What To Do If Your Car Breaks Down

Sometimes, your car just won’t start or it stops working in the middle of an intersection. You may hear strange sounds as the car slowly grinds to a halt, or you can’t turn your steering wheel because the security lock has been turned on.

All of these scenarios mean your car has “broken down”, but don’t worry, we have some ways to help you with these problems even if you have no money.

what to do if your car breaks down

Who to Call If Your Car Breaks Down

Most insurance companies have a service that will come help you out no matter where you are (within reason). If you have insurance that has a feature like this, just call the number on the back of your insurance card! 

Normally, they’ll have a tow truck driver or roadside assistance out to help you with a flat tire, starting issue, or if need be they can tow your car to a good mechanic you normally use. Then, get with that mechanic to go over what happened, what sounds/problems you noticed, and what you tried to get the car working again.

The latter is very important because, if your engine flooded or you ran out of oil and you tried to start the car/power on, you may have done some serious damage to your motor that would be further worsened by your mechanic if they try the same thing.

If you don’t have car insurance (which by the way is illegal in the United States) and you don’t have much money, get out your phone and call your friends if need be. It will be better than nothing.

Related: Is It Safe to Drive on a Flat Tire?

Make Sure You and Your Car Are Safe

car shuts off while driving

First things first, get your car (and you) out of harm’s way, off of the highway with fast-moving traffic flying by. If it’s winter and your car won’t start, stay put as your car is going to be the warmest place for miles in many cases.

Next, you should break into your stash of safety equipment:


In the same safety vein, I want to go over some winter safety precautions everyone needs to consider should the worst happen.

Make sure you have a winter portion to your emergency kit. This means a lighter, some dry tinder (sounds silly, but making a fire when you need one can save your life), candles, several wool or synthetic-fiber blankets, a down parka, snow chains, and a GPS communicator like SPOT or Garmin offers.

The above kit may seem excessive, but you need to cover the basics when your car ends up in a snowbank at midnight and you haven’t told anyone where you were going or when you’ll be back. 

General Safety Kit

While the above gear is more cold weather-focused, you should always make sure you have: one spare tire/wheel (or can of Fix-a-Flat), jack, tire iron, some rope, a Leatherman multitool (or similar), hi-vis vest, and flare/road marker even if you’re not going on a long road trip.

Gear kits are boring to some, but having the right kit and knowing how to use it may save your life or someone you love.

Diagnose the Problem

changing a flat tire

So, you’ve made sure you are safe, but no type of tow truck is available for another 4 hours. You have some time to kill, so let’s take a look at that problem.

If your car won’t start, listen carefully to the sounds it makes when you try to start it. Is there a repetitive clicking sound that doesn’t slow down as you hold the key to the ignition position? If that’s the case, your battery is probably good, but your starter motor could have gone bad, or you’re not getting enough fuel/air/spark.

If you’ve run out of fuel while driving, stop the car, get out your phone and look for the nearest gas station. They always have fuel canisters you can purchase inside, so you should start walking if it’s not too bad weather outside.

Fill up that gas canister and then walk back to your car. This ensures two things: 1) you can get to where you were going in the first place, and 2) you won’t forget about your gas gauge ever again.

If your car starts to drag to one side of the road and you start to hear a “thwap thwap thwap thwap” as you’re going down the road, pull over, make sure you are safe, and get out to inspect the tires.

If you see one of them seems floppy and underinflated, you have a flat tire. This means you’ll need to get out your jack, spare tire, and tire iron and swap out that flat tire!

Be honest, you’ve been waiting for something like this to happen so you can show your awesome pit crew skills to your buddies! But keep in mind, you can’t drive on a spare tire indefinitely.

Read Also: CVT Transmission Reliability

Don’t Freak Out

This may be the most important rule of all, and there’s a reason for it: you need to relax in order to think straight. And, you need to think straight in order to get out of a bad situation (like your car breaking down).

So, take a deep breath, think about what you need to do, and take action. (even if it is just “staying put”)

Al Seizovic

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