Three Keys to Staying Safe When You Break Down

It’s Thanksgiving Day, 2016, and I’m 6 months pregnant. Andrew and I had just bought a used pick-up truck for the shop and after doing some repairs, was excited to drive it to his brother’s wedding…three states away. I mentioned several times that I was six months pregnant and, “Wouldn’t the Toyota Corolla be more comfortable?” But he really wanted to get the truck on the road and see what it could do.  “Fine,” I relented, “Let’s take the ‘new’ truck.” Halfway to South Carolina the check engine light comes on. Then it starts flashing.

Ideally, if you take care of your vehicle properly, adhere to all of the items on your maintenance schedule in a timely manner, and have it inspected every few years, you can avoid a surprise breakdown. Even when necessary precautions are taken, you may still find yourself on the side of the road. Thankfully Andrew got the light to stop flashing and we made it without breaking down…but it was midnight. I was swollen, uncomfortable, and having false labor contractions. Not the ideal scenario.

It’s important to know what you are going to do if it ever does happen to you in order to be safe for you and your passengers and avoid causing further damage to your vehicle. Not everyone can bring a mechanic along like I can.

Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

Being married to a mechanic, we were fortunately able to avoid a breakdown on our trip because Andrew was able to intervene, but you never know.

I was driving in the rain on FL-408 one evening with my six-month old son in the car and I got a sudden puncture in my tire. I put my hazards on and pulled off at the nearest exit and couldn’t quite make it off the ramp, much less to the gas station at the next light. It was a scary situation as car after car sped past me in the pouring down rain at dusk, so I decided to just stay put in the car to avoid getting hit. I called Andrew, we made a plan, and then climbed into the back seat to entertain my son while I waited for him.

What completely surprised me is that instead of stopping to help me, people honked at me, gave me rude gestures, and no one stopped to see if they could help. Four police cars even went by me!

My point is that you have to be smart. I stayed in my vehicle because I answered “no” to the following safety concerns:

  1. Are you able to pull off at a safe distance from potential dangers?
  2. Are you and your car visible to other drivers?
  3. Is/are your passenger(s) safe?

Be Prepared

One thing I’m really disconcerted about in this flat-tire-in-the-rain scenario is that the trunk of my car was an absolute mess. I’m embarrassed to say that once the rain and traffic cleared up and a good samaritan finally stopped to see if they could help, I couldn’t even find the jack and ratchet for changing the tire. This was definitely a mistake.

Always have the proper tools in your vehicle in case of an emergency. Consider putting together a basic roadside emergency kit including a first aid kit, basic tools, water, and protective wear (blankets, hat and gloves for cold climates, and/or a poncho, sunglasses, and sun hat for warm climates) and keep your trunk tidy so you can find them. You could really go extreme if you spend a lot of time on long trips with the ultimate roadside emergency kit. At the very least have the tools for changing a tire, know where they are and how to use them.

Make A Plan

Once you have pulled over safely and assessed the situation. Here are some good questions to consider:

  1. Is this a problem I can remedy myself until I can get to my mechanic? (i.e. flat tire)
  2. Is my car driveable or do I need to call a tow truck?
  3. Do I have someone to assist me?

DO NOT try to drive your vehicle if it is smoking from either end, the check engine light is blinking, or there is any obvious suspicious noise. These are signs of serious problems and driving your car further could cause additional serious and costly damage. Always, if possible, call your mechanic and ask for his/her advice before driving your vehicle.

This is just another reason why having a mechanic you have a trusting relationship with is so important. Your mechanic can help guide you as to whether your vehicle is safe to drive or if a tow truck is recommended. Even if you are out of town, he can tell you if, based on the symptoms, it’s something you need to take to a nearby mechanic right away or something that you can address with him as soon as you return.

Thank Your Rescuers!

Due to the messiness of my trunk, my good samaritan friend and I couldn’t find the ratchet to remove the lug nuts. However, while we were figuring that out, a police officer stop to lend assistance as well. Remember the FOUR that passed me before? This guy was off duty, probably heading home for the night, and still decided to stop and help. He loaded my son and I into the back of his cop car (a new experience for me and quite a story for my son when he’s older!) and brought us to the gas station up ahead to wait for Andrew to come rescue us and our car. I was super grateful for that officer and the other helpful citizen as it took a while for Andrew to get to us.

Every situation is different but it’s wise to be as prepared as possible. I don’t think anyone will be prepared as much as my husband who made many preparations beforehand and, while on our Thanksgiving trip said, “I should have brought that other diagnostic tool,” as he was looking at a whole box of tools that the average person doesn’t even own.

You can’t be prepared for absolutely everything, but you can know what to do if something were to go wrong that keeps you safe and helps you make and execute a plan in a way that minimizes stress and gets you back on the road as soon and safely as possible.

Marinelli Auto Service is an auto repair shop in Winter Park, Florida. We’ve been serving Central Florida since 2015. We provide maintenance and repairs for a variety of makes and models.

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