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What to Do if Your Car Breaks Down This Winter

If your car breaks down in sub-zero temperatures, here’s what you should do until help arrives

A red and neon orange hazard triangle is on a snowy road. There is a silver car in the background with a person standing in front of the car.

It's not an ideal scenario: the snow is falling, the wind is gusting and your car has broken down on the side of the road.

But being stranded in a winter storm doesn’t have to be an anxiety-inducing situation. Just follow these five simple tips to keep yourself safe until help arrives.

1. Move out of harm's way

If your car has enough gas or your battery hasn’t died, CAA road safety experts recommend you signal and pull over onto the right-hand shoulder as quickly and safely as possible. If you can’t make it to the right shoulder, opt for the left one but ensure you’re as far away from traffic as possible.

If you can’t make either shoulder or one doesn’t exist, come to a controlled stop and turn on your four way flashers. No matter where you are, never, ever try to push your car to safety.

2. Stay inside your car

Your vehicle is the safest—and warmest—place you can be, particularly in inclement weather. So in most cases, stay put, turn on your flashers and call 911 if someone is hurt or it’s an emergency.

If the situation is not urgent, call roadside assistance. If you’re a CAA Member, dial *222.

Next, update a family member or friend about your situation and provide them with your location. If you have the CAA Mobile App on your smartphone, you’ll receive real time status updates for your service call, which you can also share with others.

Most importantly, stay calm and avoid getting out in the cold unnecessarily.

3. Only venture outside when necessary

There are three scenarios where you may want to exit your vehicle.

If you’re stuck in a snowbank, make sure that your tailpipe isn’t obstructed. It can cause carbon monoxide to flood the cabin with potentially fatal consequences.

Also, if it’s especially snowy or if it’s nighttime, Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation recommends setting up reflective pylons or flares around your car.

Finally, if you’re stuck in the middle of the road, worried about being rear-ended and the weather isn’t too bad, experts say you should walk to a safer location.

But in all of those situations, make sure the coast is clear before getting out of your car.

4. Beware of carbon monoxide

If you're going to be waiting a while for help to arrive, you’ll want to do two other things to prevent yourself from being overcome by carbon monoxide. First, crack a window to let in fresh air. Second, leave your engine off, only running it a few minutes every hour to keep your vehicle warm.

If you have candles in your emergency roadside kit, you can use them for heat, but make sure they’re positioned inside a deep can that’s not easy to knock over. Also, make sure you stay awake and move your arms, legs and feet to keep your circulation going.

5. Pack an emergency kit

Before the cold weather sets in, make sure you have an emergency kit in your car. It could be a lifesaver if you’re stranded in bad weather. CAA’s safety experts say the kit should include a shovel, windshield washer fluid, booster cables, extra clothes, boots, bottled water, energy bars, an ice scraper and snowbrush, blankets, a flashlight and batteries and a first aid kit.

Finally, if the weather is bad, make sure your cell phone is fully charged before you set out and that you have a charging cable in your vehicle.

Be prepared

Stay safe this winter by keeping an emergency kit in your vehicle, which are available in-person at a CAA Store or online. Show your CAA Membership card to receive Member-exclusive pricing.

Image credit: LuckyBusiness/iStock

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