Dealing with Vehicle Emergencies: Best Practices
This guide will walk you through the best practices to take when dealing with a vehicle emergency. Emergencies, such as tire blowouts, engine failure, wet brakes, and other mechanical breakdowns, can happen at any time so it's important to be prepared. Our advice for avoiding vehicle emergencies is to make sure you have basic maintenance performed on your car at regular intervals.
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UPDATED: Jul 19, 2021
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Since our readers are practicing defensive driving techniques, we’re convinced that most of their drives will go without incident. However, there are times when every driver will have to deal with emergencies with their own vehicles. To keep these occurrences as the rarities they should be, make sure you have basic maintenance performed on your car at regular intervals. At minimum, you should have the following items checked whenever you get the oil changed every 3 months or 3,000 miles:
- Battery inspection/electrical system test.
- Tire inspection/inflation to proper PSI.
- Transmission fluid check. Replacement of transmission fluid take place every 30,000 miles.
- Coolant/antifreeze check. A flush and refill is normally performed every 50,000-100,000 miles.
- Power steering fluid check.
- Brake fluid check. Air filter inspection: Usually changed every 15,000 miles.
- Windshield wipers and wiper fluid top-off. Wipers should be replaced every 6,000 miles or when they no longer work effectively.
- Lights/signals test: Any burned out bulbs should be replaced.
But even if you follow all recommended maintenance schedules, there are times when you’ll have a breakdown or emergency situation. Here are some of the most common emergency situations drivers may be presented with.:
Blowouts and/or Tire Failure
- If you suffer a tire blowout, don’t rush to apply your brakes. Simply remove your foot from the accelerator.
- Your car will pull in the direction of the flat. As you slow down, you’ll have to compensate for this pull by maintaining a deft hand on steering.
- You should already be decelerating from removing your foot from the gas pedal. Now you can apply gentle pressure to the brakes, which will bring your car to a stop in a slow, gradual manner.
- Make sure you’re completely off the road before you come to a stop.
- Don’t forget to allow adequate space between your car and the road. You should ensure you’re safe from traffic, and should never place yourself in harm’s way.
- If you cannot change the blowout with your spare, call your roadside assistance provider or a service center for help.
- Brake failure can be a stressful and fright-filled experience. If your car’s brakes fail, immediately lift your foot off the accelerator.
- Attempt to pump the brakes. It is possible that there may still be enough residual pressure left in the brake system that is sufficient for stopping.
- If you’re in a manual transmission car, you’ll already know about using engine braking. But this same technique can be used in cars with automatic transmissions as well. Use engine braking by shifting into a lower gear.
- If your car has a hand-operated emergency brake, it can be used. Lift it with the button pressed to prevent wheel lock up.
- In extreme emergencies, look for a guardrail or something else you can brush the side of your car with. This can help you stop or provide an out if you’re subject to crashing otherwise. Under no conditions should you attempt a front-end crash.
- Once you stop, do not drive the car. It should be towed-in for service before it is driven again.
- If you experience a complete mechanical breakdown – meaning your car will no longer run – bring it to a stop and ensure it is parked in a location that is clearly visible in either direction.
- Make certain your car is off the road. Blocking a roadway, no matter how visible your car is, will place you in danger. All four wheels should be off the roadway surface (unless you are on a paved shoulder).
- Turn on your hazard lights.
- If you have warning flares, lights or triangles, deploy them.
- While staying inside the car may be the safest option, if it is possible to exit safely, ensure that your passengers exit away from traffic.
- Raise your car’s hood.
- While not as frightening as brake failure, having wet brakes can greatly increase the stopping distance of your car. If you’ve driven through deep water, you should test your brakes by lightly tapping them.
- If the brakes pull to one side or do not hold, you should dry them by driving slowly while applying the brakes.