1. First things first: Get your car off the road. Even when things go seriously wrong, vehicles don’t usually stop working entirely, so hopefully, you’ll have some time and momentum to get your car to the side of the road. Turn on your hazard lights. (If not, turn on your hazard lights and skip to step 2; don’t get out of the car while it’s stranded in traffic, especially if you’re stuck on a busy highway.) When you reach the side of the road, put the car in park, engage the emergency brake, and spin your steering wheel away from the road. That way, your car won’t accidentally roll out into oncoming traffic.
2. Call for help. Most drivers have cell phones, so odds are good that this won’t be a problem. (For those who don’t, you might consider stowing a limited-function prepaid phone in the glove box, just for emergencies.)
3. Let other drivers know that you’re in trouble. Hazard lights are a start, but they don’t necessarily shout to the world that you’re having car problems. If you can get out of the car safely and if you have road flares or LED emergency lights and place a couple of them about 50 feet behind your car. Magnetic lights can be placed on the roof of the car and on the ground too.
4. Stay with the car. For at least two reasons, it’s usually best if you stay in your vehicle with your seatbelt on. If its unsafe to remain in the car, then stepping away from the roadway and over a metal barrier is an option. First, if you’ve called for roadside service, they typically can’t do anything to a vehicle without the driver present. Secondly, roadways are dangerous places for people on foot — in fact, about 4,000 pedestrians are killed each year in the U.S. The situation is far more deadly when cars are flying by at 60 or 70 mph.
5. Now probably isn’t the time to take a blind stab at auto repair. If you’ve got some tinkering experience, you might be able to identify a loose battery cable, but if your problem is a flat tire and you’ve never changed one before, use a tire inflation product or call for roadside service. Changing tires can be tricky, even under ideal conditions; and frankly, perched on the shoulder of a highway isn’t what we’d call “ideal”. If you do know how to change a tire, proceed with caution after reading the owners manual.
6. Use common sense. Every breakdown is different, depending on where you are, what you’re driving, the time of day, the underlying problem, and so on. For example, you know what’s wrong — say, for example, you ran out of gas and you’re certain there’s a gas station nearby. Exercise caution, and don’t exit the car on the same side as traffic is flowing. Always carry an emergency kit that has the basics, or call for help.
7. Be wary of strangers. Your parents probably told you that a thousand times when you were young, but it bears repeating. There are plenty of good Samaritans out there, eager to help folks in trouble. However, there are also a handful of bad eggs that can really spell trouble. If a stranger pulls over and offers help, it’s probably best to remain in the car with the doors locked. Roll down the window a bit and tell them that help is on the way. Call the police if need be. Sorry if it seems that we’ve lost all faith in humanity, but safety first.