No one ever wants to see a “check engine” light or pillows of smoke coming up through their car hood. It’s even worse and more dangerous if this happens in the middle of nowhere with temperatures in the triple digits.
There are many precautions and steps you should take before a road trip across the desert, such as checking tire pressure, making sure fluid levels are normal and packing emergency water and food.
However, some incidents are simply unavoidable. Flat tires and overheating cars sometimes just happen.
“The best advice I can give somebody is prepare for the unexpected,” said Quentin Mehr, a public information officer for the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
Once you’ve hit the road, here are some safety tips to lessen the risk of a car breakdown, and here’s what to do if your car does break down, leaving you stranded on a hot, desert highway.
Keep an eye on your fuel
The easiest way to prevent a terrible day on the road is to make sure you don’t run out of gas.
“If you see yourself traveling, and you’re already under a half tank of gas, it might be time to go ahead and start looking for a gas station,” Mehr said.
The Arizona Department of Transportation has signs along interstates that tell drivers when the next service is available.
Tell others about your trip
Let someone know where you’re going, when you’re leaving and when you’re due back.
“If you break down, and if someone knows where you’re going and you don’t report in, someone can say, ‘We have friends that are traveling from here to here, and we haven’t heard from them,’” Mehr said. “That call then gets sent to us, and while we’re patrolling, we’re looking for these people.”
Charge your phone
With car chargers and portable batteries, this should be a pretty easy to do. A charged phone and a decent cell signal can be a lifesaver during breakdowns.
“If you have your own tow company, I’d call them, but I’d also call 911 so that the troopers and anyone in that area know you’re there,” Mehr said. “They can stop by and check on you and make sure you guys are OK.”
If something goes wrong, get off the road
Should something malfunction, get off the road as quickly and as safely as possible. Stay calm and be patient, Adam Gutier, director of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said.
“The word I use frequently is patience, which I don’t have,” Gutier said. “You have to realize what’s going on, ‘Oh no, my car broke down. What do I do?’ You don’t panic.”
Pull as far away from the roadway as possible. Minimize the risk of being hit by a passing car.
Raise your car’s hood
If the hazard lights still work, make sure to have them blinking when the car is disabled. A raised hood signals to others that something is wrong.
“You’d be surprised,” Gutier said. “There’s a lot of good Samaritans out there. A lot of people will stop and make sure that you’re OK.”
Stay with your car
It doesn’t matter if you know someone is coming to get you or not, do not walk down the highway trying to find help. Help should find you (going back to having a charged phone and reliable signal).
Gutier suggested standing by your car opposite the roadway, sending a clear message you’re stranded.
While waiting, stay safe
If the heat is in the triple digits, stay hydrated and in the shade. Whether you stay inside or outside of your broken down car depends on your preference and your safe judgment.
“I’ve heard people who want to stay in the car. I’ve heard people who want to get out of the car in case it gets hit by another car,” Mehr said. “It’s really just a person thing, whatever you feel is safe.”