Breakdowns and how to survive them...

For any breakdown scenario, whether it be on a quiet country lane, or a busy motorway,  there is one golden rule... join a rescue organisation.

Membership of the AA, RAC or one of the other rescue services is the cheapest and most effective form of insurance that you can buy and will be worth it's cost the first time that you need it!

I strongly recommend it for any but the lowest mileage drivers.

If you have broken down the first priority is to move yourself - and any passengers - out of danger. If on a bend, a narrow road, a dual carriageay or other hazardous location, turn on the hazard flashers and then get out of the car and to a place of safety while you consider your next move.

Attempt to move the car only if it is safe to do so, getting it as far off the road as possible. Enlist the help of passengers to push the car out of danger posting one down the road to warn oncoming traffic.

If the engine is dead, the car can often be moved on the starter for a short distance. Engage second gear and keep the igniton key turned all the way on to keep the car moving. It's slow but it works!

Or, if you have a flat tyre moving the car a short distance will do no worse damage to the tyre.

But, let us suppose that you can't move the car, it is now at risk and a hazard to oncoming traffic so

  • hazard flashers on and
  • set out a warning triangle if you have one
  • If there are passengers with you station them where they can warn other drivers.
  • If you can't move the car, turn the steering wheel into the kerb then, if it should be hit, it will be pushed off the road and not towards the oncoming traffic.
  • If it safe to do so attempt to establish the cause of the problem, it may be simply solved.

That basic car maintenance course at the local evening college now seems a better idea doesn't it?

For example, if there is a flat tyre and the car is in a safe position then change the wheel. First ease the wheel nuts off a couple of turns before raising the car, jack the car up and, if possible, place a support under it before removing the wheel.

A good tip is to place the removed wheel on it's side partly under the car until the spare wheel is on, this will prevent further damage to the car if it falls off the jack but, most importantly, may prevent injury to anyone partly under the car. Never get under the car just on it's jack, those supplied as standard are intended for temporary use only and more substantial supports are needed if working under the car.

If you lack leverage to loosen the wheel nuts then carry a more substanstial wheel brace or an extension tube. Those supplied with the car are rarely strong enough or long enough for sufficient leverage. The type known as a spider - which fits a variety of wheel nut sizes -  is the best.

When tightening wheel nuts it is best to stand partly on the lever to ensure that they are tight enough.

Just stopped and won't restart?

Check under the bonnet for loose wires and replace any that are obviously detached.

Check all of the fuses and replace any broken ones with spares - if you have them - or steal a fuse from the stereo or some other inessential part of the electrical system.

Check that you have not simply run out of fuel. If so, and you are a member, the rescue organisations will bring out a gallon at your request. If not, a walk to the local garage is your only recourse, however, this can be a worrying move for a lone woman and, if stopped on a quiet country road or in other potentially hazardous circumstances, the best advice is probably to stay with the car and lock yourself in. Many car accessory shops now sell "Help - Call Police" signs which I would strongly recommend to women who often travel alone. A dearer alternative are the one way only emergency car phones which the AA now offer to members.

If all else fails, call in the rescue services. The handbook provided with your membership will show the nearest dedicated phone or you will have to walk to a public phone. If you are not a member, phone a local garage for assistance but be prepared for a big bill especially if the call is at unsocial hours.                                        


Article © Graham Benge 2007

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