Road Trip Safety: What to do if your car breaks down

A few years ago, we were ten minutes into a six-hour road trip when we ran over a nail in the road and got a flat tire. Yep, only ten minutes in…and while it was a bummer to be sidelined so quickly, at least we were close to home. Within a few hours, we were back on the road. But what if you were further afield?

Any time your car breaks down, it’s natural for panic to set in—but what if you’re miles and miles into a road trip? What if you’re in unfamiliar territory and have no cell phone signal? As difficult as it is, don’t panic. Here are a few things to do if you have to take that gut-wrenching park on the side of the highway:

1. Move away from the car if you see smoke. It’s very unlikely for modern cars to catch fire, but it does happen. If you see smoke or otherwise suspect staying in or near the car is dangerous, move away. Your safety is the top priority.

2. Put on your hazards and set out flares if you have them. Flares should be part of any roadside emergency kit. However, if you don’t have them, at the bare minimum put on the hazards. This will minimize your risk (and the risk of a car accidentally hitting yours).

3. Call for help if you have a signal. Most insurance companies include roadside assistance with policies. However, the waits can be long. If you do have a roadside assistance program, call them first so you can get help as soon as possible. Next, call someone nearby who may be able to help. If that isn’t an option, call someone you trust to let them know what happened and where you are.

4. Start walking if you have no cell service but know a store is nearby. Maybe you recently passed an interstate gas station or saw signs for a small town within a couple of miles. Only start walking if you’re confident that you can safely and quickly get to a business where you can then call for help. If possible, walk against traffic so you can see cars as they approach.

5. Make a sign for jumper cables and wait by your car if you know your battery is dead. It’s rare that a car will stop working suddenly on the highway because of a dead battery, but it can happen—especially if you recently turned the car off. If you’re certain that’s the issue and have jumper cables, hold them up to passing cars. If you don’t, make a “jumper cables” sign with your hands to let passing cars know what you need. It shouldn’t take long for someone to stop.

The best way to avoid getting stranded is to take precautions. Make sure you’ve ticked off these tasks before taking your next road trip:

1. Get your car serviced. Regular maintenance is the best way to stay safe and spot any troubling signs before they get out of control. Maintenance checks are fast, affordable, and save you money in the long run. Aim for at least one car service per year.

2. Make a roadside kit and always keep it with you. This should include jumper cables, safety items such as pepper spray, solar-powered chargers, a wind-up radio, road flares, and a first-aid kit. Hopefully you’ll never need it, but you’ll be glad to have it if you do.

3. Choose a wireless plan with good coverage. It’s tempting to save money on a bargain carrier, but you’ll regret it if you travel to a more rural area without coverage. The best way to get help is simply to make a phone call. Don’t opt to take that away from yourself.

Another way to increase safety on a road trip? Don’t go alone. There’s safety and power in numbers.

About the author

Pit Stops for Kids AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly at a number of travel publications, and contributes to OutdoorsNW magazine as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.




  1. I’m glad you shared your advice on what to do if your car breaks down on a road trip! I liked what you said about turning on your hazards is important because it will reduce the risk of incoming cars hitting you. If I was in this situation, the next thing I would probably do is call a towing company.

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