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what to do when your car breaks down

Knowing how to handle a car breakdown is half the battle (the other half, getting your car fixed, comes later). Here we explain how to stay safe in 8 easy steps — especially when your car breaks down in a not-so-convenient location.

The first few minutes after a breakdown

Your first steps after a breakdown depend on where and when it happens. A quiet residential street is one thing — a busy highway during rush hour is quite another. But either way, your safety and the safety of your passengers always come first. These 8 steps can help.

  1. Turn on your hazard lights
    This warns other drivers that something's wrong. Keep your hazards on until the car's safely towed.
  2. Pull over (if the car's still moving)
    In an ideal situation, you'll want to aim for the right shoulder of the road. If you find yourself on a road that doesn't have a safe place to pull into, put on your turn signal and try to get into the right-hand lane as quickly as possible. Pulling into the left-hand shoulder is a last resort. If you're driving on residential streets, try to pull into a free parking spot or parking lot if one's nearby.
  3. Turn your wheel away from the road and put the emergency brake on
    This prevents your car from rolling if you're stuck on any kind of hill.
  4. Triple-check before getting out of the car
    Make absolutely sure the coast is clear before attempting to get out of your car, especially on a busy highway. Trust your gut here — if you feel you'd be safer in the car, go with your instincts and stay inside with your seat belt on. If you made it to the right-hand side of the road, get out through the passenger-side door. And if your engine's smoking or you see flames, get out of Dodge.
  5. Call for help
    If you have a roadside assistance provider, give them a call. If you don't, call for a tow truck or call 9-1-1 if you need further assistance.
  6. Set up your flares or triangles if you have them
    You want to put both flares behind your car (one near your vehicle, usually about 10 feet behind it, and the other one further away, so long as it's safe). The California DMV suggests placing them 200–300 feet behind your disabled car.
  7. Pop your hood
    A popped hood is the universal sign of a breakdown. Once you're safely out of the car, pop your hood to let other drivers know what's happened.
  8. Wait for help
    Don't try to fix your car by yourself.

Esurance's emergency road service can help

One of the better ways to prepare for a breakdown ahead of time is to have emergency roadside assistance. Here at Esurance, we offer emergency road service (ERS) to our customers as an optional add-on to their car insurance policies. ERS provides roadside assistance 24/7 wherever you need it and can help cover:

  • Towing after a breakdown or accident
  • Tire changes
  • Battery services, including jump starts
  • Gas, oil, and water delivery
  • Lock out services

If you're an Esurance policyholder and have questions or want to go ahead and add emergency road service to your policy, give us a call at 1-800-ESURANCE (1-800-378-7262). We're here to help.

Related link

The perfect emergency kit for your car
Having certain items in your car can make a bad experience a lot easier.