kit would contain these items:
- Fresh drinking water.
- Waterproof matches and candle.
- Flashlight & spare batteries.
- Orange warning sign and flares.
- First Aid Kit.
- Collapsible Shovel.
- Jumper Cables.
- Cell Phone & charger.
- Cutting device.
- Duct tape.
- Basic tool kit.
- Gloves, hat and boots.
- Chains or traction devices.
When you do break down, turn on your hazards immediately. If there is a hard shoulder to stop on, look for any debris and then stop with wheels turned away from traffic. Otherwise, get the vehicle as far away from traffic as possible. Exit your vehicle away from traffic to stay as safe as possible. If the car is not drivable, stay in it and call for help or wait until someone stops to help if you can’t make a call. Regardless, get to your emergency kit as soon as you can. Put out the orange emergency sign and road flares if you can safely do so. Then, if the problem is something you can fix, like a flat tire, check for safe clearances from traffic before jacking the car up.
If the problem is not something you can fix, call for roadside assistance from any provider you subscribe to for service, or a local tow and mechanic service if you don’t have roadside assistance service. While waiting, try to stay in a location that does not obstruct your emergency lights and signs.
The most important safety tip when it comes to vehicle breakdowns is to try and avoid them. The leading cause of vehicle breakdowns is maintenance neglect. So, the most important thing to pay attention to is routine maintenance. Get the oil changed and all fluids checked approximately every 3,000 miles. Keep tires in good condition and pay special attention to keeping them properly inflated. Rotate and balance the tires every 5,000 miles, including the spare if it is full size. Most tire sellers will do the rotations and balancing free of charge after you purchase from them.
Also, as boring as it may be, review the manufacturers proposed maintenance schedule and try to follow it if you can. For instance, most manufacturers suggest replacing the timing chain in the 90,000 – 110,000 mile range, but some suggest it as low as the 75,000 mile mark. Regardless, it is wise to invest the several hundred dollars to get it done because if it breaks, you are dead in the water and the breakage may have caused engine damage in addition to the cost of replacing the belt. The manufacturer’s check list will alert you to other critical maintenance issues.
It is also a good idea to pay attention to your vehicle as you drive it. Periodically check the headlights, turn signals and brake lights to make sure they are working. After you have had your vehicle for a short time, you will develop a sense of how it sounds and drives. If you notice changes to the “normal,” it is time to investigate. Look for tire and brake issues, and have the steering checked if the wheels starts to respond differently as you drive. The time and money you spend on routine issues will likely save you a lot more time and money down the road.
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.