Header Notice

Winter is here! Check out the winter wonderlands at these 5 amazing winter destinations in Montana

What To Do If Your Car Breaks Down On A Road Trip


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Anatola Garrett



Going on a road trip can be an exciting adventure filled with endless possibilities and beautiful sights. However, unexpected mishaps can occur along the way, such as a car breakdown. Suddenly finding yourself stranded on the side of the road can be stressful, especially if you’re in an unfamiliar location.


It’s crucial to be prepared and know what to do if your car breaks down during a road trip. Taking the right steps can help ensure your safety and the prompt resolution of the situation. This article will guide you through the necessary actions to take if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation.


Whether it’s a flat tire, engine trouble, or any other mechanical issue, following a few simple steps can make a big difference in how smoothly the situation is resolved. With patience, preparedness, and a calm mindset, you can handle the situation with confidence and minimize any disruptions to your road trip enjoyment.


In this guide, we will walk you through each step of what to do if your car breaks down on a road trip, ensuring you stay safe and get back on the road as quickly as possible.


Step 1: Safely pull over to the side of the road

The moment you realize your car is experiencing trouble, the first step is to safely maneuver your vehicle to the side of the road. It’s important to find a spot where you are out of the way of traffic and have enough space to park your vehicle safely.


Begin by activating your hazard lights to alert other drivers that there is an issue with your vehicle. This will help increase visibility and reduce the risk of accidents. Slow down gradually and indicate your intention to pull over by using your turn signal.


Try to find a wide shoulder, emergency stopping lane, or an exit ramp where you can safely park your vehicle. If you’re on a highway, it’s best to pull over to the right side of the road as far away from traffic as possible. In case you’re on a busy city street, move to the nearest safe location, such as a side street or parking lot.


While pulling over, keep in mind not to make any sudden movements that could startle other drivers or put yourself at risk. Maintain a steady speed and be aware of your surroundings. Once you have safely parked your vehicle, shift it into park or engage the parking brake to prevent any rolling.


Remember, safety is paramount during this step. Choosing a safe spot to park your car and properly signaling your intentions will help ensure your well-being, as well as the safety of other motorists on the road.


Step 2: Turn on hazard lights

Once you have safely pulled over to the side of the road, the next crucial step is to turn on your hazard lights. Hazard lights, also known as emergency flashers, are designed to warn other drivers of your vehicle’s presence and indicate that there’s an issue or potential danger.


Activating your hazard lights serves two important purposes. First, it increases the visibility of your vehicle, making it easier for other drivers to spot you. This is particularly crucial during low-light conditions, heavy traffic, or inclement weather.


Secondly, turning on your hazard lights signals to other drivers that you are experiencing a problem and may require assistance. This can help prevent potential collisions or misunderstandings on the road, ensuring that other motorists exercise caution when passing by your stationary vehicle.


When turning on your hazard lights, locate the hazard light button or switch on your dashboard. Typically, it is represented by a red triangle symbol. Press the button or flip the switch to activate the hazard lights.


It’s important to note that in some jurisdictions, it may be required by law to have hazard lights on while your car is parked on the side of the road. However, be mindful of the specific regulations in the area where you are stranded.


Leaving your hazard lights on while waiting for assistance will help to maintain the visibility and safety of your vehicle. It’s a simple yet effective precaution that ensures other drivers are aware of the situation and can proceed with caution when passing by your stranded vehicle.


Step 3: Assess the situation

Once you have safely parked your vehicle and turned on your hazard lights, it’s time to assess the situation and determine the extent of the issue. By understanding the problem, you will be better equipped to take appropriate action and communicate effectively with roadside assistance or repair services.


Start by taking a moment to observe and listen to your car. Try to identify any unusual sounds, smells, or visual cues that can help pinpoint the problem. Is there smoke coming from the engine? Are there any warning lights illuminated on your dashboard? Taking note of these details will assist in troubleshooting and relaying accurate information to the professionals.


Depending on your level of automotive knowledge and comfort, you may also consider performing a basic assessment of your vehicle. Open the hood and check for any visible signs of damage, leaks, or loose connections. If you’re familiar with the inner workings of your car, you can attempt to identify common issues, such as a flat tire or a dead battery.


However, it’s essential to prioritize your safety at all times. Avoid attempting any repairs or interventions that are beyond your expertise. Doing so may exacerbate the problem or put you in harm’s way.


As you assess the situation, take note of your surroundings as well. Are you in a location that feels safe and secure? Are there any identifiable landmarks or street signs that can assist in describing your location to the roadside assistance or repair service? Having these details ready will facilitate the process of getting help.


Remember, the purpose of this step is to gather as much information as possible about the issue and your surroundings. This will enable you to provide accurate details when communicating with professionals and expedite the resolution of your car trouble.


Step 4: Call for roadside assistance

After assessing the situation and understanding the extent of the car trouble, it’s time to reach out for professional help by calling roadside assistance. Roadside assistance services specialize in providing immediate support to drivers who experience issues like breakdowns, flat tires, or lockouts.


If you have a membership with an automobile club or have roadside assistance coverage through your insurance provider, you likely have access to a dedicated hotline or helpline. Look for the contact information, usually found on your membership card or in your insurance policy documents.


Using your cell phone or a nearby phone, make the call and provide the necessary details. Be prepared to provide information such as your location, the nature of the problem, and any additional relevant information you gathered during the assessment in the previous step.


When speaking with the roadside assistance representative, make sure to clearly explain the situation and any specific requirements you may have. For example, if your car needs to be towed or if you require a particular type of assistance, communicate this information so that the appropriate help can be dispatched.


If you don’t have access to a dedicated roadside assistance service, you can still call a local tow truck company or garage for assistance. They will likely provide towing services to a nearby trusted repair facility.


Once you have made the call, be prepared to wait for assistance to arrive. The estimated wait time will vary depending on your location and the availability of service providers. Use this time to stay safe and follow the next steps while you wait for help to arrive.


Taking the initiative to call for roadside assistance will not only provide the necessary help for your situation but also alleviate some of the stress associated with a car breakdown. Rest assured that help is on the way, and you’re one step closer to getting back on the road again.


Step 5: Follow safety precautions while waiting

While waiting for roadside assistance to arrive, it’s important to prioritize your safety and take precautions to ensure you’re not at risk of any further harm. Here are some essential safety measures to follow:


1. Stay inside your vehicle: Unless there is an immediate danger, it’s generally safer to stay inside your car while waiting for assistance. Being inside provides protection from traffic and adverse weather conditions.


2. Keep your doors locked: Locking your doors adds an extra layer of security. This helps prevent unauthorized individuals from entering your vehicle and also deters potential thieves.


3. Use caution when interacting with strangers: While it’s natural to feel vulnerable in a roadside situation, exercise caution when approached by strangers offering help. It’s always best to wait for the roadside assistance professionals to arrive before accepting assistance from anyone else.


4. If it’s safe, exit the vehicle away from traffic: In some cases, it might be necessary to exit the vehicle, especially if you’re in a dangerous location. If this is the case, carefully exit the vehicle and move to a safe area away from traffic and the road’s edge.


5. Do not leave valuables unattended: If you need to leave your vehicle, remember to take any valuable items with you or ensure they are hidden and secure. This reduces the risk of theft or break-ins.


6. Remain visible: To ensure your vehicle is easily visible, keep your hazard lights on and raise the vehicle’s hood if it’s safe to do so. This helps roadside assistance and other drivers easily spot your stranded vehicle.


7. Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings: Continuously scan your surroundings and remain vigilant. Keep an eye out for any potential hazards or approaching assistance vehicles.


By following these safety precautions, you can minimize risks and stay protected while awaiting roadside assistance. Remember, your well-being is of utmost importance, so prioritize personal safety at all times.


Step 6: Stay with your vehicle

While waiting for roadside assistance, it’s crucial to stay with your vehicle rather than venturing off on your own. Here’s why staying with your vehicle is important:


1. Safety and security: Your vehicle provides a level of safety and security, especially if you’re stranded in an unfamiliar area. Being inside your car offers protection from potential risks and ensures that you have a sheltered space.


2. Assistance identification: When roadside assistance or a towing service arrives, they will easily spot your vehicle if you’re present. It also facilitates the process of confirming their identity and ensuring that you’re receiving help from the right professionals.


3. Preventing vehicle theft: Leaving your vehicle unattended, even for a short period, increases the risk of theft or vandalism. By staying with your car, you actively reduce the chances of unauthorized access or damage to your vehicle.


4. Updates from roadside assistance: Staying with your vehicle allows you to communicate easily with the roadside assistance provider. They might need to provide updates on their estimated time of arrival or ask for additional information about your situation. Being in close proximity to your vehicle ensures a smooth and efficient flow of communication.


5. Access to belongings: If you need access to any personal items or essential belongings, such as your phone charger, snacks, or water, staying with your vehicle ensures you have everything you need within reach.


6. Assistance coordination: In some cases, roadside assistance may require you to be present during the towing process or when they need to access certain parts of your vehicle. By staying with your car, you can facilitate coordination and ensure a seamless resolution of your car trouble.


Remember, staying with your vehicle is not only safer but also helps expedite the assistance process. It ensures smooth communication, security, and minimizes potential risks associated with leaving your vehicle unattended.


Step 7: Stay calm and be patient

Experiencing a car breakdown during a road trip can be stressful and frustrating. However, it’s important to stay calm and maintain patience throughout the process. Here’s why this step is crucial:


1. Emotional well-being: Keeping a calm and composed mindset helps you stay focused and make rational decisions. Panic or frustration can cloud judgment and hinder your ability to handle the situation effectively.


2. Decreased stress: Stressing over the situation won’t change the circumstances. Instead, try to accept the reality and focus on the steps you need to take to resolve the issue. Remaining calm will help alleviate unnecessary stress during an already challenging time.


3. Assist professionals: Roadside assistance professionals are trained to handle various car troubles efficiently. By being patient, you allow them the time needed to assess, diagnose, and resolve the problem properly. Rushing or pressuring them may result in incomplete or ineffective repairs.


4. Priority on safety: Rushing into a hasty solution or making impulsive decisions can compromise your safety and potentially worsen the situation. Being patient enables you to assess risks carefully and take appropriate actions to prioritize your well-being.


5. Time for resolution: Some car issues may take longer to resolve, especially if it requires parts or additional expertise. Patience allows the professionals to work diligently towards resolving the problem without unnecessary interruptions or distractions.


6. Maintaining a positive mindset: While a car breakdown can be inconvenient, it’s essential to stay positive. Remember that setbacks happen, and they are often temporary. Maintaining a positive outlook can help you get through the situation with resilience and optimism.


7. Appreciating the journey: Road trips are about more than just reaching the destination. Embrace the opportunity to explore and make the most of unexpected situations. Use this time to appreciate the scenery, engage in conversation with fellow travelers, or enjoy the chance to relax and take a break.


By staying calm and patient, you can navigate through the challenges of a car breakdown more effectively. Embracing a positive mindset and focusing on the process will ensure a smoother experience and allow you to make the most out of your road trip, despite the temporary setback.


Step 8: Communicate with towing or repair service

In the event of a car breakdown, effectively communicating with the towing or repair service is critical for a smooth resolution. Here’s how to communicate with them:


1. Provide accurate information: When calling the towing or repair service, ensure that you provide them with accurate details about your location, the nature of the problem, and any observations you made during the assessment of your vehicle. Clear and concise information helps them understand the situation and dispatch the appropriate assistance.


2. Be responsive: As the towing or repair service gathers information, be responsive to any questions they may have. Answer promptly and provide any additional details they require to assess the situation accurately.


3. Follow instructions: The towing or repair service professionals may provide instructions or advice on what to do while they are en route or during their arrival. Listen carefully and follow their instructions to ensure a smooth and safe process.


4. Communicate concerns or special requirements: If you have any specific concerns about your vehicle, such as delicate cargo or any additional factors that may impact the recovery or repair process, communicate these details to the towing or repair service. This helps them tailor their approach to meet your needs effectively.


5. Ask for updates: If there is a delay in the estimated time of arrival or if you haven’t received any updates, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for an update on the progress. Having a clear timeframe can help you manage your expectations and plan accordingly.


6. Request cost estimates: If your car needs to be towed to a repair shop, inquire about the estimated cost of the towing service and any other fees involved. Understanding the potential expenses in advance can help you make informed decisions regarding your vehicle’s repair.


7. Keep your contact information accessible: Ensure your contact information is easily accessible to the towing or repair service and provide an additional number where you can be reached if necessary.


Effective communication with the towing or repair service ensures that they have all the necessary information to assist you in the most efficient and appropriate manner. Maintaining clear and open lines of communication will help resolve your car trouble as smoothly as possible.


Step 9: Arrange alternate transportation if needed

In some cases, your car may require extensive repairs, and it may not be feasible to wait for the repairs to be completed before continuing your journey. If that’s the case, you’ll need to arrange for alternate transportation to ensure you can continue your road trip. Here’s how to go about it:


1. Explore rental car options: Contact local rental car agencies to inquire about availability and rates. Depending on the location, you can often find rental car agencies near popular tourist destinations or major transportation hubs. Consider your budget, the duration of the rental needed, and any specific requirements you may have.


2. Utilize ride-sharing services: App-based ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft are widely available in many areas. They offer convenient and on-demand transportation options. Simply install the app on your smartphone, enter your pickup and destination locations, and request a ride.


3. Consider public transportation: Research the local public transportation options, such as buses or trains, in the area where you’re stranded. Public transportation can provide an affordable and convenient way to reach your destination or a nearby car rental agency.


4. Seek assistance from friends or family: If you have friends or family in the area or nearby, consider reaching out to them for assistance. They may be able to provide you with a temporary ride, lend you a vehicle, or help you with transportation arrangements.


5. Contact your travel insurance provider: If you have travel insurance, check whether it covers alternative transportation arrangements in the event of a car breakdown. Contact your insurance provider to explore your options and understand any requirements or limitations.


6. Plan your route and transportation logistics: Once you’ve arranged for alternate transportation, make sure to plan your route and adjust your travel itinerary accordingly. Consider the additional time needed for transportation logistics and factor in any changes or delays in reaching your intended destinations.


7. Stay organized: Keep all necessary documents, such as rental car agreements or transportation receipts, in a secure place while you continue your road trip. This will help with any potential reimbursement or insurance claims related to the alternate transportation expenses.


Remember, arranging alternate transportation may require some last-minute adjustments to your road trip plans, but it ensures that you can continue your journey and make the most of your travel experience despite the car breakdown. Stay flexible, remain positive, and embrace the opportunity to explore new avenues along the way.


Step 10: Take preventive measures for future road trips

Experiencing a car breakdown during a road trip can be a hassle, but there are preventive measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of it happening in the future. Here are some tips to help you prepare for smooth road trips:


1. Regular vehicle maintenance: Prioritize regular maintenance for your vehicle, including oil changes, tire rotations, and inspections. This can help identify and address potential issues before they escalate and cause a breakdown.


2. Check tires before every trip: Inspect your tires for proper inflation, tread wear, and signs of damage. Make sure to have a spare tire and necessary tools in case of a flat tire during your journey.


3. Inspect your battery: A weak or old battery can lead to unexpected car troubles. Have your battery tested periodically and replaced if necessary. Keep jumper cables in your vehicle in case of a dead battery.


4. Carry a basic emergency kit: Equip your vehicle with a basic emergency kit containing items such as a flashlight, jumper cables, a first aid kit, a reflective vest, and a roadside emergency triangle. These items can come in handy in various emergency situations.


5. Have a roadside assistance plan: Consider enrolling in a roadside assistance program or reviewing your current coverage. Having a reliable assistance service can provide peace of mind and quick support in case of a breakdown.


6. Plan your route and research: Before embarking on a road trip, plan your route and research the areas you’ll be passing through. Identify potential rest stops, gas stations, and repair facilities along the way to ensure you’re prepared for any unforeseen circumstances.


7. Monitor weather and road conditions: Stay updated on weather forecasts and road conditions, especially if you’re traveling in areas prone to inclement weather or construction. Adjust your plans if needed to avoid potentially hazardous situations.


8. Share your itinerary: Inform a trusted friend or family member about your travel plans, including your route and estimated time of arrival. This way, someone is aware of your whereabouts and can assist if needed.


9. Maintain communication and navigation devices: Ensure your cell phone is fully charged, and carry a car charger. Consider having a GPS device or a reliable navigation app to help you stay on track during your journey.


10. Remain attentive and alert: Stay focused while driving, avoid distractions, and obey traffic laws. Being mindful of your surroundings can help prevent accidents and minimize the chances of encountering road troubles.


By incorporating these preventive measures into your road trip preparations, you can significantly reduce the chances of experiencing a car breakdown on your future journeys. Remember, a little planning and precaution can go a long way in ensuring a smooth and enjoyable road trip experience.



Experiencing a car breakdown during a road trip can be a challenging and frustrating ordeal. However, by following the steps outlined in this guide, you can navigate through the situation with confidence and minimize disruptions to your travel plans. Safely pulling over to the side of the road, turning on hazard lights, and assessing the situation are crucial initial steps. Calling for roadside assistance and patiently waiting while following safety precautions are essential for a smooth resolution. Remember to stay with your vehicle, communicate effectively with towing or repair services, and arrange alternate transportation if needed. Finally, taking preventive measures for future road trips can reduce the chances of encountering car troubles in the first place.


When faced with a car breakdown on a road trip, staying calm, keeping a positive mindset, and prioritizing safety are key. Utilize the resources available to you, such as roadside assistance services, rental car agencies, or public transportation, to ensure you can continue your journey without major disruptions.


Remember, road trips are meant to be an adventure, and unexpected challenges are a part of the journey. Embrace the opportunity to explore new areas, engage with locals, and make lasting memories. By being prepared and knowing how to handle a car breakdown, you can turn a potentially stressful situation into an experience of resilience and adaptability.


So, pack your bags, hit the road, and enjoy the freedom and beauty of a road trip, knowing that you’re equipped with the knowledge to handle any car trouble that comes your way.