How to Stay Safe When Your Car Breaks Down

Even the most careful driver can be faced with an emergency situation. If the emergency happens in an unfamiliar area it is even more stressful. Use your common sense and these tips to help protect yourself from danger:

  • If your car should break down and you’re not near enough to one of your safe spots, follow these steps:
    1. Get off the roadway, out of the path of oncoming traffic, even if you to have to drive on a flat tire. The tire is replaceable.
    2. Turn on your emergency flashers. If you have emergency roadway flares in your trunk, position them conspicuously.
    3. Raise the hood and tie a handkerchief to the aerial or door handle.
    4. If a roadside telephone or call-box is handy, use it. If not, sit in your locked car and wait for help.
    5. If a motorist stops to render assistance, it’s better to remain in the car, and ask him to get help. (Likewise, if you see a stranded motorist, it’s better not to stop. Notify the police.)
  • If you think you are being followed, don’t drive home. You would only be telling your follower where you live.
    1. Stay Calm. As long as you think clearly, you’ll be in control of the situation.
    2. Flash your lights and sound your horn long enough to attract attention to you, and consequently the person following you.
    3. Drive to one of your already identified safe spots, sounding your horn and flashing your lights. Do not leave this safe location until you’re sure your follower is gone.
    4. Remember, you are your best protection. If you follow these steps, you’ll be protecting the most important part of your car-YOU.

Protecting Yourself

Common sense will generally steer you clear of the very infrequent dangerous situation:

  • Always lock your car doors while driving, and roll windows up far enough to keep anyone from reaching inside.
  • At stop signs and lights keep the car in gear and stay alert.
  • Travel well-lighted, busy streets. You can spare those extra minutes it may take to avoid an unsafe area.
  • Keep your purse and other valuables out of sight, even when you are driving in your locked car.
  • Park in safe, well-lighted areas near your destination.
  • Always lock your car, even for a short absence. And before unlocking your car, quickly check to make sure no one is hiding on your seats or floors, front and back.
  • Never pick up a hitchhiker. Even the most harmless-looking stranger can be dangerous. Don’t find out.
  • When you arrive home, leave your headlights on until you have the car in the garage and the house door unlocked. If you can have a remote control garage door opener installed, it will allow you to remain in your locked car until you’re inside your locked garage.
  • Check the daily routes you travel and pick out safe spots-24 hour gas stations, convenience stores, and police and fire stations. If trouble should arise, drive straight to one of these locations.

Protecting Your Car

When it comes to protecting your car, you need to consider the fact that car break-ins are one of the most common theft crimes that occur around the world.  While a car burglary may not be a devastating crime, if you are traveling, it can be a significant issue that puts a damper on your travels. The following are some ideas that may help reduce the chances of car crime while traveling

Load and hide your stuff before you reach your destination.

By the time you pull into a hotel lot, valet queue, parking garage or any parking spot, everything you plan to leave in the car should already be well stowed and hidden. To pull into your spot, and then take your most valuable items and pack them in the trunk, is to broadcast to anyone within view exactly where to focus their attentions if they want to rip you off. The best approach is to put your things in the trunk or other safe compartment before you even get in the car at the beginning of your trip.

Unload your stuff away from your parking spaces as well.

Similarly, if you are planning to return to the same parking area, you will want to take your stuff out of the car away from the lot if possible. If you open the trunk and take out all the good stuff each time you return to your car, eventually someone will notice. Best case is to be able to pull over somewhere safe away from either your home base or destination, and get your stuff then.

Choose your parking space wisely.

  • In airport lots, I recommend parking in view of the exit toll booths or parking office if possible, or just as well within view of a shuttle pickup location or kiosk. The increased foot traffic and eyeball count will discourage potential thieves. Well-lit areas are next best; most airport lots have surveillance cameras in place, so making it easier for an attendant to see your car on a grainy camera will help.
  • Park “trunk out.” If you are storing items in your trunk, you will want to point the trunk out into the lot aisle, where more people can see anyone trying to break in. Don’t give thieves the opportunity to use your car as cover while ripping you off.
  • When parking on the street, try to park within sight of a busy store or hotel entrance, under a street lamp, near a busy corner or out in the open away from things that might provide shelter to a thief (like thick or low-hanging trees). The busier the street, the better.
  • When in doubt, use a parking garage.
  • Parking on the street is the most vulnerable place to be, so if you are uncomfortable with your street parking options, by all means use a parking garage instead. Although you are safer in a parking garage, that does not mean that you are invulnerable; certainly enough travelers get ripped off by garage personnel everywhere. Remove or lock up any really juicy items — GPS units, accessories for your cell phone or MP3 player, a loose E-ZPass apparatus — in order to remove temptation. All of the same precautions above apply; no matter where you park, make it as difficult and uninspiring to potential thieves as possible.
  • Self park when you can.
  • Most attendant or valet parking garages are safe on the whole — but if you make it too easy, the temptation to steal can be too great for a person working at or near minimum wages.
  • Assume in most cases thieves want to steal your car outright.
  • It turns out that most thieves will try to steal a car outright rather than break into a car; if there is anything valuable inside, they can take it and dump the vehicle, and certainly there is a market for hot cars as well. For this reason, parking your car in a well-lit place where there is likely to be some foot traffic is always a good idea. Similarly, visual cues that might deter a thief can be critical — even if they are just for show. Things like a steering wheel lock or a blinking alarm system light will inspire thieves to move on to the next vehicle, even if you don’t have the alarm activated.
  • A neat car is less likely to get robbed.
  • A car that is filled with jackets or beach towels that appear to be covering items of value, or that has wires sticking out here and there suggesting that electronic devices may also be stowed, are much more likely to attract interest. If a potential thief sees nothing but car upholstery, he or she is less likely to be curious about what might be hidden in the car.
  • Check for your valuables as soon as you return to your car.
  • Notwithstanding our second rule above, if you have any suspicions, you will want to make sure nothing was stolen before you pull out. If your car does get ripped off, you want to figure it out at or near the location it was robbed, in case you have to file a complaint. When surveying your vehicle, keep in mind that thieves know what to take — often items you won’t notice until you are long gone. For example, a common tactic is to take a camera out of a camera bag, but leave the bag behind; it looks like it was undisturbed so you won’t figure it out for hours or days.

Rent wisely.

When renting a car, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Rent models that are not easily exposed or broken into, and that have a trunk big enough to store anything you need secured. A hip and tiny convertible sounds like a great idea, but it could not be harder to hide stuff, and easier to break into.
  • The more modest and nondescript the rental model, the less likely to attract attention it is.
  • Don’t leave your rental contract in the car, as this document has just about all the information you will need if the car is stolenand also all the information a thief will need to evade detection if he or she is stopped for any reason before you report the vehicle as stolen.

Protect valuables left inside your vehicle, use a portable safe designed to used your personal or rental car.  To see the safes, visit: