You're driving down the road, and your car begins making a strange, unidentifiable sound. While you may not know what it is, you know it can't be good. Suddenly, the "check engine" light flashes on. Your first instinct is to pull over. But what do you do next?
Whether it's a flat tire, engine failure or a dead battery, being stranded in an automobile emergency can be terrifying. But if you make the proper preparations, you'll be ready to handle an auto emergency with ease.
According to the AARP Driver Safety Program - the nation's largest driver improvement course designed for drivers age 50 and older - it's crucial to prepare yourself for the inevitable car "hiccup" by packing an emergency roadside kit. Consider packing these items which will make it easier to deal with most problems on the road:
1. Signaling devices to make your car visible to other motorists and emergency vehicles, including flares, a reflective day/night device and a white rag or flag to signal for help.
2. A variety of tools for roadside repairs, like changing a tire or jump starting your car battery, including a pair of pliers, a screwdriver, an adjustable wrench, electrical and duct tape and a pocketknife. Also ensure you have several key items for repairs, such as a spare tire, jumper cables and sandpaper (to clean battery terminals if the car won't start).
3. Winter emergency supplies, such as an ice scraper, a small shovel, sand or kitty litter (to provide extra traction in the case that your vehicle is stuck on icy pavement) and tire chains.
Make sure that you always have your vehicle's owner's manual, a flashlight (with extra batteries), water and nonperishable food items and a first aid kit. In addition to the items in your emergency roadside kit, you should always have a well-charged cell phone with you in case you need to contact the police or a car-towing service.
Car breakdowns are an unfortunate part of driving that many of us will encounter at some point. If you do experience an automobile emergency that forces you off the road, remember that your first priority is to keep you and your passengers safe.
To learn more about roadside safety and brush up on your driving skills, consider taking the AARP Driver Safety Program course, available in a classroom setting or online. For more information, visit www.aarp.org/driving45.
Blog written by Julie Lee, director of AARP's Driver Safety Program. Lee has more than 30 years experience in management, strategic planning, transportation and safety. With AARP for over eight years, Lee directs the largest driver improvement course designed for drivers age 50 and older.