Walt Brinker is the author of Roadside Survival: Low-Tech Solutions to Automobile Breakdowns. In his third post on DriveitHOME, Walt talks in more detail about safety for drivers who break down, how they can avoid becoming stranded and what to do if they become stranded.
Hello again, DriveitHOME friends. As you might remember, my hobby is assisting stranded motorists. I’ve helped more than 2,000 motorists with vehicle breakdowns, and as I always say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I want to empower drivers like you and your teen to prevent and contend with breakdowns. My book, Roadside Survival: Low-Tech Solutions to Automobile Breakdowns, is full of easy-to-read wisdom and advice for all drivers. Parents, you’ll find tips to pass along to your teen and learn a thing or two yourself.
Safety before and during breakdowns has many facets. Preventing breakdowns provides the safest outcome, but sometimes the unpreventable happens. Certain issues may be resolved quickly and easily by the driver, if her or she has learned how and has the proper tools available. But there are times when drivers—teens and adults—may find that it’s best to wait for assistance. In either event, the best advice is: Be prepared an minimize your exposure time! Keep the following in mind:
- If your vehicle can be driven, move it to a safe location – such as a wide shoulder, exit or rest area. Let your teen know it’s best to get the car out of a drive lane if possible. Rear-end collision is a huge risk. If the breakdown is an issue that can be resolved by your teen, the car should be far enough from traffic to permit safe work. Remind your teen to turn on the vehicle’s warning flashers.
- Should a driver stay in a broken down vehicle, or get out? Remind your teen to stay calm and assess the situation. If the car cannot be moved from a drive lane, get out and away from it. If the car is not in a drive lane, it may be better to stay in the vehicle with locked doors – unless you can get to help, like a gas station or rest stop, safely.
- An important tip for any driver who finds themselves stranded at night, particularly in a secluded area: You may find that unwanted help, or people with less than honest intentions may be about. If you can’t to get to a public area safely and quickly, get the phone out of the glove box and call for help as soon as possible.
- As soon as possible, deploy your set of three reflector warning triangles (which should be part of your vehicle’s safety kit), positioned correctly behind, and in certain cases in front of your vehicle especially at night or any time visibility is limited (for example, just over a hill or around a turn), or when traffic is heavy. These situations have an increased risk of rear-end collisions. My book has diagrams to illustrate.
- Two more useful items to keep on hand for drivers who plan to address their own breakdowns: a bright colored reflecting vest, which you can wear to improve your visibility. At night, use additional safety lighting, such as a “9-in-1 Safety Puck” (a link to more info is on my website). It’s also a good idea keep a wearable headlamp in your kit to illuminate the area and perform any work on the car efficientl
- Before trying to jump-start an engine or charge a dead battery, ensure your teen knows how to use jumper cables safely. It’s not difficult, but failure to use the cables properly is dangerous. My book offers more details on how to safely jump start a car.
If your engine overheats and additional coolant is needed, allow time for the engine to cool down before adding more—at least 20 minutes—especially if it must be added directly to the radiator, which operates under considerable pressure when hot. Even after the engine has cooled down, use gloves and a towel to prevent scalding. Water will work temporarily; a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze is better. Take the car to a mechanic as soon as possible.
I hope these simple tips will help keep your teen—and you—safe should you break down. In my next post, I will talk about proper use of a jack while changing a tire, provide additional low-tech solutions, including methods and equipment, should you break down. Until then, have wonderful holiday and a safe and Happy New Year!
Walt Brinker is a West Point graduate, Vietnam War veteran and retired Army Lieutenant Colonel from Eastover, North Carolina. He has been featured in The Houston Chronicle and The Fayetteville Observer, which runs monthly vignettes describing his actual roadside assists with advice on how readers can avoid such situations.