*The Top Ten Things I Learned When My Car Broke Down*
By: BigStick
22 Sept 2008

It was close to one hundred degrees here today, and I was running down the road, radio on, A/C blasting and feeling fine. Suddenly, my car (which I keep in VERY good shape) started to stutter... something it had never done before. Then, the engine raced... then it lost all power and... died. Right in the middle of the traffic lane, right in the middle of heavy traffic, right when I least expected it. And frankly, I was about to find out just how ready I was to deal with this situation.

This is not a survival situation that I have practiced or even thought about that much, but it is a very real possibility for each and every one of us who commute some distance during our daily routine. I learned a lot of things about myself and about the state of my "auto-related preps" and thankfully in the end this was just a minor blip in my day (he says, not yet having learned the extent of the bill for fixing the issue at hand...) After I got home today and had a chance to think things through, I came up with this list of ten things I learned from today's FNV.

  1. Practice pushing your vehicle off the road. I am glad my 4-door is not a heavy vehicle, and that someone stopped as soon as I started pushing the vehicle out of traffic to help me get it out of traffic, but what if they had not? Do you know how to steer, push and most importantly stop your vehicle, all by yourself? This is a skill that under the best of circumstances is pretty straightforward, but if you ever have to do it under duress you'll be glad you practiced.

  2. Have emergency gear - and be able to get to it. I had emergency triangles in the trunk, but they were buried under recyclables I was going to take to the dump after my appointment. Quicker access to them would have avoided a potentially dangerous situation when four vehicles bunched up behind my car in the right turn lane and could not get around me because of the steady flow of traffic. Some of those drivers were getting very impatient and any one of them could have caused a significant collateral accident by making a poor decision.

  3. Give yourself extra time. I have a terrible habit of leaving myself "just" enough time to get from point A to point B. The danger of that is when something does happen, and sooner or later it will, I am prone to make poor decisions if I am feeling up against the "time wall." If I've given myself plenty of time like I did today, I don't have the added stress of trying to figure out if this event is going to have a long-term effect on my life.

  4. Tell someone, NOW. As soon as my car died, right after I made sure I was in a safe place and was not in immediate danger, I called my upcoming appointment and told them what was going on. Even though I would have arrived early and so technically I still had time before they would even realize anything unusual was going on, this way I didn't have to watch the clock. I was able to spend the next 25 minutes taking care of business where I was, rather than worrying about the place I hadn't gotten to yet. And God forbid I had a heart attack while I was out there on the side of the road over an hour away from home, at least this way someone who knew me knew exactly where I was and what was going on.

  5. Join AAA. Or some other roadside assistance club, but for goodness sakes, join one. If you never use it during the course of a year it will still be money well spent for the peace of mind you'll receive. I have a high-speed new tool box in my trunk (thanks to a great Rubie article) but none of that would have helped me to tow the vehicle to the dealership a mile from where I broke down.

  6. Keep some "glass chalk" in your trunk. Within the first fifteen minutes I had three people stop and offer assistance: two offered a jumpstart and one was a mechanic and offered his services to help. I finally wrote, "AAA is on the way - Thank you!" on a big piece of paper and taped it to the back window, but if I would have had some glass chalk I could have done that earlier and a lot easier.

  7. Keep work clothes or coveralls in the vehicle. Since I was on my way to an appointment for work, I was wearing dress clothes. Once I got the vehicle to the dealership I still had to spend three hours there meeting with the General Manager and others. They would have cut me some slack based on what just happened, but what if they didn't? What if my lack of protective clothing cost me a client or damaged an already tenuous professional relationship?

  8. Be prepared to wait - outside. Thankfully I only had to wait 45 minutes for the tow truck to arrive. But, it was 106 degrees in the car and no air was moving - even with all the windows down. I had bottled water, sun shades for the front window, and a rag to wipe the sweat from my brow. I also had work on my laptop to keep me occupied while I waited, but I know there are times when I "run a quick errand" wearing flip-flops or don't have good walking shoes or a raincoat in the car...

  9. Be able to rent a car. I have been doing consulting work for this dealership for years so they know me well. Consequently, they were willing to pick up the tab for the rental car for me to get back home. That was especially appreciated since I was 60 miles from home and didn't relish the idea of staying there after my appointment was done. But what if they didn't have a car for me? Did I have a credit card in my name that I could use to rent a car? Do I carry proof of insurance (which is by the way, in this and many other states, the law) if they ask to see that? My wife and I don't believe in using credit anymore, but you can bet I carry a single credit card just in case an emergency like this rears its ugly head!

  10. Don't keep anything in plain sight in your car that you don't want to explain to the police. Yesterday I found a good deal on ammo cans, so there were eight .50 cal and six .30 cal cans stacked on the backseat of my car. Luckily, I had a blanket I could throw over them. They weren't remotely illegal, but who needs a "helpful" LEO suddenly taking an extroverted interest in you and your activites?


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