Despite advances in safety technology and an increase in campaigns promoting driver safety, car emergencies remain a common occurrence in the United States. According to a recent study, AAA alone “rescued a record-breaking 32 million drivers in 2015, with more battery, flat tire and key problems than ever before.”
The worst thing about these car emergencies? They happen when you least expect it. That’s why, whether you’re on a long, multi-day road trip across the country or a short trek within Cleveland to run a few errands, it helps to be prepared when the unexpected happens.
Here are 10 of the most common emergency car situations and what to do about them:
1. If Your seat belt is STUCK
Seat belts are one of the most important safety features your car has, but they can also be detrimental to your health in certain situations. If your car is filling up with water or smoke, or if it’s in a dangerous location, you need to be able to take off your seat belt and flee to safety. Unfortunately, they can get stuck or jammed on occasion. If your seat belt is preventing you from escaping danger, use a seat belt cutter to remove it. Also, if you’re aware that your seat belts often get stuck or jammed, be sure to take them to an auto repair shop that can handle seat belt repair and get them checked out.
2. if you have a Tire Blowout
Flat tires and tire blowouts are one of the most common roadside emergencies. According to the AAA’s 2015 roadside assistance data, “battery failures, flat tires and keys locked inside the vehicle remain the top roadside assistance requests.” If you experience a tire blowout and you’re not moving at a fast speed, you can often move to the shoulder or a safe distance from the road. If you’re traveling at a high speed or not in a position to immediately turn off the road to safety, try not to brake or turn if your tire blows out — this can cause you to lose control. Instead, slowly release your gas pedal until you slow down to 30 miles per hour or so, then pull to the side of the road.
3. if your Brakes Fail
When your brakes fail, you don’t want to pump the brakes, despite your natural inclination to do so. Instead, let your foot off the gas pedal, shift into a lower gear and use the hand brake to slow down only if you’re traveling at a lower speed and are in a safe situation. It’s also helpful to use the hand brake or emergency break in an “on-and-off” motion instead of just pulling it back all the way. In the absolute most extreme circumstances, you may need to force the car to slow down by running it parallel along a curb, crash barrier or wall and causing friction.
4. if you lose Traction
If the roads are icy or wet, your vehicle’s tires can lose traction with the road. If you do experience lost traction, you want to steer into the skid and gently apply the brakes until you feel your car begin to gain traction again. Once that happens, you can adjust your wheels accordingly. Resist the urge to immediately turn against the skid or slam on your brakes when you lose traction!
5. if you're a victim of Road Rage
Another car emergency that often comes up isn’t related to the car at all. It’s related to the drivers of the cars. Try to remain as calm as possible in these situations and never steer into an opposing driver’s lane or get out of the vehicle. If another driver is directing road rage at you, try to remain calm, distance yourself from them (if possible) and call 911 if necessary.
6. if you Accidentally Accelerate
Ever accidentally press the gas pedal instead of the brake? It happens more often than you think. Whether you’re moving from a parking spot, stuck in traffic or simply driving, try to quickly switch back to the brakes when this happens. Don’t press the brakes too hard if you’re moving, however, as this can create a hazard for drivers behind you.
7. if you have a Dead Battery
As mentioned above, battery failure is one of the most common roadside assistance situations. This often happens when you’re not in your vehicle, but if it does and you’re moving, your car will slowly lose power until it comes to a complete stop. Try to get to the side of the road if you notice this happen — signs include the lights dimming and the A/C running slower. This could also be a sign that there’s something wrong with the alternator.
8. if your engine Overheats
If your engine overheats or starts a fire, this can be a serious situation. Try to pull off to the side of the road as quickly as possible if you see or smell smoke coming from your engine, and then turn off your car and get as far away from it as possible to call help. Don’t try to put out the fire or smoke yourself, as there’s always the risk of an explosion or other incident.
9. if you're Stuck in your Vehicle
Whether because of mud, snow, water or another environmental issue, your vehicle can get stuck from time to time while you’re driving. If your situation is fairly safe — you aren’t in harm’s way, your compartment isn’t flooding, etc. — you can try to get your car out of the situation by moving the wheels back and forth, then gently pushing down on the gas pedal. Don’t try to go too fast, as you want to avoid wheel spin. Other options you can try include deflating the tires a bit, rocking the vehicle back and forth and/or placing something under the tires to provide traction. Whatever happens, remain calm and call a tow truck or roadside assistance if necessary.
10. if you Hit Another Vehicle or Object
Obviously, a car accident is one of the most common car emergencies. If you see a car on a collision course with yours (especially if it’s head on), try to steer into a less-dangerous area. It’s better to go into a ditch than hit another vehicle head on. If you do have a car accident, here are a few steps you can take:
- Make sure no one is injured. Call 911 if there are injuries or a fire.
- Determine where you are and let emergency or insurance personnel know.
- Take photos and notes about the scene.
- Get witness and/or driver information (name, address, phone number).
- Make sure a police report is filed and get a copy of it.
- Contact a tow truck or other service to get your vehicle to a repair shop (or home).
- Call your insurance company to report it.
Car Emergency Kit Checklist
To better prepare for the above situations (and others), it’s helpful to have a well-stocked emergency kit in your car. Here are a few items you may want to consider keeping close at hand in your vehicle:
- Seat belt cutter (preferably with an attached window breaker)
- First aid kit
- Tire tools (tire jack, pressure gauge, universal lug wrench)
- Applicable oils and coolants (antifreeze, engine oil)
- Spare tire
- Food and water
- Blanket and/or clothing
- Heavy-duty gloves
- High-visibility gear (cones, lights, safety vest)
- Pen and paper
- Jumper cables
- Ice scraper
Of course, one of the best ways to ensure your vehicle is as safe as possible during emergency situations is to take your car into an auto repair shop for maintenance. Get your tires and brakes checked, have your battery tested and consider other diagnostic services. Rainbow Muffler & Brake has six Cleveland-area locations and would love to ensure you’re as safe as possible on the road.