Sometimes even the most diligently maintained vehicles run into problems.
Preparing for unexpected emergencies will help alleviate anxiety in stressful situations and can help keep you safe. Here are some things you can do to prepare for potential car troubles.
Pack an emergency kit
A well-packed emergency kit ensures you have the tools on-hand to assist you in getting help, alerts other drivers to the presence of your vehicle and enables you to cope with basic challenges. Suggested contents for an emergency kit include:
1. First aid kit – Keep a first aid kit in your car at all times. Include items such as antiseptic wound cleanser, various sizes of adhesive bandages, gauze pads, medical tape, safety pins and scissors, tensor bandages, rubber gloves, burn care, aspirin, and any medications you may need. Prepared kits are also sold – be sure to familiarize yourself with the contents and replace any items you may use.
2. Blanket – With variant temperatures and four seasons, having a blanket in your vehicle year-round is a must. If you break down, a blanket can help to keep you warm without having to run your engine (which puts you at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning). A further precaution is to pack a thermal blanket will help contain your body heat.
3. Cell phone – Always fully charge your cell phone before when preparing for a road-trip and make sure to include a spare cell phone charger in your emergency kit. Even a cell phone without a service plan or out-of-service range can be used to call for help in the case of an emergency.
4. Fire extinguisher – Keep as small multipurpose dry chemical fire extinguisher in your trunk – only to be used for small fires that have just ignited (wiring, oil leaks, etc). If your vehicle is on fire, it is safer to move away from the vehicle to a safe distance from the road and the car.
5. Flares – Flares can help to attract attention, identify your location to roadside assistance operators, and warn other drivers of the location of your vehicle – particularly in poor visibility conditions.
6. Flashlight – A waterproof flashlight (in case of inclement weather) can help you see and be seen in the dark.
7. Food and water – Non-perishable foods such as granola or energy bars and drinking water in case you have to wait for assistance.
8. Jumper cables – Jumper cables can help you start your car if you’re experiencing trouble with your battery or charging system. If you are unsure how to use them, call for roadside assistance.
9. List of phone numbers – Keep a list of emergency phone numbers in your kit. Include phone numbers for friends, family and roadside assistance.
10. Paper map – Yes, paper! A GPS isn’t going to help you if you don’t have power or have a weak signal.
11. Reflective warning triangles and vest – Ensure you have at least three triangles. Many prepared emergency kits contain one warning triangle, however it is better to have three that you can place 15 metres apart to warn oncoming traffic. Put on your vest for visibility. Don’t place the triangles if it puts you at risk of being hit by oncoming traffic.
12. Comfortable shoes and socks – Comfortable shoes are a must for changing tires, walking for assistance and even warmth.
13. Umbrella/waterproof jacket – Keep waterproof gear in your car in case you have to exit your car in the rain so you stay warm and dry.
14. Whistle – A whistle can help you attract attention if you’re in trouble.
15. Winter: Add the following items to your emergency kit: a candle in a deep can and matches for light and warmth, road salt and/or kitty litter, a small shovel, a snow brush or ice scraper, extra windshield washer fluid.
Staying Safe at the Side (of the road)
In case of an emergency break down, it’s important to ensure a bad situation doesn’t become dangerous or life-threatening. Knowing what to do can help to navigate the situation safely and calmly.
Pull off the road
At the first sign of trouble, if you can, signal your intent and pull off to the shoulder of the road as soon as you can safely do so. Whether you pull over to the right or left of the road, make sure that you move as far away from traffic as possible and make note of any location markers (e.g. street signs, exit markers, etc.).
If you cannot pull off the road, do not risk injury by attempting to push your car off to the side; simply turn on your hazard lights. If you are on a busy road and are concerned about being hit from behind, leave your car as soon as you can without risk and move to safe spot.
Ensure you and your vehicle are visible
It’s important to make your car visible so that other drivers, roadside assistance operators and/or emergency crews can see you. Turn on your hazard lights and use flares if necessary. In poor weather conditions, you can also tie a brightly coloured item to your antenna or door handle to improve your visibility. Put on your reflective safety vest, and place the reflective triangles in your safety kit 15 metres apart but only if it is safe from oncoming traffic to do so.
Note: Regulations governing the use of hazard light vary by province and territory. Be sure to know your province’s rules on four-way flashers.
Assess the problem
Take note of any unusual sights, sounds or smells from your vehicle and whether your car responded differently (e.g. pulled to one side or hesitated when accelerating). The observations can help roadside assistance and your service technician to identify the problem.
If you have to exit your car to make the assessment, be sure to watch for oncoming traffic and exit from the side of your car furthest from the road. Avoid standing directly in front of or behind your car to avoid being struck by another vehicle on the road.
Call for assistance
Once you are safely off the road, call for help. Be sure to tell responders where you are, what your car looks like, and if there are any special circumstances (e.g. large number of passengers, small children with car seats, unusual/rare vehicle, etc.). Regardless of whether you call 911 or roadside assistance, you should also call a family member or friend to alert them of your situation and location.
A break down can leave you in a vulnerable position, so it’s important to protect yourself. Before leaving, make sure a friend or family member knows where you are going and what time you expect to arrive. If you run into car troubles, here are some things to keep in mind:
If you have to exit your car, do so from the side furthest from the road and be aware of your surroundings. Check for any hazards and make sure that you are visible to other drivers. If it’s dark out, carry a flashlight.
If you stay in your car, keep the windows and doors locked. Do not run your engine for extended periods of time to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning and always keep one window open enough for fresh air.
Keep small children buckled in their seats in the car to prevent them from wandering onto the road.
Tell someone where you are. Call a family member or friend to tell them where you are, what the problem is, and how long you expect to be there.
Be careful who you trust – if you choose to rely on a fellow motorist, ask him/her for identification and tell someone who they are, where you are going with them, and when how long you expect to be away.
Though you may not often encounter car troubles, having a roadside assistance plan gives you peace of mind and can help you out in tough situations.
Today, you have more options than ever before when it comes to roadside assistance. Many automobile associations, insurers, dealerships, automotive service providers, and major banks offer some form of roadside assistance program. If you have a newer vehicle, check to see if roadside assistance is included in your warranty. If it isn’t or you have an older vehicle, do your research and find a program that works for you and your budget.
Peace of mind
Diligently maintaining your vehicle can help you prevent car troubles and break downs, but it’s always good to be prepared for the worst. With your new well-packed emergency tool kit on board, your roadside assistance as insurance and your new know-how, you’re ready to hit the roads and are prepared for any bumps along the way!