What Should You Do if Your Car Breaks Down on the Highway?

It’s everyone’s worst nightmare when driving. You’re speeding down a crowded highway, and suddenly, your car breaks down. Such a situation is enough to induce panic in pretty much anyone. What should you do to stay safe and out of harm’s way if you find yourself stranded with a broken-down car on the highway?

If your car breaks down on the highway, do this first

A silver with a lack top breaks down on a highway with a person leaning against the car.
Car broke down on a highway | Getty Images

Imagine you’re driving down the highway, and you start to notice a strange noise or your check engine comes on. Now’s the time to take note of your surroundings, so you can give accurate information to emergency services in the event your car does end up leaving you stranded. Do you see any mile markers around you? Any other landmarks? Gather as much information as you can.

As soon as you know you’re going to need to pull over, get into the slow lane as quickly as possible. From there, you can look for a place to pull off the roadway into the breakdown lane safely. Try to move your car as far away from passing traffic as possible.

Your main goal should be to stay safe until help arrives from this point on. First, put on your hazard lights to warn oncoming vehicles of your presence. Ensure to exit your car from the passenger side not to open your door into oncoming traffic. It’s also beneficial to set up flares or reflective triangles around your vehicle to help other drivers see and avoid hitting you or your car. 

What you should do if you can’t get out of the way of traffic

Things can get even scarier if you don’t have the opportunity to get out of the way of traffic before your car completely dies. In this case, make sure to call emergency services as soon as possible. They can help divert traffic around you and get you the towing assistance you need.

Once again, as soon as you can, make sure to put your hazard lights on. This is even more important when you’re still in a traffic lane than when you’ve been able to pull over into the breakdown lane. To further protect yourself, since stepping out into traffic in the middle of the highway could be extremely dangerous, stay in your car and make sure that your seatbelt is fastened. 

Stay safe and prevent car breakdowns with a few simple tips

There are other things you can do to stay safe on the highway. For example, Nationwide recommends that if you’re able to exit your vehicle, you stand behind a guardrail to protect against the possibility of another car running into you. Allstate recommends that if you’re on a hill, you turn your wheels away from the road and put on your parking brake to keep your car from rolling back into traffic.

The best thing to avoid ending up in this stressful situation is to be as diligent as possible about routine car maintenance. Do you always check your gas level before you hit the road? Do you change your oil regularly and check your tire pressure habitually? While, of course, it’s impossible to prevent all breakdowns–you never know when a nail will find your tire, for example–routine maintenance can go a long way toward giving you peace of mind when you’re going to be hitting the highway. 

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