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How to Handle a Breakdown

Before you head out, visit WSDOT’s website for the latest road conditions in Washington.

If Your Vehicle Breaks Down

You can do many things to be a safe driver, but it’s almost inevitable that at some point you’ll have trouble with your vehicle. This is where a little preparation can be helpful in stress-filled and potentially dangerous situations.

Start by carrying an emergency driving kit in your vehicle, and conducting periodic driving checks. You can take your vehicle to any AAA Approved Auto Repair facility, or if you’re a DIYer, refer to this Car Care Checklist as a guide.

If your vehicle breaks down, your first consideration should be to get your vehicle to a safe location. If you are unable to do so, dial 911 for immediate help.

  • Pull off the road
    Put on your emergency flashers and exit onto the far right shoulder, as far off the road as possible. If on a multi-lane highway with medians, the left shoulder can also be used if there is ample room and you can’t get to the right shoulder.If you get out of your vehicle, watch for vehicles driving near you, especially when visibility is limited. Never stand directly behind or in front of your vehicle—other drivers may have trouble seeing you and strike you or the vehicle.
  • If you cannot pull off the road
    Switch on your emergency flashers. Do not risk personal injury by pushing it to a safe location. If you cannot get the vehicle to a location away from traffic, or you’re uncertain about your safety, you must decide if it’s safe to exit the vehicle and get to a place of safety.
  • Flat tire
    Signal, gradually slow down and pull onto the shoulder of the road.
  • Run out of gas
    If you run out of gas or your engine stops, switch on your emergency flashers, carefully steer your vehicle out of traffic and let momentum get you to a safe place, and avoid using the brakes until necessary.
  • Alert other motorists
    Switch on your emergency flashers, raise your vehicle’s hood. Place flares or warning triangles to direct oncoming traffic away from your vehicle. Place the first flare 10 feet behind the side of the vehicle closest to the road. Place the second 100 feet behind the vehicle, lining up with the middle of the bumper. If you see of smell leaking fuel, do not ignite flares or use anything with a flame.

Once you’re safe, follow these suggestions and guidelines:

  • Note your location
    While most smartphones are GPS enabled, be aware of your surroundings. If possible, stay in well-lit areas, noting any landmarks, highway exit numbers, mile markers or cross streets.
  • Assess the problem
    Be aware of warning signs such as steering problems, unusual noises or smoke coming from under the hood.
  • Communicate your situation
    Once you and your passengers are safe, notify others of your breakdown by calling for help. AAA members can call 1-800-AAA-HELP, and non-members can sign up and request limited service at the time of breakdown.
  • Remain with your vehicle
    Under most circumstances, if you’re able to pull away from traffic, it’s safest to remain inside your vehicle until help arrives. That being said:
    • Always be mindful of your surroundings and carry a flashlight.
    • To avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, don’t leave the engine on for extended periods to heat or cool your vehicle.
    • If you leave the vehicle, exist safely through the side facing away from the road.
    • If help is within walking distance and it’s safe to leave your vehicle or passengers, place a note on the dashboard listing where you’re going and the time you left.
    • Keep the windows almost closed and doors locked. If a stranger offers to help, ask them to call for emergency road assistance.
    • If there is no other alternative, you may need to rely on the help of an unfamiliar person. Should this occur, ask for identification including name, phone number and address before accepting assistance. Leave this information with another person or in the vehicle, explaining where you’re going, when you expect to return, and what you hope to accomplish.
    • If you’re threatened or harassed while waiting in your car, honk the horn repeatedly and flash the headlights to attract attention and dial 911 for help.
  • What to tell emergency service operators or repair garage
    Have the following information ready: your AAA membership number or insurance information, phone number, location, vehicle description, license plate number and fuel type used. Describe your location, the nature of the problem and any unusual circumstances such as special needs for an unusual vehicle. Tell them your preferred repair shop or have them recommend a nearby AAA Approved Auto Repair facility.
  • Emergency road services
    AAA roadside technicians can provide fuel, change tires, boost batteries, and employ basic roadside techniques to get the vehicle going. If the breakdown is due to more severe problems, the vehicle may need to be towed to a place of repair.
  • Determine your wait time
    Your service provider should give you an estimated time of arrival. If you feel unsafe, make sure the dispatcher is aware of your concern.
  • When help arrives
    Remain calm and cooperative. Verify the name of the garage where they are from. AAA service personnel should display an approved AAA emblem on their vehicle and produce identification. Do not help the service representative unless they ask for assistance, plan to ride along with them in their vehicle.
  • Know your rights and responsibilities
    It’s your responsibility to understand what services your emergency road service or insurance policy will cover and pay for repairs made to your vehicle. If you call AAA but are not a member, you may get limited services when signing up during a breakdown. Always get a receipt.

In conclusion, preparation can enhance your personal safety during a breakdown, but good vehicle maintenance can prevent ever needing to use this information.

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