12 Ways To Handle Vehicle Breakdowns on the Highway

Experiencing a vehicle breakdown on a highway can swiftly transform a routine drive into a daunting situation. This challenge becomes particularly acute in areas known for their dense traffic and high congestion levels. Maryland recently found itself in the spotlight for an unwelcome reason: three of its major freeways were recognized among the country’s “Most Loathed Highways.” This distinction underscores the importance for drivers in the area to be well-prepared for potential vehicle failures. Given the likelihood of encountering such incidents on these packed roads, understanding how to effectively manage a breakdown becomes crucial. In this blog, we will explore essential steps to safely handle a vehicle breakdown on the highway, ensuring you remain secure and can swiftly navigate the inconvenience.

1. Stay Calm and Assess the Situation

Initial reactions can significantly influence the outcome of unexpected events. Maintaining calm allows you to assess your situation accurately and make logical decisions. Activate your vehicle’s hazard lights to signal distress to fellow drivers, providing them the opportunity to safely navigate around your vehicle.

2. Activate Your Hazard Lights Immediately

The moment you sense something is amiss, it’s vital to immediately turn on your hazard lights. This action warns other motorists of your predicament, enhancing your safety and theirs. If you find yourself stranded on one of Maryland’s highways, it may be wise to contact a reliable local towing company. Promptly seeking professional assistance can significantly mitigate the stress and dangers associated with highway breakdowns.

3. Safely Move Your Vehicle

If circumstances allow, try to maneuver your vehicle to a safer location, such as the highway shoulder. This reduces the likelihood of traffic obstructions and accidents, providing a safer environment for you to wait for help. Always prioritize safety in deciding whether it’s feasible to move your vehicle. Additionally, turning off your engine can prevent further damage to your vehicle and conserve fuel.

4. Display a Breakdown Signal

After securing your vehicle in a safe spot, use a breakdown signal to further alert oncoming traffic. A reflective triangle or a brightly colored cloth can serve as effective indicators that your vehicle is stationary due to an emergency, especially during times of reduced visibility. Place the signal at least 30 meters behind your vehicle to give other drivers ample warning.

5. Stay Inside Your Vehicle if Safe

Unless it’s unsafe due to potential hazards like smoke or fire, it’s advisable to remain inside your vehicle. By keeping the doors locked, you can avoid the risks associated with walking on or near busy highways. Staying inside your vehicle also makes you more visible to law enforcement and roadside assistance personnel. If you must exit, do so from the side away from traffic.

6. Use Your Phone Wisely

In such situations, your phone is an invaluable tool for calling for help. Conserve battery life by limiting use and, if possible, send a message to inform someone of your situation and location. Precise information about your whereabouts can expedite the arrival of assistance. It’s also helpful to have a car charger handy to keep your phone powered during long waits.

7. Have an Emergency Kit Ready

Preparation is key to managing highway breakdowns effectively. An emergency kit tailored for such situations can be a lifesaver. Stock it with essential items like water, non-perishable snacks, a flashlight with extra batteries, a first-aid kit, and warm blankets. These supplies not only aid in comfort but could also be critical while waiting for help, especially during extreme weather conditions. Regularly check and replenish your kit to ensure everything is in working order and not expired.

8. Know Your Location

Being aware of your exact location can significantly speed up the response time of towing services or emergency responders. Modern smartphones typically have GPS functionality that can pinpoint your location. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, look for road signs, mile markers, or landmarks that can help you describe your location when calling for assistance.

9. Do Not Attempt Repairs on Busy Highways

While it may be tempting to try and fix the issue yourself, attempting vehicle repairs on a busy highway is risky. The passing traffic poses a significant danger, and without the proper tools or expertise, you might worsen the situation. It’s safer and more prudent to wait for professional help.

10. Flag Down Help with Caution

If you decide to signal for help from passing drivers or a highway patrol, do so cautiously. Remain aware of your surroundings and stay within the safety of your vehicle as much as possible. Use your phone to contact authorities or roadside assistance for help rather than relying on strangers.

11. Be Prepared to Describe Your Issue

When help arrives or you’re on the call with a roadside assistance service, being able to describe what happened can be invaluable. Information such as the type of malfunction, noises heard before the breakdown, and any visible issues with the vehicle can provide clues to the problem and prepare the service provider on what to expect or what tools to bring.

12. Be Aware of Your Safety at All Times

Your safety is the most important consideration during a vehicle breakdown. Stay vigilant and keep a safe distance from the flow of traffic. If you must exit the vehicle, do so from the side opposite the traffic and stand far away from the vehicle and the roadway while waiting for help.


Handling vehicle breakdowns on the highway with confidence comes down to being prepared. By understanding and implementing these twelve strategies, drivers can significantly mitigate the stress and danger associated with such unexpected events. Each step, from having your hazard lights on to knowing your location and having an emergency kit ready, is integral to ensuring your safety until help arrives. 

Breakdowns can happen to anyone, at any time, and being equipped with the knowledge of what to do can transform a potentially hazardous situation into a manageable inconvenience. Remember, the goal is to protect yourself and other road users while resolving the situation as safely and efficiently as possible. With these strategies in hand, drivers can face the challenge of a highway breakdown with a sense of control and preparedness, turning a moment of crisis into a display of resilience and smart decision-making.


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