A man in a suit pushing his broken down car on the road.

A car break down is a situation no one wants to be in. One minute you’re driving down the road and everything seems fine. The next minute, your car is stuttering and stalling, and you only have seconds to pull over to safety. While it’s something no one wants to go through, car break downs happen all the time, so it’s important to know what to do in case you find yourself in trouble.

Get Over to Safety

It’s important to take action the moment you notice your car acting up. You may only have seconds to work with, and what you do in those seconds matters. The first thing you should do is turn on your emergency flashers to let others know something is wrong. If at all possible, safely navigate your car to the side of the road as far over as you can get. Once you’ve pulled over safely, exit the side opposite of the road so you can start to get a handle on the situation.

If you can’t get off of the road and can’t safely exit your vehicle, keep your seatbelt on, put your hazard lights on, and call emergency services.

If you are able to pull over and exit the vehicle, put on a reflective vest if you have one (if you don’t have one, it’s  a good idea to order one and keep it in your car in the event that you find yourself in this situation). If you have flares or reflective triangles, set them up to make yourself more visible. If it’s dusk or dark outside, wave a flashlight to add even more visibility.

Call for Help

If you’re on a busy road, you should call for help immediately. A law enforcement agent can come out and direct traffic around your vehicle until a tow truck can arrive to safely take your car to a repair shop. Don’t worry about whether insurance will cover the tow or what it might cost–the most important thing is to get your vehicle off the road and to safety as quickly as possible.

Should You Push?

If you’re in an area where you might be able to safely push your vehicle further to the side of the road or a gas station/parking lot that’s right down the street, there are some factors to consider before committing to pushing.

Do You Have Enough People?

If you’re by yourself, pushing your car is not a good idea. It’s a two-person job at minimum for a couple of reasons. First, you need someone to help steer the car to ensure that you have complete control as you push. You’ll also need someone to push on the back of the car, ideally two people to make the job easier.

Do You Have the Strength?

Pushing a a car is no easy feat, even with assistance. Cars are extremely heavy, and while they will roll on their wheels without power, it takes a lot of strength to get the car to budge and maintain momentum. Steering is also difficult if your car doesn’t have power–power steering makes a huge difference, and turning the wheel while your car isn’t functioning requires considerable strength. If you or anyone helping push has any injuries, such as back or leg injuries, it’s best not to push.

Is There Traffic?

Pushing your car on a busy road is more dangerous than leaving it with the hazard lights on (and flares/reflectors if possible), so if you’re in a heavily-trafficked area it’s better to call for help and wait until assistance arrives).

What’s Your Destination?

Ideally you should only push your car a very short distance–the goal is to get it to a safer location as quickly as possible, not to get it home or to a location miles away. You’ll need a tow truck for that, so ensure you have a plan in mind to keep the pushing to a minimum.

Are You On the Level?

Finally, it’s crucial to ensure you’re on a flat level, and the path you’ll be pushing your car is level. If the ground slopes up or down, you should avoid pushing your car as there’s a chance you may lose control, which can lead to injury or damage to your vehicle or other property.

Properly Pushing Your Car

If you’ve gone through the above checklist in your mind and meet all the requirements (multiple people to help, the necessary strength, not much traffic, a target location that’s nearby, and a flat path to travel), you can go ahead and push your car.

Emergency Brake & Neutral

Before pushing, ensure your emergency brake is disengaged. Then, put your car in neutral. Otherwise, you’ll have a very difficult time gaining any kind of traction or momentum.

Choose a Steerer

Someone will need to hold the wheel and keep the car on target while it’s being pushed. Some people prefer to sit in the car and steer, while others prefer to open the door and help push with one hand on the wheel. The first option adds extra weight to the car, so if the steerer is comfortable walking alongside (and helping push, if possible), it’s the better option. However, brakes may be important so the steerer needs to be ready to climb in and brake if necessary–though the car should be pushed slowly.

Push Slow & Steady

The people pushing in the back should find a spot they can apply pressure without denting the car body. Usually the trunk is a solid choice, just be careful to avoid applying pressure to the spoiler if the car has one. Each pusher should put both hands on the car and lean into it, and start walking in unison (if there’s more than one person). The car will start to roll, and it’s important to push slowly to help keep control of the car. While those in the back are pushing, the steerer should ensure the car stays on course.

Stop & Brake

When you’ve got your car to its destination, use the brakes to stop the car if the momentum doesn’t die down quickly enough. Put the car back in park and apply the emergency brake so you can wait safely for your tow truck to arrive.


If your car breaks down, the best thing you can do is to call for help. If you need to push your car further out of the way, ensure you’re fully prepared before committing to the task. Unless you’ve broken down right next to a repair shop or your home, you’ll need a tow truck either way, so it’s best not to take any risks if you aren’t 100% sure you can safely push your car. Remember, if you have any doubts about safely pushing your vehicle, it’s best to call for professional help and wait.

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