Stranded! What To Do If Your Car Breaks Down

March 9, 2015

Stranded at the side of the roadAs the warmer days of spring drift in and wanderlust abounds, the thought of packing up the kids and heading to the cottage or taking a road trip adventure out of town with your friends is sure to entice. But with longer drives and lesser-known routes the potential of finding yourself stranded at the side of the road can carry frightening undertones. Flats happen, engines overheat but knowing what to do in case of a roadside emergency can ensure you (and your loved ones) make it through an otherwise sticky situation.

So in honour of “open road season” we’ve compiled a series of tips to help you get through a stranded car situation safely.

Follow the beaten path

As many people who’ve been stranded before can attest, hindsight can be frustrating which is why it’s important to have a plan in place. If you know the roads or weather conditions are going to be bad, it’s best to stay at home but if you have to drive be sure to share your intended route with someone. Shortcuts may seem like a good idea but can just as quickly get you lost on a side road in nowheresville.

Prepare for the worse

In addition to having a spare tire, tire iron, jack and jumper cables it’s wise to put together a basic emergency kit to keep in your car. Be sure it contains items such as food that won’t spoil like energy bars or granola, plastic water bottles, a blanket for warmth, extra clothing or shoes, a first aid kit with a pocket knife or seatbelt cutter, a small shovel, a flash light (with extra batteries or windup) and a whistle, warning lights or road flares.

Know you’re covered with roadside assistance

If you plan on spending a lot of time on the roads, it might be wise to look into joining a roadside assistance program. You have a lot of choice too: CAA, your bank, credit card, some retailers like Canadian Tire and Costco, and even some auto insurance providers offer it.


Being prepared doesn’t necessarily translate to avoiding a situation. If something happens while driving like your engine starts smoking or you get a flat, pull onto the shoulder with as wide a berth from the flow of traffic as possible. Remember to signal with your hazard lights. Stay in your vehicle and assess the situation. Is the car drivable? Do you have enough gas? Are any emergency lights on? Did you hear any weird car noises?

  • Do not leave your engine running for long periods of time.
  • Try to remember the last landmark or road sign you passed. Are you near a highway exit? Did you just turn at a crossroad? These identifiers will be important when you call for assistance.
  • If you have a cellphone, call the police or your automobile club and they will inform you of what to do. Be sure to give them your name, phone number, the nearest identifier, a thorough description of your vehicle, how many passengers you have and the nature of your problem. After you’re done, call a family member or friend to let them know your circumstances. While you wait for help, stay in the car; it’s the safest location.
  • If you need to get out of your vehicle, never exit the side that traffic is on (the driver’s side if you’ve pulled over to the right of the road).
  • If a stranger stops to help, keep the doors locked and windows up and ask them to call for roadside assistance if you haven’t already.

There’s no need to shy away from open road adventures, but regularly maintaining your car and being prepared in the event of an emergency, can go a long way to keep you and your loved ones safe!