Women Auto Know: Roadside Breakdowns

It might be a mysterious thumping under the hood. It might be an overheating radiator. Or it might be as simple as a dead battery or a flat tire.

Whatever the emergency, you can bet it will be inconvenient; depending on where and when it happens, it can be downright scary. Being stranded on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, in the dark or cold might be the worst-case scenario.

It happened to me recently when driving home from a long day at an automotive event: the TPMS light went off on my test-drive loan vehicle. At first I thought it was just a low-tire-pressure warning, but as I pulled off the side of the highway and watched the pressure drop to 4psi, I knew there was no way I was going to be driving the remaining 40 miles home without a visit from a tow truck.

Many drivers today are members of Auto Club, and most new cars these days come with complimentary roadside assistance services that will tow you to the nearest dealership with a simple cellphone call or even a touch of a button on your rearview mirror. But depending on where you are when you make that call, you might find yourself waiting a while. If you’ve got kids with you, even a short wait can feel like forever.

Knowing you are properly prepared for a roadside emergency can help reduce your immediate urge to panic. Here’s what you need to know so you can be better prepared for any predicament.

Whether your daily travels keep you near home or if you take the occasional extended road trip, you should always keep a survival kit of crucial emergency necessities in your trunk. You can purchase a ready-made kit or create one: among these supplies you should have a basic first aid kit, a fire extinguisher, a couple of space blankets, bottles of water and non-perishable snacks, jumper cables, and flares or reflective triangles. A good working flashlight with spare batteries is a must; today’s bright LED flashlights are inexpensive and compact enough to keep in your purse, so don’t leave home without one. Gloves, rags, and duct tape can also come in handy, as well as a rain poncho in case of inclement weather.

Next, always make sure you’ve got a spare power cable for your cellphone in the car. Having an extra battery backup will also give you extra security: You’re going to be making plenty of calls — to the roadside assistance service, perhaps to find a mechanic, and to your family to let them know about your situation — and you don’t want to run out of juice mid-conversation.

Does your car have a spare tire, and is it properly inflated? Many cars these days are sold without a spare to save weight and space, and are equipped instead with a tire repair kit and inflator device. Make sure you know what you have: the difference could be a simple tire change on the side of the road or a more complicated tow to a dealership for a new tire.

If you’re driving an all-wheel-drive vehicle, then you’ll likely need a flatbed tow truck.
It’s also a good idea to keep a spare change of clothes and any necessary medications for yourself and your family in the car, just in case you wind up having to stay the night away from home while you’re waiting for repairs. Roadside emergencies don’t always happen during business hours and you might have to wait until morning for necessary services.

Comfortable, durable, shoes are also important to have in case you have to walk for help.
Automotive journalist Sue Mead says “I learned many years ago, when training for extreme and remote backcountry drives, to always keep a candy bar in the car,” explains Sue. “Taking a moment to eat the candy bar is a great way to stop for a moment to assess the situation and make calm and well-thought-out decisions.”

These days everyone takes credit cards, right? Wrong. Mead also recommends keeping cash in your car. “I got in trouble in Mexico recently because they didn’t take my credit cards. Having cash on hand is way more important than I thought!” She advises to keep at least a hundred dollars in your car in case you need to pay cash for help; small bills are important because you can’t expect to break a hundred-dollar bill in an emergency.

Just in case nature calls, be sure to pack toilet paper. Large zip-lock-style bags, plastic garbage bags, and wire ties make convenient disposal containers. You’ll also want to have a bottle of disinfectant or hand sanitizer for cleanup.


For sanity’s sake, keep a few games and activities in the car for your kids. If you’re traveling with an animal, make sure you plan for your pet’s needs as well, by bringing along its collar, leash, food, carrier, and bowl. Always keep your pet leashed or crated while waiting for assistance; you don’t want to add a lost animal to your worries.
You never know when something’s going to happen to your car: Being properly prepared can ease the pain and reduce the hassle of roadside emergencies. — Brandy A. Schaffels, Motor Matters

Brandy Schaffels

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