Car Breakdown

Car Break Down Smarts

Updated March 1, 2016 . AmFam Team

Take control when your car breaks down with these hints on how to get help, make quick repairs, and get back on the road.

It’s tempting to get frazzled when your car breaks down. Keep these tips in your back pocket — they can help you stay calm and get you rolling again.

Flashers on. If you can, turn on your hazard lights the instant you recognize you have to pull over, especially on a fast-moving highway.

Get your vehicle off the road. Pull as far off the road as is safe and possible.

If you can’t get off the road. Leave your seatbelt on and, at night, turn on your interior lights so other drivers can see you better. You can also use a reflective triangle, flashlight or flares from your Car Emergency Kit to make sure other drivers can see you and avoid an accident. Although it may feel strange to stay in the car, it’s safer than other options.

Call for help. Use your cell phone to pinpoint your location, if possible, and contact the appropriate roadside help.

  • If you already have American Family’s Emergency Roadside Assistance coverage, simply call 1-800-MYAMFAM any time day or night.
  • Most manufacturers provide roadside assistance consistent with their warranty — within 4-5 years of purchase and a certain number of miles.  Check your owner’s manual.
  • If you have another motor club membership, find the number on your card and give them a call.
  • Many states provide roadside assistance. Call the State Highway Patrol’s non-emergency number and they can often help you find the appropriate assistance, if it’s available. Some require you to pay for the service

Stay put. You’re safest when you stay in the car, if possible, with your seatbelt on. In many states, it’s illegal to walk on state highways, so you’ll avoid getting a citation when you stay put.

In a pinch? These hints can help you resolve common signs of car trouble on your own:

  • Flat tire. If you must change a flat tire yourself, you can refer to American Family’s instructions for changing a tire.
  • Overheated radiator. If your radiator is overheating, steam might be coming from your hood already or your vehicle’s temperature gage is near the red on your instrument panel. Immediately turn off your air conditioning and pull off the road. Driving without water in your radiator can permanently damage your engine. Hopefully, you have a gallon of water and coolant in your Car Emergency Kit!  Wait about 30 minutes for the radiator to cool (if you remove the cap when it’s too hot, fluid in the radiator or its steam can burn you), use a towel or cloth to open the radiator cap and add the water (don’t add cold water or you could crack your block). Also check your coolant reservoir and add more if it’s low – it could indicate a leak. You might be able to drive to a service station at that point. If you’re unsure, call for a tow.
  • Brake light indicator. If your brake fluid is low, your brake light indicator will come on. After safely pulling over (preferably far off the roadway) and putting on your hazards, lift your hood and check your brake fluid reservoir. Add fluid if you have it in your Emergency Kit. If not, call for a tow rather than risk fully losing your brakes.
  • Low oil light. When your oil light comes on, stop as soon as you can and add oil. Check your owner’s manual first so you buy the proper formula.

Your owner’s manual will have suggestions for troubleshooting these minor issues, so consult it first.

Your American Family Insurance agent is always ready to provide more information and keep you protected. Contact your agent (Opens in a new tab) to find out more about our Emergency Roadside Assistance coverage. 

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    Eating behind the wheel

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    • Talking on the phone
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    • Putting on makeup
    • Using an app
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