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The Ultimate Guide to Emergency Roadside Safety & Assistance

With so many people driving vehicles in today’s day and age, there is a good chance that you will experience an accident or be involved in some roadside emergency, such as, a flat tire, dead battery, overheated radiator, or engine problems that will force you off the road for repairs or towing services. This is a potentially dangerous situation, which, without keeping safety in mind for yourself and others with you, could get you injured or killed.

Even though an emergency situation or accident is not completely preventable, you can prepare your vehicle and yourself ahead of time before traveling to reduce or eliminate an incident from happening. There are two things that you will need to do to arrive safely at your destination, which we will detail now:

Table of Contents

Man broke down on side of road

Preparing For A Roadside Emergency or Breakdown

Prepare Your Vehicle

In order for your vehicle to get you to where you need and want to go, it is important to maintain your vehicle. The alternative is that you will experience an emergency and un-necessary frustration. In a worse case scenario, your disabled vehicle could cause an accident and you or your passengers could get injured. The following list will get you started on the right track to keeping your motor vehicle well maintained.

  1. Periodic Safety Checks – It’s a good idea to check your vehicle on a regular basis to be sure everything is in good operating condition. Typically, a safety check will include looking at your tires, belts, hoses, lights, windshield wipers and fluids.
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  3. Safety Inspection – Some auto repair shops will do a safety inspection for you if you are having other work performed. Establish a relationship with your repair facility. They should see your vehicle no less than twice a year and should be doing safety inspections along with your regular maintenance.
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  5. Vehicle Owners Manual – In order for you discern whether your vehicle is operating properly, fully read the owners’ manual of your vehicle and become familiar with the warning lights or signals and what you should do in each of those situations. If you don’t have an owner’s manual, you can call your dealer or do a search for it online. A good place to start online would be eBay.
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  7. Check Charging System – Before going on a long trip or each change of the season, take your vehicle to your local auto repair shop to get the charging system checked. They will be able to tell you how much life is left in your battery and recognize any system repairs.
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  9. Emergency/Safety Equipment – It is important to familiarize yourself on how to use emergency tools and safety equipment. This could include flares, scissor or hydraulic jack, fire extinguisher, tire gauge, jumper cables, etc. Practice using these at home or in a safe place before you have to use them in an emergency situation.Also, be sure your spare tire, if you have one, is properly inflated and the hoist (if available) is properly lubed and raised up and down periodically.
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  11. Emergency Contacts – Since most people today have a mobile phone, you should know how to use it. But, if you don’t, learn how to use your phone to call for assistance. Program into your phone 810-664-8811 with other emergency contacts and keep a list on paper as well – just in case you can’t use or you lost your mobile phone.
 
The next step in preparation and prevention is making sure you are ready to go when you are planning to travel, or go on a trip.

Prepare Yourself

Now, just because your vehicle is being well maintained, doesn’t mean that you are prepared and ready. Below we have listed out some things you can do to be better prepared when traveling or just out on the road:

  1. Plan Your Route – Plan and know where you’re going. Print out directions from Google Maps or get a triptik. Let family or friends know where you are going and call them when you get there.
     
  2. Be Aware of the Weather – Take a look at what the weather will be like during your travels to be alert to any adverse conditions while driving.
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  4. Construction – Similar to weather above, check your GPS, Google Maps or another provider to see if there are any construction or other hazards between you and your destination.
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  6. Traffic Patterns – Depending on the time of day you are going to be traveling, the traffic patterns will differ. Be alert to those patterns in your area so you are not traveling during rush hour or during a big event.
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  8. Minimize Distractions – The most important factor in driving is focus, so it is best to minimize talking with other people, playing loud music, texting or speaking on the phone or anything else that may distract you from getting to your destination safely and un-harmed.
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  10. Emergency Vehicles – Be mindful of police vehicles, fire trucks, ambulances or tow trucks that may require the right of way at any time. This is one reason why minimizing distractions is important as it allows you to be aware of what is happening in front and around you. In Michigan, we have what’s called a “emergency vehicle caution” or “move over” law. It was enacted to protect police, medical, fire fighters and tow truck drivers rendering assistance for emergency or accidents.
     
    B / A Products dedicated an awareness media piece to towers everywhere with the end goal to prevent a towing accident from happening in the first place and to make motorists aware of the move over laws. You can click this link to watch the video.

     

    Over the last couple of years there have been several deaths and injuries to tow truck operators in Michigan, so it would behoove us all to be aware and alert of those who are out on the roads to assist and help so that others don’t get hurt or killed.

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  12. Driving Don’ts – To be aware and alert while driving, it is imperative that you do not drive while you are tired, fatigued, emotional or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. At the minimum, you could have your license suspended, vehicle impounded or the worse case, you could end up injuring or killing yourself or others.
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  14. Safety – To keep yourself and other passengers safe, be sure you and they are buckled and secure, particularly infants and small children.
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  16. Defensive Driving – Even if you are an experienced driver, you may want to consider taking a refresher course in defensive driving. You can find these classes by searching online or checking with your auto club for more information.

Two Basic Types of Roadside Breakdowns

Now that you have your vehicle and yourself prepared for traveling on the roads, let us take a look at the two most common types of roadside breakdowns that you could experience. Please be aware that we are not trying to cover every type of situation that could happen. What we will cover is the most common ones amongst the two roadside emergency types. Let us begin…

I. Accidents

Roadside Emergency Accident

Auto accidents are the number one roadside emergency in which motorists will find themselves. This is where you or another vehicle have collided or “crashed” into one another while driving on the ROADWAY. A number of circumstances can cause this type of incident and the damage could range from minimal to disastrous. Unfortunately, this type of breakdown cannot be predicted, so the best advice we can give you, is to read through the Prepare Yourself list, drive responsibly and if you do end up in or causing an accident, stay calm and don’t panic.

II. Breakdowns

Roadside Emergency Breakdown

The reasons that motorists need help along the roadway are as numerous as the parts on your vehicle (ok, maybe not that many). But the nine specific car problems listed below make up the bulk of the roadside assistance calls.

  1. Dead Battery – In general, your auto battery should last between three and five years. If your vehicles battery is over three years old, have it checked by an auto mechanic to make sure it still has some good life. For batteries newer, have it checked while at your safety inspection or before traveling. Some of the reasons your battery can fail are bad cell(s) in battery, corroded terminals, old age and won’t hold a charge, leaving accessories on (lights, radio, etc.) and then having to jump the battery and alternator not recharging the battery.
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  3. Lockouts – The best way to prevent yourself from being locked out of your car is to invest in some spare keys. Be sure to store them outside of your vehicle, such as, your home, office or with a family member.
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  5. Engine Trouble – This is a broader topic within this list as there could be multiple things that can cause engine problems. Some of the common ones are a broken hose, alternator, fuel pump/filter or a belt breaking. If you are keeping up on your maintenance you should be able to catch these to prevent problems on the road.
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  7. Flat Tire/Blowout – It is very important to keep your tires properly inflated, clear of foreign objects (nails, screws, rocks, etc.) rotated and when the tread gets below an eighth of an inch, it’s time to change them. It’s best to check your tires on a weekly basis. Also, be sure you have a spare tire or donut, and the tools needed to change your flat tire (Many of the newer vehicles no longer have a spare tire.)
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  9. Brake Troubles – Being able to stop your vehicle is a crucial aspect when driving. When braking, if you feel pulling to one side, the pedal going to the floor, a pedal too soft or spongey, squeaking or grinding, then get your brake system checked. For regular maintenance, get your brakes and rotors checked every two years and have your brake fluid replaced every two to three years. Check your owner’s manual for specifics to your vehicle.
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  11. Transmission Problems – It may not be as easy to spot a transmission problem in today’s more modern and computerized vehicles which have sensors or engine control software, but keep an ear out for any slipping or clunking when driving, as well as, listen for “slamming” when moving your shifter into one of the gears. To prevent having a transmission problem, have your fluids checked during your routine maintenance or before going on a long trip.
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  13. Running Out of Gas – This one is more common sense than a problem with your car. By keeping a good eye on your fuel gauge you will not run out of gas. But, if you are in a situation where your low fuel light comes on, get your gas topped off as quickly as you can. As a backup, carry an empty, dry, fuel container in the case you do end up running out of fuel.
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  15. Overheating – If your car is too hot and steam is coming from your hood, then there could be several issues causing this to happen. First, your thermostat could be stuck in the closed position. Second, there could be a leak in your cooling system. Third, the water pump could be faulty. Fourth, a bad cooling fan, and Fifth, the radiator could be clogged. If you are experience trouble with overheating, take your vehicle to an experienced repair shop to have it serviced. Most engines today have aluminum cylinder heads and will NOT withstand being overheated and driven for very long at all without causing further more expensive damage. Our recommendations are to get to a safe place immediately and shut the car off until it has cooled down to inspect fluids. When in doubt have it towed.
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  17. No Start – If your engine won’t crank over (i.e. start), it could be for several reasons, such as, starter motor relay failure, defective fuel pump, clogged fuel filter, ignition switch failure, corroded or loose battery cables or low or discharged battery.
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Now that you have become more knowledgeable in the two major roadside emergencies, it is time to cover what to do if you end up in an accident or on the side of the road needing help. Since it is near impossible to predict or prepare for all circumstances, we will be covering some suggestions and general guidelines for each case.

What To Do When You Are Involved In An Accident

Car Accident Checklist Lapeer MI

Step 1: Check for Injuries

Check to see if anyone involved in the accident has been injured or seriously hurt. If so, call 9-1-1 right away! Under no circumstances move any individual unless in the case of fire or instructed to do so by roadside emergency personnel.

Step 2: Your Location

Write down the street address, nearest mile marker, billboard or other landmarks as your insurance and emergency providers will need this information.

Step 3: Accident Scene

Draw out a sketch of the accident scene and detail skid marks, damage to vehicles, weather conditions and any other details pertinent to the situation. It may help to take photos of the damage on the vehicles for reference.

Step 4: Witnesses

If you noticed anyone witness the accident go speak with them and get their name, address, phone and account of the accident.

Step 5: Fault

It is important not to admit to being the one at fault for the accident. Let the evidence, witnesses and other information determine the final outcome of who caused the accident.

Step 6: Police Report

Before you leave the scene of the accident, ask the police officer for a copy of the police report or find out how to obtain a copy of it.

Step 7: Insurance

You will need to contact your insurance company and report the accident. This is required under your contract with the insurance company, even if you choose not to file a claim.

Step 8: Towing Service

In some locations, and under certain situations, the police will allow you to request your preferred towing company. Otherwise, the police will contact their rotation or contracted towing service.

Step 9: File Claim

When you are safely back home, calmed down, contact your insurance provider and file a claim.

What To Do When You Are Involved In A Roadside Emergency

Car Breakdown Checklist Lapeer MI

Step 1: Pull Over

The first thing to do when encountering an roadside emergency situation on the road is to pull as far off to the right side of the road as you can away from oncoming traffic. Get your vehicle to as level ground as possible. If you cannot pull off the road to the shoulder due to the vehicle becoming inoperable, then put your emergency flashers on to help on-coming traffic be alerted to your situation. Don’t try to push your vehicle to the side of the road if you end up getting stuck in a further lane away from the shoulder. It would be best to stay in your vehicle until emergency assistance arrives. If you are concerned for your safety, then get out of the vehicle and move to a safer location.

Step 2: Your Location

While driving be aware of your surroundings. Knowing landmarks, mile markers, the major intersection, rest area or cross street will come in handy when you have to communicate with those who may be assisting you.

Step 3: Assess

When you are traveling, keep your eyes and ears open for signs of possible trouble. Look for smoke or steam coming from the hood area, unusual noises, or steering problems. If you discern that something is wrong, don’t panic. Put your blinker on, gradually slow your vehicle and pull over to the shoulder.

Step 4: Get Visible

Since you are having an emergency situation and vehicles are clipping by you at a high rate of speed, it is important to make yourself visible to them. The best thing you can do is:
– Turn your emergency flashers on and stay inside your vehicle and contact professional help.

Step 5: Notify Others

Once you and/or your passengers are in a safe location, notify others of your breakdown. If you have a mobile phone on you, contact your auto club provider and give them the information needed to have assistance come out to you. Let them know if you need other providers, such as, a towing service or medical help.

Being that we are in a technology world, and realizing that most people have some kind of “smart” phone or mobile device, we recommend the following:

Use your “smart” phone or mobile device and Google the towing company in the area that you are broken down in and find one that has the best reviews. Or, contact your preferred towing service and ask them who they recommend. Most decent towing companies network together and will help each other out.

Step 6: Stay In Vehicle

Under most circumstances, as long as you are safely on the side of the road, it is best to remain in your vehicle until a law enforcement officer or service provider arrives. While staying in your vehicle, keep your windows mostly closed and your doors locked. If a stranger attempts to help you, it is best to not open your doors or windows but ask them to call for roadside emergency service for you if you have not already. If you choose to exit your motor vehicle, do it safely and use the doors that are facing away from the road.

Step 7: Emergency Service

Now that emergency assistance or help is on the way, here is what you can expect from them when they get there:

Light Duty Road Service: This would include, in most areas, a jump start, tire change with a good spare, lock out, and winch outs. Anything outside of these require a tow to a safe secure location quickly. In most cases a tire change on a busy freeway will require a tow to a safer location to perform the service where both you and the service provider will not be at risk from distracted drivers.

Towing Company: If your vehicle has more severe problems which the basic service provider can’t help with, a tow truck driver will come out and have your vehicle towed to wherever you want it. In a lot of cases, if repairs are needed, the towing service can provide repair to get you back on the road safely.

Your wait time for help may range between a few minutes to or as long a several hours. The provider should be able to tell you what their estimated arrival time will be. If you feel that you are in an unsafe area, make sure the dispatcher is aware of your concern.

Here is the information you should have available when the provider for roadside emergency arrives:

  1. If it’s your auto club arriving, have your membership card or insurance information at the ready
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  3. Your phone number where you can be reached. Be sure you are going to be able to answer your phone when you contact your motor club or insurance provider. They are just passing along your information to a towing company and they most always will need more or better information from you.
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  5. Exact address, locatio or nearest intersection
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  7. Make, model, year, color of your vehicle, and whether you have an all-wheel or 4-wheel drive vehicle.
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  9. License plate number
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  11. Give a thorough explanation of the problem and include any other circumstances that may require special accommodations or requirements, such as, a large group of people, infants, or medical needs.Keep in mind, most tow trucks can not handle more than 3 passengers as everyone needs to be seat belted in. A taxi service may be required.
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It is important for you to remain calm and collected when your roadside emergency service provider arrives. They are well trained for most situations that occur. Some things you can do to be sure the provider is the one you called:

  1. For auto club members, check the vehicle for the company’s emblem or have them provide identification.
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  3. Verify that the service provider or repair garage is the correct one.
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  5. Under no circumstances help the service provider unless they ask. The person helping will do their best to get you off the roadside as quickly and as safely as possible.
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  7. If you are riding back with the service provider, you can do that in the emergency vehicle and not in your disabled vehicle
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Step 8: Your Responsibility

Keep in mind that you are responsible for knowing what your auto club membership, insurance or other roadside assistance program provide and covers.

Some things you may want to find out about your policy/membership:

  1. Whether the service can be directly billed through the service provider or if you have to be re-imbursed after paying the full cost up front. Please note: All provider programs have limitations that are NOT set by the towing company. They have policies and guidelines with which they have to work within.
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  3. If you have to pay the entire cost of the service call when you are not a paying member.
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  5. Determine what vehicles the club membership covers or whether you are covered no matter the vehicle you drive.
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  7. Get a receipt from the service provider
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  9. It is your responsibility to pay for repairs, if any are needed
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The Best Roadside Emergency Kit for Your Vehicle

Best Roadside Emergency Kit Lapeer MI

Up to this point we’ve discussed preparation, preservation and the two main type of emergencies and the steps you should take if/when you may be involved in one of them. In this section of the article, we would like to give you a list of items that need to be in your vehicle along with the basic & optional items in your emergency kit.

Please check out this excellent article by TheWireCutter.com in which they spent more then sixty hours researching roadside emergency products. They also give recommendations for their best product picks.

Always Have Items Winter Items
  • Spare tire
  • Scissor or hydraulic jack
  • Lug Wrench
  • Piece of 2 x 4
  • Cell phone & charger
  • Ice Scraper
  • Tire chains, tow strap & come-along
  • Wool or poly-fleece blanket & winter hat
  • Chemical Hand Warmers
  • Small Folding shovel
  • Bag of cat litter

Never travel in the winter without proper clothing especially during inclement weather. Short pants and a t-shirt in sub zero weather and a dead car are not pleasant situations to find yourself in with no heat. Cars breakdown even on short trips to the store.

Basic Roadside Emergency Kit Optional Extra Items
  • First Aid Kit
    • Tourniquet, QuikClot or Celox, 4 inch and larger combat dressings, & nitrile gloves
    • Band Aids
    • Hand Sanitizer
    • Antiseptic
    • Antibiotic Ointment
    • Bug spray
    • Aspirin (or similar)
    • Cotton Balls
    • Gauze Pads
    • Tweezers
    • Bandana
    • Ace Bandage
  • Warning light, hazard triangle or flares
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Jumper Cables / Portable Battery Booster
  • Gloves, hand cleaner & clean rags
  • Duct tape
  • Flashlight or head-mounted light
  • Rain Poncho
  • Multi-purpose tool
  • Tire Plug Kit
  • Spare Fuses
  • Disposable Flash Camera
  • Cash in small denominations
  • Pen & Pad of Paper
  • Coolant hose repair kit & tape
  • Extra clothes & strong durable tarp
  • Water & non-perishable emergency food
  • Scent free baby wipes
  • Clean, empty, re-fillable gas jug
  • Items for entertainment (cards, books, writing paper)
 

We’ve tried to make this information on how to handle accidents and breakdowns as complete as possible so that you are prepared for an emergency if and when it happens. Better to be prepared than not. We wanted to include the list of emergency kit items so you could have a central place to go to put yours together.

Download Your FREE Roadside Emergency Checklist

We decided to put together a roadside emergency checklist that you can use to refer to while building your emergency kit for your vehicle. Just check off the items you’ve already purchased on your list and placed in your kit.

You can download this checklist by sharing this article on one of the social platforms listed below. Once you share it, the link to download it will appear. Just right-click, select “Save Link as…” or “Save link…” and save it to your desktop.

 

If you received some valuable information from this article on roadside emergency safety & assistance, or would like to comment or give us feedback, please post them in the comments section below. We will be monitoring this section to make it as relevant as possible and more helpful to our readers.

About the Author Ron McDougall

Ron became the company president of E & L Service, Inc. in 1991 at the request of his grand-parents. With an automotive and heavy equipment background, Ron's focus is to bring the highest quality repair & towing services to Lapeer residents.