Immediate Steps to Take if Your Car Breaks Down While Driving

Having car trouble, such as engine problems, transmission problems, electrical problems, and tire problems, is frustrating. You’re lucky if it happens or you notice before leaving your garage. It’s an entirely different thing if it occurs when you’re already on the road, causing safety issues for you and your passengers. Not to mention the state of helplessness, negative thoughts, and stress that are all part of the nightmare of being stranded on a highway.

So, what would you do if you find yourself with a failing car while driving? Are there any tips to prevent the bad situation from becoming even worse? And, how do you ensure your safety while waiting for help? Car breakdowns do happen, but here are the immediate steps you can take if it happens to you.

1. Don’t panic.

A man driving a car with a view of the road

We know staying calm is hard when you’re in the face of an emergency, but panicking can make the situation even more difficult or dangerous. One of the most common causes of road accidents is people getting rattled when they see something wrong in the car. Freaking out may cause you to suddenly change your lane or slam your break hard, compromising your safety and that of the motorists.

If you notice something strange happening in your vehicle, fight the urge to panic. Instead, stay composed so you can think properly and have clear judgment. Be wary and alert so that you won’t put yourself and other drivers on the road in peril.

2. Turn on your hazard light.

Hazard Light button

Turn your hazard lights as soon as you feel that your vehicle is stalling. It’s important to do this within the first few seconds or minutes when your car fails to warn other drivers that your vehicle isn’t working properly. From there, other motorists will give you ample space by driving around you. Thus, eliminating safety risks.

The hazard lights button is usually easy to spot. However, it may not be located in the same position in every car model. So, it’s better to know its location straight away when you first get your car. It’s usually a large button with a red or orange triangle situated on the steering column or in the middle of the console.

3. Stay out of harm’s way.

A moving car

Another crucial step to take is getting out of harm’s way by ensuring you, your passengers, and your vehicle are in the safest place possible. Depending on the issue, you may try to steer your car off the road using the remaining momentum to keep it away from the flow of traffic.

Strive to reach the shoulder, the side of the road, or better, at a designated emergency bay. Otherwise, just ensure that it’s fairly visible and far from road curves. Once you’re able to get your car in a safe place, only exit using the passenger doors or the doors facing opposite the roads.

If your car stops in the middle of the road and you fail to pull over away from traffic, never attempt to exit your vehicle to push it. You will only expose yourself and place yourself and other drivers in a dangerous situation. A single mistake can be fatal and can cost anyone’s life. Just stay put and wait for help to arrive.

4. Make your car visible.

A warning triangle sign

To avoid safety risks, ensure to make yourself and your car visible to other motorists driving on the road. Through that, they can be wary of your situation and take the necessary steps to distance themselves.

There are times when hazard lights don’t work or may not be bright enough for others to see. You can send a distress signal by getting a spare towel or shirt, closing it in the windows, or tying it to the radio antenna.

If you happen to keep yourself off the road, you can also utilize flares, cones, reflectors, LED flashers, and other signal devices you may have in mind. Put them at least six feet behind your vehicle to provide ample time for other motorists to notice them and react. Moreover, it will make it easier for helpers to locate your car once they arrive at the location.

Otherwise, you can prop the hood to let other drivers know that there’s something wrong and that they should act with caution. Keep in mind that you should only place these signals or prop your hood if you’re in a safe position to do so.

5. Put on the emergency brake.


Don’t miss out on turning your car wheels away from the flow of traffic and engaging your emergency brake, parking brake, or handbrake. It’s the mechanism that keeps your car securely motionless while it’s parked. Doing so serves as an extra layer of safety, ensuring that it won’t suddenly move back into the highway or road. Through that, you can somehow ease your worries and proceed to the next steps.

6. Call for help.

A man calling on his phone

The next thing to do is ask for help or assistance. If your car is blocking the traffic, your best resort is to call 911 or the police first. A vehicle in the middle of the road, blocking an intersection, or at road curves can be dangerous and may result in fatal accidents. That’s why it’s important to notify emergency services as soon as possible and the police so they can send officers to direct the traffic flow.

If you’re able to move your car to a safe place, you may contact roadside assistance services straight away. Whether it’s provided by your insurance company or from a third party, they can be your lifesaver who can help change tires, do minor repairs, deliver fuel, or provide towing services if needed.

Of course, don’t forget to inform your friends and family members just to let them know about the situation and send extra help when necessary. Never distract other motorists driving on the road as it can be dangerous. Be patient and wait for help to arrive.

7. Check your vehicle.

A car dash

While waiting, the best thing to do is assess the problem. Look for possible reasons behind your car failure. Is the battery the issue? Did you run out of gas? Are warning lights on the dash flashing? Do your car gauges show some abnormal readings? Is your ignition switch faulty, or maybe the sensors are malfunctioning? Are there fluids flowing under the car? Do you see burn marks under the hood? Is there any troubling sound like a clang, crunch, or pop your car is making?

A quick inspection can help you determine the problem. Jot everything or take photos or videos of anything weird you notice. All the information can be helpful when assistance arrives and when your car is being repaired.

If it’s a basic issue instead, your car is in a safe location, and you have the skills and equipment to do it, you can try fixing it yourself. If it’s something complicated, leave it and have an experienced mechanic handle it.

Final Words

While there are immediate steps that you can take when your car malfunctions and breaks down, it’s still best to ensure you don’t end up in such a scenario. Follow tips on servicing and maintaining your car so it always stays in tip-top condition, and you get better, safer road trips in the future.