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Roadside RemediesNotes from the Road

Roadside Remedies
By Debbie Murphy/

What To Do When a Breakdown Befalls -
Breakdowns happen to the best of us, even those who scrupulously adhere to their auto maintenance schedules. The best way to survive this sort of trauma is to stay calm; the best way to stay calm is to have a plan, and some basic knowledge of what caused the breakdown. And it also helps to carry a charged cell phone.

Now or Later
Breakdowns come in two categories: those that require us to stop immediately, usually because the vehicle is incapacitated and you have no choice. And those that present a narrow window of opportunity to quickly find a safe place to pull over. The former category may be signaled by an "idiot light." For instance, once the oil light comes on, your engine may be in serious trouble and should be shut down immediately.
With gauges that record temperature or alternator functioning, you have the luxury, or agony, of a more advanced disaster warning. A good rule of thumb with both temperature and alternator is to know what's normal for the specific vehicle and what's dangerously abnormal. For instance, pick-ups on flat highways with no load easily run below the 200° mark, but when running up steep grades with a heavy load, the temperature will rise steadily.
With the battery, or alternator, gauge, the needle may fluctuate in stop-and-go traffic or in the rain at night. In other words, when the electrical system has a full load. If you're cruising along in normal driving conditions with little load on the system and notice the needle is sinking, it's time to worry.
When a breakdown is imminent, signal (by hand, if necessary) and get completely out of the flow of traffic. If the nature of your breakdown is going to cause your vehicle to drive erratically, turn on your flashers to alert other drivers.
Once you're safely off the road, be sure your flashers are on. Raise your hood, even if the engine isn't the problem, since that's the universal sign for a breakdown. Also set out flares or warning triangles, if it is safe to do so, behind your vehicle. The safest place for you, especially on a busy freeway or at night on urban roadways, is not in your vehicle. Stay near—but never get between traffic and your disabled auto.

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