Steps to Take When Your Car Engine Seizes and Breaks Down

Drive long enough and far enough and you’re sure to find yourself on the side of the road because your engine has seized or some other serious malfunction has occurred. Whether you’re on a dark, deserted rural road or on the side of busy highway, this can be a pretty scary affair. Knowing how to handle yourself in this situation in advance is the best way to ensure that your first breakdown isn’t so bad.

1. Get Off the Road

When your engine fails, remain calm. The car will still have momentum so steer it safely onto the shoulder or the grass. If there’s no safe area, get it as far off the road as possible. Turn the wheels away from the road. If the vehicle is struck from behind, it will move away from the road rather than into traffic.

2. Make Your Vehicle Visible

Hazard lights, which are also called just hazards, flashers and emergency lights, are a type of automotive lighting. All vehicles have them. The location of the activation button will depend on your make and model, but the icon used to indicate the feature is universal. Turning this on will cause highly visible blinking at the front and rear of your vehicle.

3. Choose to Remain Inside or Step Outside

There’s no hard rule about remaining inside or exiting the vehicle. You have to choose based on the circumstances. If there seems to be a high chance that the vehicle is hit, exit and remain a safe distance away. Otherwise, remain inside with your seat belt on as if you were driving. Even if you do opt to remain inside, determine if exiting is safe. If so, you can go outside to make the vehicle more visible.

4. If You Leave the Vehicle, Get Out Safely

If your passenger side door is off the road, leave through it in order to minimize the chance of an accident. If you have to leave through the driver side door, be very careful. Vehicles moving at highway speeds can be on top of you in a blink.

5. Pop Your Hood

If you leave your vehicle, unlatch your hood first. Raise the hood, and use the stand to keep it up. This is a universal sign of a breakdown and will alert oncoming vehicles.

6. Set Up Flares and Triangles

A popped hood and flashers are often good enough, but if you have an emergency kit with triangles and flares, use them as an added measure.

7. Call for Help

Call roadside assistance. If you don’t have it, call your insurance provider. Your provider may be able to set it up retroactively or at least save you money. Otherwise, call a tow truck directly, and if this is an emergency situation, call 911 instead. If you don’t have a phone, hang a white or other cloth from the window as a sign to police. Consider keeping a disposable phone in your vehicle as part of your emergency kit.

8. Wait for Help

Waiting patiently is the best thing you can do at this point. Don’t fiddle with the car hoping to get lucky. Most common vehicle malfunctions are relatively easy to overcome for a professional, and even a seized engine likely doesn’t block you from future online title loans or prevent sale of the vehicle.


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