The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

What to Do (And Not to Do) After a Highway Breakdown

Depending on the setting, there are different ways to handle the aftermath of a vehicle breakdown.

August 2013, by Staff

Fleets can pass along the safety tips in this article to their drivers so they are prepared in the event of a breakdown.
Fleets can pass along the safety tips in this article to their drivers so they are prepared in the event of a breakdown.

All highway breakdowns are not created equal.

The procedure for what do in the event of a vehicle breakdown has a lot to do with where the vehicle is being driven at the time it sputters to a stop. Metropolitan-area freeways and rural highways each bring different problems and require markedly different solutions to a vehicle breakdown.

Regardless of the setting, however, it’s important to remember to use the vehicle’s hazard lights and pull onto the shoulder (if it can be done safely to avoid becoming a road hazard to other drivers) to get out of the way of other passing vehicles flying by at high speeds.

Once the driver has cleared the road and is safely on the shoulder, he or she can make the vehicle more visible by turning on the vehicle’s dome light and leaving the headlights on, in addition to the vehicle hazard lights. All vehicles should be equipped with an emergency kit. Put reflective triangles behind the vehicle if it can be done safely.

A copy of the fleet’s safety and accident policy should be stored in the glovebox and reviewed when an incident occurs. Once the policy has been quickly studied, several questions should be asked: Is it safe to exit the vehicle? Is the neighborhood/stretch of road safe or should caution be exercised? The answers to these questions, or the obvious nature of the breakdown, will determine what to do next.

It is recommended to only exit the vehicle if it’s a residential or rural/low traffic area. In high-trafficked metropolitan areas, stay in the car until assistance can be rendered by a tow truck driver or law enforcement personnel. Exiting or standing around a stranded vehicle greatly increases the risk of injury or death. Staying safe is much more important than staying on schedule.

If the car is beyond repair, it’s best to wait for a professional. After calling a tow truck directly or the fleet manager or fleet management company (if required by policy), the driver should wait patiently for official help to arrive.

Never accept unofficial assistance in the wake of a breakdown.

The National Safety Council recommends the following:

  • Do not try to flag down other vehicles, i.e., don’t solicit the help of passing motorists.
  • Raise the vehicle’s hood and tie something white to the radio antenna or hang it out the window so police officers or tow truck operators will know help is needed.
  • Don’t stand behind or next to the vehicle.

5 Freeway Breakdown Tips

If a driver is stranded due to a vehicle breakdown on a freeway, here are five tips to be sure they remember:

  1. Pull over and out of traffic if possible. Even if all of the emergency lights are activated, some highway drivers do not pay close attention and could rear-end the disabled fleet vehicle, causing further damage or injury.
  2. The driver shouldn’t attempt to fix the vehicle, even if it appears it’s going to be a quick or easy fix. Wait for professional help to arrive.
  3. Only exit the vehicle if it is necessary or safe to do so. If possible, raise the vehicle hood to alert passing authorities that the vehicle is disabled and help is needed.
  4. Patience is a virtue in breakdown situations. Particularly in heavily trafficked metropolitan areas, highways are regularly patrolled by police and tow truck operators — help will arrive soon.
  5. Lastly, make sure to keep a copy of the fleet’s roadside assistance or accident policy in the vehicle at all times.
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  1. 1. old guy [ September 30, 2013 @ 07:44AM ]

    #2 is terrible advise. If you can fix your vehicle and get back on the road do it. Sitting on the side of the road waiting for help can be dangerous. If you're capable of fixing the problem (such as a flat tire) there is no reason to wait. No wonder the young generation is clueless and helpless with advice like that.

  2. 2. AF Editor [ October 01, 2013 @ 11:26AM ]

    Thank you for your input! While we agree that basic mechanical abilities are a necessity, we do not recommend the driver fix or repair a vehicle, as doing so on the side of the road is hazardous to the driver. Also, drivers frequently believe they have better skills than they do in reality, and can make the issue worse, void a warranty on vehicle parts, or actually cause more downtime. This is more of an issue for a vehicle breakdown, requiring repairs beyond replacing a spare tire.

  3. 3. guy [ April 08, 2015 @ 09:22PM ]

    Bottom line you break down on freeway your chances of being hit are good!and shame on auto makers not providing safety features to cares.that I will invent kids lifes and all ours count on it!petition the agressive safety instruments are installed on all vehicles.god bless

  4. 4. Jay [ June 10, 2016 @ 12:42AM ]

    Have you ever noticed the broken down cars on the side of the hwy? Meaning more than one car within a few feet or mile within each other? It's what I call the cluster effect. Meaning all things in the universe tend to cluster....the rich cluster with the rich and the poor tend to stay around the poor and so on. Everything tends to if you want to change yourself.....start hanging around the people you want to become.

  5. 5. Erika [ September 12, 2016 @ 03:24PM ]

    I agree with waiting for the professional to assist especially on high trafficked roads. Vehicle Shield is a sign that can be used in situations like break downs. Visit


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