Breakdown! How to Deal with Roadside Emergencies
by Ed Scott
Roadside emergencies come in many guises – from a tyre blow-out to a full-blown pile-up – but acting swiftly and decisively is the key to coping with any crisis. Here is how to deal with any roadside emergency fate might see fit to throw your way…
Preparing for a long journey
If you’re headed off on a long journey it’s vital you’re prepared for the worst it can throw at you, and the first thing you need to do is get emergency breakdown cover. Even if you’ve got a brand new, ultra-reliable motor, there’s no telling what can go wrong so having a qualified mechanic on call is a no-brainer.
You should also make sure you have a copy of your car owner’s manual – if you can’t find it try and get one from a dealer or online. This will show you things such as what the warning lights mean, how to change a tyre, your car’s correct tyre pressures and where the important stuff under the bonnet is kept.
If you’re driving in winter there’s always a chance you could get stranded in a snow drift and so you should pack some warm clothes and blankets as well as bottled water and non-perishable snacks. It’s also worth packing some hi-vis clothing and a warning triangle in case you break down.
Pack a shovel and some carpet to help you get your car unstuck – dig out as much snow as you can and place the carpets under the tyres for better traction – and pack an ice-scraper, de-icer and a cloth to clean the inside of your window with if it gets steamed up.
It’s also worth packing a torch, an LED flameless flare which can be attached to your car to warn other drivers, jump leads and a fully charged mobile phone and portable charger.
And always carry out routine maintenance checks before any long journey – check out our Half Term Driving Tips for more on these checks.
How to jump start a dead battery
Battery faults are the most common cause of vehicle breakdowns, particularly in winter, so it’s handy to know how to jump-start one – bear in mind you’ll need another vehicle with a sound battery to do this.
Firstly, turn off the ignition and all electrics. Then, connect the positive jump lead clamp (marked + and probably red in colour) to the battery terminal on the good vehicle and do the same on the dead battery.
Connect the negative terminal on the good battery (marked – and probably black in colour) and then do the same to the dead battery.
Make sure you do it this way around and don’t connect the wrong lead to the wrong terminal as this can seriously damage your car’s electrical system and even cause an explosion.
Start the car with the good battery and leave it for five minutes to charge the dead one before trying to start up the dead vehicle with the cables still in place. If this doesn’t work, call your breakdown recovery service.
How to jump-start a car
If you’ve not jump leads, you could try to bump start the car – but you’ll need a clear run of the road and at least another person to push the car.
Sit in the driver’s seat with the handbrake on and the car in second gear, your foot on the clutch and the ignition switched fully on.
Release the handbrake, keep your foot on the clutch, and get someone to push the car and build up as much speed as possible before releasing the clutch and pumping the accelerator – the car should judder into life and you can drive off to get a new battery.
How to change a flat tyre
What to do if you’re involved in an accident
Being involved in a crash can be both terrifying and disorienting – but try to keep a clear head to help yourself and others in this most extreme of roadside emergencies.
Firstly, check for any injured passengers and then call the emergency services straight away – there’s a chance you’ll need all three – but resist the temptation to move any injured passengers unless there is a risk of fire or the emergency services instruct you to do so.
Make a note of the time and location of the crash, as well as the number plates of the vehicles involved and a description of the incident as you saw it, noting down weather conditions, skid marks and any damage done – it’ll help to take photos or a sketch of the scene.
Get the accounts of any witnesses as well as their contact details, and if the police have arrived find out how you can get a copy of their report.
The police will probably make arrangements to get rid of any badly damaged vehicles and once this is done you should report the matter to your insurers and file a claim – and unless the damage really is incidental, don’t make any deals at the roadside and keep insurers out of it as you’ll have to inform them of the incident regardless of whether or not you make a claim.
So there you have it – a complete guide to dealing with roadside emergencies. Got any further tips? Leave a comment.
Having a reliable car is a good way to prevent breakdowns. If you’re driving round in an old car, maybe it’s time to get it sold and upgrade. Find out how much your car is worth from our car valuation calculator.
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