10 Auto Emergencies - And How to Handle Them

Posted by: Dan on 10/11/2015

Category: Maintenance

You’re driving down the road when disaster strikes. Are you prepared to handle the emergency you’re currently facing, or will you be stuck waiting for your mates to come help you out?

If you aren’t confident in your auto emergency management skills, give the following primer a quick read:

Sustaining a blown tyre

A flat tyre is still OK to drive on for a little while. This means that you shouldn’t panic if you hear the rubber clunking under your car. While it is important to slow down as soon as you can‚ you can also do so with a view towards getting the car somewhere where you can safely park. This means if you need to drive a little further along‚ you can do so. Ideally‚ seek to stay under 37mph/60kms as you go.

Replacing your blown tyre

Depending on the sort of damage your tyre has sustained, you generally have two options to address the problem. First, you can either call for a tow truck or replace your blown tyre with a spare. Many people who are unsure or intimidated by general auto maintenance may find their first preference is to call a truck - but changing a tyre (provided you’ve a toolkit in the boot for it) is easy.

First, ensure your car is on a flat and level surface. A tiny gradient is OK, but you need to be situated so that the car won’t be unleveled when you lift it. Once you’ve done this, ensure the car is in a park, and remove the hubcaps (the little plastic coverings on the wheel’s bolts) and unscrew the bolts alongside them. Then, make use of your jack. Most cars have a notch underneath their plastic base near the front or back wheel base - find this and place your jack there accordingly.

With the car elevated, ensure it’s lifted sufficiently, but also that the car is not being outright supported by the jack (do so by looking to see how much of the car’s weight remains with the opposite side to the tyre’s you’re changing). From here, take your spare tyre and align it with the the axis. Before you put it on, it’s a good idea to ensure it appears in good working order - so check for signs of any obvious wear or damage. But if all is well, place the tyre on the axis and begin to screw the bolts back on it.

A final word on this: ensure the bolts are tight. Use a tyre iron - not a standard wrench - to safely tighten your bolts before driving off.

A failing power unit

If you find your car loses power, the first thing to do is stay calm. As opposed to a truly dire and dangerous situation - like your brakes failing - losing power is generally a relatively straightforward issue to manage.

Once you’ve noticed your car’s power has failed, begin to assess the best way and place you can stop. If you’re on a suburban street‚ it should be a relatively easy thing to guide your car into a safe spot to park.

On the other hand, if you’re on a major road or freeway, this task requires a three-step plan. First‚ look around to see if you can safely exit your lane. If you cannot, do not attempt to leave it. Rather‚ just let the car slow and come to a complete stop‚ then turn on your hazard lights to make the issue known to those motorists around you.

Call for help, either via cellphone or flagging down another motorist. Remain in your car - in so far as possible - during this time, until help arrives. If you find yourself in light traffic and can move your car into a safety lane, do attempt to do so. Seek to guide the car over (remembering to indicate as you do), and then bring the car to a complete stop in the safety lane.

Going into a skid

Ideally, this shouldn’t happen, but when it does, the best thing to do is to simply try not to fight it. Like all auto emergencies, the first thing to do is to not panic. True, this is easier said than done‚ but it is necessary to learn this so as to maximize your safety.

Once you recognise your car is in a skid‚ apply the brakes but do not try to turn the wheel the opposite direction. Your car is already in a spin and seeking to fight it can make things worse. Instead‚ apply the brakes - both foot and handbrake - while keeping your hands lightly on the wheel. This is important because, when it comes to a potential crash‚ you need prepare.


It’s a rare thing to recognise that a crash is coming‚ yet if you have time to plan, a few things can be done to make the process and outcome as safe as possible. For one‚ before impact, take your hands off the wheel to avoid breaking your wrists.

Further, while using your brakes is generally always the wisest way to come to a quick stop, ensure you use the same principles as you would to get out of a skid, and try to avoid spinning the wheel away if you car’s front or side has made contact. Doing so could cause you to steer your auto into a fishtail that results in more damage.

Failing brakes

While slowing down a skid or stopping a crash requires good use of your brakes, when it comes to your brake’s failure, the situation can become far more frightening and urgent. When something like this occurs, the answer is simple: put on your handbrake immediately. If you can remember to brace before you do - because the handbrake will bring your car to a very quick stop - do so, but ultimately it need be a quick stop regardless. Be ready and put on that handbrake!

Getting into a post-crash conflict

Generally, a crash is unfortunate, but provided it’s small and no one is hurt, it should result in only a relatively simple transaction of information. The drivers get out, make sure each other is OK, swap insurance information and contact details, and then go on their way.

Yet, it’s also true that we humans can get emotional. Accordingly, if you’ve been in a crash and recognise that you’re feeling angry towards the other driver, it may be best to remain in or return to the car and lock your door. It’s crucial that you not escalate the situation or be aggressive in return.

Of course it’s important to be assertive and proactive in resolving the situation. If the person you’ve crashed with becomes angry, indicate that you understand they’re upset, but that it’s best a resolution is reached as quickly as possible. If this does not calm them down - and while local laws in some areas require the police to attend any car crash as a matter of course - indicate that you feel it best the police are involved to help resolve this. Call them on your cell phone and remain in your car until they arrive.

A car accident is always unpleasant, but following these steps should ensure it isn’t made any worse by temporary white hot anger.

Getting stuck in mud

By now, you're a driver that knows how to deal with power failure, skids and car crashes. While it may seem unlikely mud could pose as serious a challenge, it can quickly disable your car. What’s more, you need not be on safari in some exotic land to find yourself suddenly submerged; getting stuck can happen merely by taking the wrong road out of your high school's’ football field after the weekend game.

So, what do to when literally stuck in the mud? First, count to five and, as you do, ensure the car isn’t sinking further. If it isn’t, this is mud - not quicksand - so you should be OK. However, checking allows you to plan your next actions. If you are sinking? Get out right away!

If all you’re dealing with is normal mud, take the time to ensure your car is in neutral (this will make the tow truck’s job easier when you call them) and that all your other windows are wound up, then seek to exit through your driver’s side window. Keeping the door closed will prevent any mud getting into the car. Once you’ve exited the vehicle, lock the car and wind the window up as much as you can by putting your arm through to the interior. Then, go ahead and call a tow truck to have the car professionally extricated from the mud.

Having put the transmission in neutral, kept the doors closed and wound up your windows, your car should come out of the mud easily, and should be ready to drive again (perhaps to the carwash) once it’s been pulled out.

Seeing white smoke

If you find yourself with white smoke coming out your car’s exhaust, this is likely a sign of engine trouble. While this may be seen as a lower-level urgency, it is nonetheless important to get your car to a mechanic right away.

Furthermore, if you notice black smoke coming from under your hood, it’s likely also a sign of engine trouble (and is what will certainly develop if you have white smoke and don’t attend to it). If your car starts pouring out black smoke while you’re driving - leaving you unable to see properly - don’t hesitate to bring the car to a slow stop, switch on your hazard lights and then turn it off before making a call to roadside assistance.

Failing car key remote

Now and then, the electronics of your car can be prone to act up. While you should check your car key remote batteries regularly, changes in the weather, air and other factors can occasionally inhibit your signal. While it's ideal in this case to use a door key to enter, if you do not have one close at hand - or if you’re running for the car in the rain - press your remote under your chin and up to your bone before you press unlock.

Owing to electromagnetic radiation, your head is able to act as a powerful antenna for your remote’s signal to the car, extending the range and scope of your remote’s signal. Not only is this a great party trick, it’s also invaluable if you find yourself ever having to use a remote with low battery to access your car. It’s a life hack and a huge timesaver for anyone who’s been running to the car in the rain.

Got another auto emergency you’d like to see us cover? Share your suggestions by leaving a comment below:

Image: Flickr