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What If Your Car Breaks Down On A Road Trip


There is nothing worse than having your car crap out on you when you are away from home, let alone hundreds of miles away on a road trip.

Follow the next few steps to save yourself time and money dealing with out of town car troubles. Here are a few things you will want to do to stay safe and sane.

Steps To Take When Dealing With Car Problems On A Road Trip

  • Move the vehicle to a safe location
  • Call roadside assistance or a tow truck
  • Find a mechanic while you wait
  • Eat food and drink water
  • Get the issue diagnosed
  • Get a rental car or a hotel room if needed

Moving Your Vehicle To A Safe Location

If your car is dead in the middle of the road, hopefully the scene looks like these girls above, quiet, country land. And if you’re lucky, a city just a short drive away with with a fast tow service.

If you do find yourself in the middle of a busy intersection or street and your car is out of gas or has blown part of its engine, the most important thing is to move the car safely out of traffic as quickly as possible. Be sure to alert other drivers that you are having car troubles.

If you have a passenger, you will need their assistance, or you will have to recruit the help of a stranger to help you push the vehicle.

Alert Other Vehicles Around You

Put on your hazard lights and alert other drivers to your situation. If you are moving your car in a busy area you have to be cautious to avoid getting hit by another car or pushing your car into something.

This can be a little tricky and you definitely want to alert the vehicle behind you even if you don’t need their help and let them know that you’re having car troubles. 

Pushing The Vehicle

At this time you will need some assistance pushing the car. If you have passengers who are capable, it is time to put them to work! 

If it is just you, you will need to ask for assistance moving the car out of the road from people in the nearby cars. Be cautious when approaching strangers for help. 

Get 1-3 strong individuals to push the vehicle while you steer and apply the brake as necessary to maneuver the car to a safe location. Once you are satisfied that the car is in a good location, apply the brake and shift the dead car back into park. Consider using the parking brake in certain locations. 

If The Vehicle Is In Park And Won’t Start

If the car won’t start and isn’t already in drive, you’re going to need to put the vehicle into Neutral so that it will move. If the vehicle won’t allow you to shift the gear to N while it is off (most vehicle’s won’t) you’ll need to insert your key and turn it to the on position. 

If you need a video example of this process, check out this helpful YouTube video

Call Roadside Assistance

Now that you and the vehicle are in a safe location, you’ll need to call someone to come get the vehicle (and you). If you have roadside assistance through AAA, a warranty or an insurance provider, it is time to give them a ring! If not a tow truck for hire is what you need.

In some cases you may be stranded due to a bad battery, which these companies can assist you in replacing and you can be on your way! Sometimes it is that simple. If you are out of gas roadside assistance will quickly get you back on the road once they arrive.

Tip: If the vehicle is in a safe location, it is important to stay with the vehicle while you wait.

Be sure to put on your hazard lights if you haven’t already done so. If you have emergency cones and flares you should utilize them to alert other drivers of your presence, and to make it easier for roadside assistance to find you.

You can also use a flashlight to alert other drivers of your presence if you have no other options.

Getting Your Car Towed

If your car isn’t having tire or battery issues you will likely need to get the vehicle towed. Services like AAA will tow you up to 100 miles if you are a member. If you don’t have a tow service included in one of your memberships you will need to call a local tow truck company. It’s usually a good idea to get a quote over the phone before requesting them to come out. Some tow services can be pricey.

Communicating Effectively With A Tow Truck Company

You want to tell the tow company all of the details about what is going on with your vehicle because not every tow truck is right for every situation. If your tires are flat the car cannot be pulled and will require a flat bed truck. You should tell the company:

  • Where you currently are
  • The location of the mechanic you want to be towed to
  • What is wrong with the vehicle
  • What type of vehicle you have
  • Any other information that may impact their ability to get to you

What To Ask

  • What color is the truck?
  • What is the driver’s name?
  • What estimated time of the trucks arrival?
  • What form of payments do you accept?
  • What will the tow cost per mile?

Be sure to be very clear about the condition of your car and any circumstances that may impact the tow truck driver from getting to and from you.

If you are calling a tow truck be sure to give them all the information because there are several types of tow trucks. If your tires are flat, you’ll need a flat bed truck to tow your car. Be clear about your situation and what your needs are to ensure you are talking to someone who can help you.

Finding A Mechanic While You Are Out Of Town

One thing to keep in mind if you are on a road trip and happen to break down is that some small towns may only have one mechanic and they might get a lot of business. Hopefully you are blessed to be in an area with lots of options somewhat close by.

Another thing to remember is that many mechanics are closed on weekends.

When I broke down on my road trip in November of last year, I happened to find myself 10 miles outside of a major city. I hope your luck is the same. However, I also broke down on a Sunday and most of the mechanics were closed. I managed to find ONE who was open, so I had no selection. The guy turned out to be a really fantastic mechanic who helped me immensely.

Finding the right mechanic can be crucial not only for saving you money on repairs, but for easing anxiety. Anxiety of being ripped off and even further damage to your car.

My mechanic was kind enough to give me his work number and offer advice on any future issues I had with my vehicle while moving across the country. Talk about going above and beyond!

How To Find The Right Mechanic


Look for a mechanic who is highly reviewed on search engines. Most reviews are legitimate so look for the mechanic with the best reviews on sites like Google and Facebook.


The next step is to call them up and talk to them. You can tell a lot about the integrity of a person by simply talking to them on the phone! Give them a call, tell them what is happening with your car and explain that you are on a road trip and time is of the essence for your repairs. See how they respond and treat you.

If they are rude, or tell you that you’ll be waiting for repairs because of how busy they are, consider calling around to other mechanics. It is typically a solid idea to talk to a few mechanics regardless of how you feel about the first to gather more information. Again, this is dependent on where you are and how many options you have.

Get Comfortable. Eat Food And Drink Water

Get comfortable, you’ll likely be waiting for a while on the side of the road and in the mechanic waiting room. You’re likely cranky, tired, emotionally drained and frustrated. The best way to combat all of this is by eating a solid meal. If you have access to a restaurant, get a hot meal, if you don’t have that luxury, snacks from the vending machine will get the job done.

It is especially important to hydrate when you find yourself in this situation. I always recommend having emergency water in your vehicle in case you get stranded. You could be in your hot vehicle on the side of the road for several hours before you are rescued. Having water will help your body stay cool and also prevent further distress and headaches.

Getting The Car Issue Diagnosed

If you are lucky, a mechanic will see you as soon as you get your car towed in. If you are unlucky it could be a day or two until they can get to your car.

Getting The Car Fixed

Once you know what the issue is, you need to decide whether or not the vehicle is worth fixing or should be sold and replaced. Most people will opt to have the car repaired due to time constraints when they are traveling and lack of local resources.

If you have a warranty, your car repairs may be paid as well as your hotel and rental car expenses.

Get A Rental Car Or Hotel Room

You may end up having a serious car repair on your hands. If this happens, you need to decide if you are going to stay and wait for the mechanic to fix your car, or if you are going to get a rental car or an Uber and continue on your way.

If there are hotels in the area, and you decide you need to stay with the car while it is repaired, book a room and get comfortable. If not, and you want to continue with your trip and come back for the vehicle later, you can replace your vehicle with a rental car. You can also buy another vehicle, or decide to sell your car and fly home.

If Your Check Engine Light Comes On During A Road Trip

If you happen to have your check engine light come on while you are on a road trip, try not to panic. Easier said than done. The first thing to do is look to see if there is an Auto Zone or other auto part store in your area.

Most auto part stores will read the computer of your vehicle to diagnose what error codes it is throwing off that is causing your check engine light. It can be helpful to know how serious the issue is and whether or not you need to see a mechanic immediately.

Whatever you do, be sure you do not ignore the signal, even if it is just for a few hours. You can significantly damage your car by doing this.

Avoid Break Downs Before You Leave

You should always properly vet your vehicle before taking a road trip. It is important to make sure the car is in tip top shape before you hit the road. Follow the checklist below to determine how your car looks before your next road trip!

Pre Road Trip Car Checklist: 

  1. Tires (tread, integrity, air pressure, wear)
  2. Oil and oil filter check
  3. Air filter
  4. Cabin air filter
  5. Check spark plugs
  6. Fill Windshield wiper reservoirs
  7. Double check your spare tire as well as jack and other essential tire changing supplies
  8. Coolant
  9. Lights (brake lights, headlights, blinkers and emergency lights)
  10. Fuses
  11. Horn
  12. Heater or air conditioning depending on the time of year
  13. Radiator flush

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