It can be stressful and challenging when you’re on a road trip, and your car breaks down. However, knowing the proper steps can help you handle the situation safely and efficiently.

A road trip is an adventure, but car breaks down are a reality that can happen to anyone, anytime. Being prepared and knowing what actions to take can significantly reduce stress and ensure safety.

Steps to Take When Your Car Breaks Down

Safely Pull Over

When you notice an issue, it’s vital to pull over as soon as it’s safe. Choose a flat and stable location to prevent the car from rolling. If it’s dark, stop in a well-lit area to increase visibility. Avoid pulling over on curves or hills where other drivers may not see you in time.

Activate Hazard Lights

Activate Hazard Lights

Immediately turn on your hazard lights. This alerts other drivers that your vehicle is not moving usually. It’s essential in bad weather or low visibility conditions to prevent accidents.

Set Up Safety Signals

If you have safety devices like reflective triangles, cones, or flares, set them up following a safe distance behind your car (about 10 feet and 200 feet, respectively). These signals warn other drivers and provide a safety buffer around your vehicle.

Assess the Situation

Try to figure out what’s wrong with your car without putting yourself at risk. If smoke, steam, or the car makes unusual noises, it could indicate serious problems. However, avoid attempting to diagnose or fix anything in a high-traffic area.

Call for Assistance

call for Assistance, Car Breaks Down Mid-Trip

If you have a roadside assistance service, call them with your location and a description of the issue. If you need help, contact a local towing service or a mechanic. Be prepared to provide specific details about your location and the nature of the problem.

Stay Inside Your Vehicle

Stay inside your locked vehicle, especially on a busy road or in an unsafe area. This is the safest place to wait for help. Only exit the car if it’s safe, and never stand behind or directly in front of the vehicle.

Inform Loved Ones

Let someone know about your situation, especially if you’re traveling alone. This ensures that others know your location and the issue you’re facing.

Wait for Help

Remain calm and wait for assistance. The wait time will depend on your location and the availability of service providers. Use this time to stay safe and avoid panic.

Also, read 12 Critical Car Engine Problems and Effective Solutions

FAQs About Road Trip Car Breaks Down

Q: Should I try to fix the car myself?

A: It’s recommended to avoid making extensive repairs, especially in high-traffic areas. Minor fixes like changing a tire are okay if in a safe location.

Q: What should I do if I can’t call for roadside assistance?

A: If you can’t call for assistance, use a white cloth or paper to signal for help. Stay in your car, especially if you’re on a busy road.

Q: Is it safe to exit the vehicle after a breakdown?

A: Exit the vehicle only if it’s safe and you’re well off the road. Never stand behind or directly in front of the car to avoid injuries.

Q: How can I prepare for a car breakdown during a road trip?

A: Regular maintenance is critical. Follow the manufacturer’s recommended car care schedule, and check fluid levels, battery condition, and tire pressure before your trip. Carrying an emergency kit with essentials like water, snacks, and basic tools is also advisable.

Q: What should I do if my car breaks down in an area with no cell service?

A: If you’re in a remote area without cell service, use emergency signaling devices like flares or reflective triangles to attract attention. If possible, walk to a location where you can get cell service, but always ensure you remain safe, away from oncoming traffic.

Q: What items should I have in my car for emergencies?

A: Your emergency kit should include water, non-perishable food items, a first-aid kit, blankets, a flashlight with extra batteries, a multi-tool, and a portable phone charger. Additionally, having flares, reflective triangles, and an essential car repair toolkit can be very helpful.

Q: Can I leave my car if it breaks down?

A: It’s generally safer to stay with your vehicle, especially on a busy road. If you must leave for safety reasons, leave a note with your contact information and lock the car.

Q: How do I alert other drivers to my broken-down vehicle at night?

A: Turn on your hazard lights and interior dome lights. Set up reflective triangles or flares if you have them. The goal is to make your vehicle visible to other drivers.

Q: What are the common causes of car breakdowns on road trips?

A: Common causes include flat tires, battery issues, overheating engines, and mechanical failures. Regular maintenance can help prevent many of these issues.

Q: How long should I expect to wait for roadside assistance?

A: The wait time for roadside assistance can vary based on your location, the time of day, and the availability of service providers. It’s important to stay calm and patient while waiting.


Being prepared for a car breakdown during a trip can turn an emergency into a manageable inconvenience. Always prioritize safety, and don’t hesitate to seek professional help when needed. Following these steps, you can immediately ensure your safety and return to the road.


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