A few months ago, I was driving a large moving truck when it died on a freeway on-ramp. Without warning, the engine light started blinking, and 10 seconds later I was blocking traffic at rush hour.
It was an uncomfortable situation. There’s an adrenaline surge you experience when you break down. Your mind starts racing and your judgment becomes clouded.
Your biggest danger after breaking down is getting hit by another vehicle.
“What you’re looking at draws your attention,” says 20-year veteran Darin Wade of Big D Towing. If you’re in your vehicle, at least you have some protection from other cars, he says.
Wade has seen dozens of examples of looky-loos causing additional collisions at the scene of a tow.
The exception to this is if your car is out of sight in a ditch or the weather is extreme, says 30-year veteran Ray Caveness of Randy’s Towing in Wenatchee.
If you don’t have phone reception and you’re in a rural area, it might be better to hitch a ride to the nearest town.
Beware: freeways are 24-hour tow zones, so if you abandon your car, you’ll probably pay an impound fee and a ticket.
Know where you are
Before you call a towing service, figure out where you are. It’s the first question they’ll ask, says Emily Gerke-Wade, operations manager at Big D Towing.
Know which direction you’re going, look for cross streets, mile markers or think of the last town or landmark you saw.
Also, figure out how your GPS zooms out to reveal your location.
Pull over quickly
When people notice car trouble, they think they can make it farther than they actually can, says Gerke-Wade. “Often going those extra three miles to the next exit will wreck your engine.”
Costly repairs can often be avoided if you pull over at the first safe spot you find.
Reduce your towing bill in advance
Many auto insurance policies offer towing assistance for only a few dollars per month. If you only need one tow per year, it usually pays for itself, but you must sign up before you need it.
Gerke-Wade tells the story about a customer who called from the bar after he’d had too much to drink. Rather than risking a DUI and paying for a cab, he simply called for a tow truck to take him home, knowing his insurance would cover it.
Towing is one of the biggest upsides to being an AAA Auto Club member. If their trucks are slow to dispatch, you have the right to choose another towing company and get reimbursed.
Have emergency supplies
Caveness often meets drivers stuck in the mountains wearing T-shirts and flip-flops in the winter, or summer drivers who are dehydrated because they’re waiting in a hot car with no water.
When your vehicle has issues, climate control will stop working. So when you travel be prepared with the basics like water and blankets.