Healthy Family | Home Safety | Health and Wealth | Relationship Issues | Career Advice | Growing Family
Get the SixWise e-Newsletter FREE!
Google Web
Free Newsletter Subscription
Get the Web's Most trusted & Informative Health, Wealth, Safety & More Newsletter -- FREE!


Share Email to a Friend Print This

What to Do (and Not Do) if Your
Car Ever Leaves You Stranded

Getting stranded is something that no one expects as they head off for work, a road trip or just to run a few errands. But millions of motorists become stranded every year, and knowing what to do in this emergency situation is a must.

stranded motorists

If you're stranded, assess whether it's safe to walk for help. If the road is too busy, or you're too far from help, you're usually best off staying near your car.

Among the many factors that can leave your car stranded are:

  • Running out of gas

  • A dead battery

  • A flat tire

  • Getting stuck in mud, grass, etc.

  • Bad weather (ice, snow, heavy rain)

  • Losing your keys

  • Other mechanical problems

The steps you should take to keep yourself safe in any one of these situations are largely dependent on the situation. Here are some of the more common ones.

What to do if You're Stranded on an Interstate, Highway or Major Road

If your car breaks down on a busy road, try to pull off to the shoulder or exit the highway all together. If your car gets stranded near busy traffic, you should assess whether you can safely leave the car. If traffic is not too heavy, get out of the car and wait safely away from traffic (but keep the car within view). This protects you if another vehicle strikes your stranded car.

However, before leaving your vehicle you should:

  • Raise your hood and tie something to the radio antenna or door handle, or hang it out a window. Turn on your hazard lights. This alerts police officers that you need help.

  • If you have a cell phone, call the police (or your vehicle roadside assistance service) and tell them you're stranded.

  • If you are waiting inside the vehicle, lock all the doors. If someone approaches, roll the window down only slightly and ask them to phone the police for you. Do not get in a stranger's car or get out of your car to talk to a stranger.

  • Assess whether you can walk for help. Some interstates have emergency phones every few miles, or a gas station may be within walking distance. However, use extreme caution if you decide to walk near a busy roadway, and don't attempt to cross a busy, multi-lane highway.

  • If you think you have a flat tire, do not attempt to change it near a busy road. You could be struck by a moving vehicle. If you are able to pull far away from the road, then you could attempt to change it. Otherwise, you're better off ruining the tire and rim to drive to a nearby gas station than risk your life changing it near fast-moving vehicles.

Finally, all interstates, highways and major roads are patrolled regularly. Once you have put out your distress signals, wait for a uniformed police officer or other emergency personnel to arrive to help.

stranded motorists

If your car breaks down, raise the hood, turn on your hazard lights and tie a cloth to your antenna (or hang it out your window). This will alert emergency personnel that you need help.

What to Do if You're Stranded in a Blizzard

If your vehicle gets stuck in a blizzard, the Denver Office of Emergency Management offers these tips:

  • Stay in your vehicle.

  • If you have a cell phone, call the police for help, but be careful not to run down your battery if you can't get through.

  • If you have an emergency kit, use supplies conservatively.

  • Attach something to your antenna or window, and leave your dome light on at night to alert emergency personnel.

  • Check your tailpipe occasionally to make sure it's not blocked with snow. Clean the pipe out if necessary to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • Run the heater for about 10 minutes every hour, depending on how much fuel you have.

  • Leave a window cracked to let in air, and also to prevent the car from becoming sealed from heavy ice and snow.

  • Don't sleep if you can help it, especially if the engine is running and you are alone.

  • Move your arms and legs periodically to keep your circulation going.

  • Once the storm passes, try writing "HELP" in large letters in the snow outside your vehicle.

Or in a Flood ...

You should never attempt to drive through standing water, as it takes just two feet of water to move a car, and it is very difficult to gauge how deep water is from looking at it.

However, if you become stranded in a flooded area ...

  • Open your windows so you have a way to get out of your car, if necessary.

  • Stay in your car unless it is sinking.

  • Use your cell phone to call for help, and put out emergency signals (hazard lights, hang a cloth out the window).

  • Wait for help to arrive. If you must leave your car because it's sinking, and the area is flooded, swim to a tree or something sturdy nearby that you can hold on to.

Most importantly, no matter where you are stranded remember to stay calm and think logically before making any decisions. Typically, your best option is to stay in or near your car and wait for help to arrive, but you must use your best judgment that takes into account the specifics of the situation.

Recommended Reading

What Colors Should Police Cars, Ambulances and Fire Trucks Be? (Hint on Fire Trucks: NOT Red)

What to Do & Know if You Are in an Auto Accident (Includes a Checklist Everyone Should Print Out)


Denver Office of Emergency Management

AAA Newsroom

To get more information about this and other highly important topics, sign up for your free subscription to our weekly "Be Safe, Live Long & Prosper" e-newsletter.

With every issue of the free newsletter, you’ll get access to the insights, products, services, and more that can truly improve your well-being, peace of mind, and therefore your life!

Share Email to a Friend Print This