Looking stressed and helpless while stranded on the highway with a busted engine or flat tire is every motorist's worst nightmare. But car breakdowns do happen, and they're both dangerous and costly.
So how do you ensure your safety during a roadside emergency? Here are some life-saving tips to keep in mind when your car breaks down on the highway.
Car Broke Down Mid-Drive? Take These 10 Steps
You can never know when a roadside emergency will happen, so it's best to always be prepared for the worst. Just follow the steps below if you ever find yourself imagining different what-if scenarios and suddenly thinking, "What do I need to do if my car breaks down?"
1. Stay Calm
Freaking out is the absolute worst thing you can do in the face of an emergency. If you let the situation rattle you, you might accidentally slam your brakes hard or make a sudden lane change, getting you into further trouble.
As soon as you notice that something's wrong with your vehicle, resist the urge to panic and instead put on your thinking cap. You need to stay alert from this moment on so as not to compromise your safety as well as that of other motorists.
2. Turn on Your Hazard Lights
The ability to think on your feet is crucial during those first few seconds or minutes when your car breaks down mid-drive.
The moment you feel your car stalling, turn on your hazard lights to alert other motorists that there's something wrong with your vehicle. This way, you can get more space as drivers will know to just drive around you.
When the emergency happens at night or in bad weather, make sure to also turn your sidelights on. It's also wise to turn off anything that can run down your battery because you don't know how long it'll take before your vehicle gets fixed.
3. Pull Over to the Side Away from Traffic
The next crucial step on what to do if your car breaks down in the middle of the highway is to pull over to the side immediately. Look for an opening to get your car out of the flow of traffic. If you stop at a designated emergency bay, all the better. But if one isn't in sight, any safe location will do.
Don't attempt to get out of your vehicle before completing this step. It's dangerous to expose yourself on the highway, and it’s actually one of the fatal road mistakes that can cost you your life.
Before you get out to inspect your vehicle, make sure it's safely parked in a flat and visible location, far from any road curves, to avoid any safety risks to yourself and other motorists.
4. Engage Your Parking Brake
Once your car is safely parked, turn your wheels away from the road and engage your parking brake or emergency brake—they’re the same thing for most cars. This way, you establish another layer of safety for everyone and avoid the risk of accidentally rolling back into traffic. With that worry out of your mind, you can focus on other concerns like how to fix your car or how to get help.
5. Make Your Car as Visible as Possible
Let's say your car broke down on the highway. You've followed the steps above. But those aren't enough.
To maximize your car's visibility, prop up the hood to make it clear to other motorists that your car is faulty and that they should proceed with caution. Poor car visibility is one of the top causes of road accidents in the Philippines.
If you have some in your car emergency kit, you can also set up reflective triangles behind your vehicle or LED flashers on the trunk. These additional visible indicators will make it easier for your car to be found when help is on the way.
6. Assess the Condition of Your Vehicle
Next on the list of what to do when your car breaks down is to check the situation at hand. What exactly is the reason behind the sudden breakdown? Did you just run out of fuel? Is your ignition switch malfunctioning? Have the sensors become faulty? Or does it have something to do with the battery?
Look up some troubleshooting tips for car breakdowns to find out what's wrong with your vehicle. If it’s something simple like a flat tire that requires basic car repair, assess whether you have the skills and equipment to fix it yourself. If not, it's best to just leave it alone and let a professional handle it.
7. Call for Help or Roadside Assistance
Right from the onset, you need to start thinking about who to call when your car breaks down. Even when you think the issue is manageable, it's still better to let a relative or friend know about your situation, so they can send help your way when things go south.
Take a good look at your surroundings, so you can provide specific details about your location. Pay special attention to landmarks. You can also send your GPS coordinates for easy reference.
If you have car insurance, check if it covers breakdowns and if you're entitled to emergency road assistance like towing services, fuel delivery, and minor repairs.
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8. Stay Vigilant While Waiting in Your Vehicle
While waiting for help to arrive, just stay inside your vehicle, especially when you're stuck in one of the most accident-prone roads in the Philippines. The last thing you want is to get caught in another road mishap while already in the middle of an emergency.
Also, think twice about accepting help from a stranger. While it's ultimately your call if you're going to engage or not, keep in mind that just as there are well-meaning Pinoys who stop by to help distressed drivers, there are also scammers and thieves who may jump at the opportunity to approach you at your most vulnerable.
Exercise good judgment when someone offers unsolicited rides, tows, or car check-ups. If the stranger behaves suspiciously, don’t let them get access to your car—just lower the window a bit so that you can talk to them. If help is already on its way, thank the stranger and politely decline the offer.
9. Don’t Leave Your Car Unattended
One practical tip on what to do when your car breaks down on the highway is to keep your eye on it at all times. If you can't help but get out of your car, at least stay within the vicinity. Don't wander off, especially if you're not familiar with the area.
If it's absolutely necessary for you to go somewhere else, make sure to leave a note on your vehicle so that when your contacts arrive, they would know to either wait for you or fetch you from another location.
10. Take Your Car to the Shop for Repair
Let's say everything has been sorted out and your car is finally out of the road. Does your car breakdown saga end here? That depends on what the issue was in the first place and whether the help you received was just a quick fix or the real deal.
If your car needs to be thoroughly looked at, take it to the repair shop as soon as possible. Tell them, "my car broke down on the highway," and lay out every detail you know. This may help them properly diagnose the problem and do what's necessary to remedy it.
An emergency like when your car breaks down while driving can be nerve-wracking and risky. Be alert enough to look after your own safety in such a situation. But of course, reduce your chance of experiencing car breakdowns by inspecting your ride thoroughly before you take it out for a drive. Stay safe on the road always!
-  When to Use Your Emergency Brake (Reader’s Digest, 2022)
-  Car Emergency Kit Essentials (Wired, 2022)
-  Basic Car Repairs Everyone Should Know (Lifehack)