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Car Breakdown? What to do and how to prepare

CarShield Team

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Tips & Advice

Car Breakdown? What to do and how to prepare

Few events can create the same cocktail of emotions as a car breakdown, an occurrence that is equal parts frustrating, embarrassing, distressing, and depressing. Fortunately, though, they don’t always happen out of the blue! Watching for the right car breakdown signs can give you enough warning to address a small issue before it becomes a catastrophe.

Let’s go over some indications that your vehicle is about to leave you stranded or run up a massive repair bill. Then, we’ll go through a “car-breakdown-to-do” list, should your vehicle quit on you at the worst time.

Car Breakdown Warning Signs

Always pay close attention to your car, as it may be throwing you signs that it’s nearing failure. If you’re experiencing any of the following problems, take your car to a reputable mechanic immediately, but if you suspect you can’t make it that far, call a tow truck. Depending on whether you have a warranty or vehicle service contract in place, you might even get that tow for free.

Here’s what to watch out for:

The Check Engine Light

Cars made after 1996 are required to have OBD2 systems in place for their diagnostics. They allow shops (or you, if you have a scan tool) to plug into a specialized port to determine what’s causing the light to come on. The light could be on for a totally innocuous reason, but without a scan, you won’t know for sure.

Your engine might even seem to be running fine, but never assume that your check engine light is just giving a faulty reading. The issue could be as simple as a loose gas cap or as serious as a failed oxygen sensor, which can damage your spark plugs and catalytic converter and cost thousands to fix.

Rough Idling

In the days of carbureted engines, a rough idle was often an indication that your car was in need of a tune-up. Carburetors could go out of adjustment, but the fix could often be as easy as turning the right screw.

With modern, fuel-injected cars, however, a rough idle will require far more work to solve. You might have a clogged air filter, dying spark plugs, or clogged fuel injectors. Check the air filter, then the spark plugs; if they aren’t the source of your problem, run some injector cleaner through the fuel system. If the car still has a rough idle, you may have a more serious problem, such as low compression in one of its cylinders.

Puddles and Stains

If fluids are pooling under your car, they aren’t necessarily cause for concern, as air conditioning compressors drip condensation after running on hot days. If that puddle under your car is something other than water, though, you have a leak, the type of which depends on what liquid is in the puddle.

It could be coolant, oil, or even gas, so get started immediately with simple fixes, such as tightening the oil cap and checking all hose connections. More invasive repairs will be necessary if the leak is coming from a gasket.

Difficult Starting

When you fire up the ignition, the car should start immediately, so if you have to crank it over several times, something is amiss. Your battery or alternator could be providing an insufficient charge, or your starter motor may be about to go. Driving your car to the shop in such a scenario is a gamble as — if the problem is your alternator — you’ll be running on battery power alone. It’s better to call a tow truck.


Not all smoke is the same, meaning the [type and location][1] of smoke coming from your car signify different things. Blue smoke from the exhaust indicates your car is burning oil, white smoke is a sign that water or coolant has gotten into your fuel, and dark black smoke could mean you need a new oil filter.

If the smoke is coming from under your hood, the situation is especially urgent, as there should never be any kind of visible emission coming from the engine itself. Steam or white smoke is most likely the result of a ruptured hose in the cooling system. Darker smoke could be due to oil spilling out after topping it off after an oil change, or it could be a damaged seal or gasket. If the smoke is due to your car’s electrical system, expect a specifically pungent burning smell to go with it.

Car Breakdown: What to Do List

If you either don’t notice the signs of an imminent car breakdown or there simply are no signs to see, you may end up stuck on the side of the road.

Here’s what to do:

Turn on the Hazard Lights

The government requires that every car have a physical hazard light button, shaped like a red triangle. Turn your lights on to alert other drivers to your problem.

Make Sure Your Car Is Out of the Way

Pull over as far as you can to avoid traffic, try to come to a stop on a level surface, and then engage your emergency brake. If you end up on an incline, turn the wheels away from the street. If the car rolls for any reason, it won’t roll into other cars.

Get Out on the Passenger’s Side

If you have to pull over in a high-traffic area, either stay in the car or get out on the passenger’s side to avoid other vehicles.

Open the Hood

The universal sign of, “I just had a car breakdown,” opening your hood also makes your car more visible so that other motorists will notice you and give you a wide berth.

Call for Assistance

Call for a tow truck or use the roadside assistance that comes with your warranty/service agreement. Only call 911 if it’s a true emergency.

Have a Comprehensive Vehicle Service Contract!

Even if you catch the car breakdown signs as soon as they happen, repairs can still be costly, which is why having a vehicle service contract through CarShield is so vital. When you have an unexpected breakdown, you won’t have to fret over huge bills from your mechanic — the repairs are covered!

Contact CarShield and find the right protection plan for you and your car today!

Joe has been with CarShield for six years and used his protection 3 times to cover his Toyota truck.
Joe has been with CarShield for six years and used his protection 3 times to cover his Toyota truck.

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