Personal Finance 

How to Prepare for a Car Breakdown

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Flat TireYou get into your car, cup of coffee in hand, and mentally prepare yourself for the grueling day ahead. As you turn the key in the ignition, it clicks. Then nothing. No roar of the engine, no radio tuned to Delilah from the night before… only a looming sense of doom as you realize your car isn’t doing what it’s supposed to.

Or maybe it does start and you make your way to work, only to hit a pothole and discover you have a flat tire on the side of the interstate. Either way, you’re stuck someplace you aren’t supposed to be with no way of getting to the place you planned on going to.

This article will help prepare you for when this happens.

This post is part of the Financial Contingency Plan series where we discuss how to deal with the various financial “accidents” that threaten us each day.

Regular Maintenance

The key to avoiding such headaches is regular maintenance. Change your oil as often as your manual recommends, which is probably not every 3,000 miles but some number higher, check your fluids, tire pressure, tread wear, and all the other things the manual recommends but that you ignore because you’re “too busy.” Regular maintenance means worn parts are replaced while the car is in the shop, rather than breaking while you’re on the road.

Changing a Flat Tire

Of all the possible problems you could face while driving your car, the one that has the greatest chance of happening is getting a flat tire. All it takes is you hitting a pothole too hard or rolling over a nail and you’ll be down to three tires. Changing a flat tire is easy and I recommend learning how because it can save you a lot of time and perhaps even some money. I won’t go into the specifics of changing a tire, that will vary based on the type of car you own, but do some research and even consider practicing in your free time.

The benefit of knowing how to change your tire is that you save time, waiting for the tow truck, and money, paying for the tow truck or AAA membership. Also make sure, before you drive anywhere, that you have a good spare, a jack to raise the car, and wheel locks keys if you have wheel locks. I also recommend getting a kit with flares (and lights) so you can identify your car as distressed when it’s dark. The last thing you want to be is stuck on the side of a highway missing one of those key pieces.

Also, if you are changing a flat tire, don’t be like the fool in the above photo – ask your passengers to get out. 🙂

More Serious Breakdown

For anything more serious than a flat tire, your best option is to call a mechanic or tow service nearby. If you have a smart phone, it’s something you can probably look up. If not, make sure you have their contact information handy. If your car comes with roadside assistance, many do as manufacturers compete heavily for your business, make sure they’re you’re first call as it’s probably complimentary.

Finally, make sure you have someone you can call to help troubleshoot. What looks like a vexing problem for you may actually have a simple solution.

One word of advice – if it’s dark and you don’t have adequate lighting, don’t try to repair something yourself if you are on the side of a very busy road. Try to get somewhere safe before you try anything because drivers may not be attentive as they should be. If you are really in a jam, consider calling the authorities for assistance. They would much rather drive over, flash their lights, than deal with a vehicular death on their roads (they’re not going to be happy you are unprepared though).

(Photo: exalthum)

{ 9 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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9 Responses to “How to Prepare for a Car Breakdown”

  1. Wojo says:

    I’m not sure why, but the cost of roadside assistance through many insurance companies has gone down lately. I pay less than $5 a year for this service, and I think I can use it 3 or 4 times every year.

    A few weeks ago, I had a flat tire while driving around with my 8-month old. A quick call and 20 minutes later, the tow truck driver had my tire swapped in 3 minutes flat. I’ve tried changing my tire before, and it was definitely longer than 23 minutes. Not to mention I could focus on keeping my son entertained instead of getting down and dirty.

    I’m all for DIY, but when the cost and convenience are that good…I have to rethink the worth.

  2. Beth says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention budgeting for breakdowns if you have an older car (or did you do that in another post?)

    I have an emergency cell phone and a roadside assistance program. Due to health reasons, changing a tire would be difficult for me. As a woman, if I get stuck somewhere after dark, I want to know someone I can trust is on the way to help.

    My local road side assistance company has regular “get to know your car” workshops — they’re a great way to learn some maintenance and repair basics that would help when your car misbehaves. (I believe AAA offers them, and they’re free)

  3. zapeta says:

    I agree, definitely take advantage of roadside assistance if you have it through your manufacturer. In addition, a lot of insurance companies have roadside assistance. On my policy, I can basically call whoever I want and be reimbursed up to a certain amount per year. Pretty handy when you don’t want to change a tire after dark (or in the cold!) or you need a jump.

  4. live green says:

    I would say to get AAA. The cost is fairly inexpensive and can pay for itself with just one tow.

    • jsbrendog says:

      this is true. the membership is extremely cheap and when i totaled my car in 02 on SI i used my one free tow to have it towed the hour and a half back to my house. aaa is totally worth it even if you don’t have a need for it arise

  5. Dave says:

    Another great tip: Keep one of those tyvek full body suits in your car – they cost like $20 at home depot or lowes, and if you do get a flat tire on the way to work, it’s an easy way to protect your work clothes from tire grime that you’ll inevitably get all over yourself.

  6. Vic says:

    If you end up having to tow your car to the dealer, ask them what tow company they use. They usually give a better rate when you are towing to a dealer shop that to your home.

  7. Creditable says:

    The last time I got a flat tire was driving down a mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park in my two door coupe. I put the spare on and it lasted about 10 miles and then died as well. Being a Colorado resident I now keep a full sized spare in my trunk, so it’s also good to consider where you live!


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