When Your Teen’s Car Breaks Down: 10 Things They Need to Do

Share these tips with your teen so they'll be better equipped to stay in control, get to safety, and summon help

by Nancy Reynolds

This Post: When Your Teen’s Car Breaks Down: 10 Things They Need to Do

Written By: Morgan Hill

It’s a moment every driver dreads. But it’s especially upsetting (and downright scary) when you’re a young driver with little experience being in a broken-down vehicle on the side of the road.

One minute they’re happily zooming down the open road, and the next a light on their dash illuminates, a tire goes flat, the car makes a concerning sound, or, scariest of all, smoke billows from the hood. No way around it, they have to pull over.

It can be hard for adults to keep their cool, but factor in a new teen driver and you can pretty much count on them feeling rather panicky (or, worse, totally freaking out). 

Share these tips with your teen so they’ll be far better equipped and prepared to stay in control, get to safety, and summon help: When your teen’s car breaks down – 10 things they should do. 

When Your Teen’s Car Breaks Down: 10 Things They Need to Do

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please visit our Disclosure Page


#1 Try to Stay Calm

Breaking down on the road is anxiety-inducing. Whether you’re cruising on a country road or in heavy traffic on the freeway, the first order of business is to (or at least attempt to) stay calm. Take a few deep breaths while you assess the situation. (Remember, every driver faces this situation at one time or another… you aren’t alone!)

Situations that will require you to pull over immediately include (but are not limited to), the vehicle smoking, a flashing check engine light, a flat tire, a loud noise, or any sudden change in the handling of the car.

Teaching your teen how to change a tire is always a good idea. But they should only change a tire if it’s SAFE to do so. If it’s late at night, in a high-traffic area, or otherwise can put them in danger… don’t do it. Wait for professional assistance.

#2 Turn On the Hazard Lights

Other drivers may be unable to see you clearly or be aware that you’re experiencing an emergency situation if you simply break or change lanes when your car is in crisis. The moment you sense something is wrong, turn on your hazard lights so you can signal to other drivers that you’re experiencing car trouble.

#3 Pull Off the Road When and Where it’s Safe

Staying in a lane in your incapacitated car can lead to a crash, traffic, angry drivers, and a host of other problems. Slow down and pull off the road (if possible), preferably to the right shoulder.

Pull over to a flat location (if possible) that is as far away from moving traffic as possible. If your engine is dead, you may have to coast to safety. If your car won’t budge, don’t get out of the car and attempt to push it in the middle of traffic. Instead, immediately call 911 and await help in place with your seatbelt fastened and your hazards on. 

#4 If You’re On an Incline, Turn Your Wheels, Set the Brake, and Turn Off the Engine

If you’re on an incline, be sure to turn your wheels away from the road to prevent the car from rolling into traffic. Then, set the emergency or parking brake, and turn off the engine. 

#5 Don’t Get Out of Your Car Unless it’s Necessary and SAFE to Do So

While your car may now be visible to other drivers, it’s still hard to spot you. According to experts, no matter how tempting it is to try to assess the situation or tackle mechanical problems on your own, don’t exit your vehicle. That’s for a professional to handle. If you must get out of the car for safety reasons (i.e. you feel the car is unsafe to stay in), be sure to exit through the safest door away from traffic.  

#6 Make Your Car Visible to Others

It’s always a good idea to carry an emergency car kit in your vehicle that has reflective warning triangles so you can ensure you and your broken-down car are visible to other drivers. IF IT’S SAFE to get out of your vehicle, position the triangles behind your car to alert drivers that you’re stopped. You can also prop open your hood as a signal to others that your car is in trouble. Only take these actions if it’s safe and away from traffic. 

As a precaution, make sure you also carry these essential things in your car. Keeping things like jumper cables, spare tire and jack, tire pressure gauge, and sealant, first aid kit, an emergency blanket, cell phone mobile charger, and important emergency phone numbers (to name a few) in the trunk of your car will bring you peace of mind knowing you’re as prepared as possible.

#7 Request Professional Help

There are several great apps that can help when your car breaks down or you can contact your insurance company’s roadside assistance plan. (Be SURE to keep the number in your wallet and in your car so you can access it when needed.)

You can also contact a tow truck company or, if the situation is dire or it’s late at night and you feel unsafe, don’t hesitate to contact 911 for police assistance. Don’t take any chances... your safety comes first!

If your car is blocking traffic, the police will send help quickly to secure the area. They can also call for roadside assistance for you. Also, before calling anyone, make sure you note your location. Are you near an exit or interchange? Can you see cross streets or an address? You’ll need to provide this information for help to get to you. 

#8 Take Note of Exactly What’s Happening With the Car

Try to note any lights that came on, abnormal readings on the dash, strange sounds, smells, or anything else you think may have led to the breakdown. Passing this information along to a mechanic can help them diagnose the issue.

If you think you won’t remember, take pictures with your phone, take notes in the “notes” feature on your phone, or jot it down on a piece of paper. (It’s always a good idea to keep a pen and paper in your glove compartment.) 

#9 Call a Family Member or Friend

Experts agree that it’s always best to contact a professional for help before reaching out to a family member or friend, but I can tell you with 100% certainty my kids would call my husband or me first if their car broke down. 

Just hearing a familiar voice can be calming and Mom, Dad, or a trusted friend can offer advice, talk you through it, and perhaps even come and wait with you until help arrives.

NOTE: If a passing driver stops to assist you, you may ask them to make a call for you for assistance, if needed, but do not accept a ride, no matter how nice they seem or how desperate you feel. 

#10 Reflect

Once you’re home safe and sound and your car is being repaired, take a moment to look back on how you handled the situation. Were you calm or did you freak out? Did you follow the proper steps to handle the situation? Are there any supplies you need to get in case this happens again? Do you need to ask for additional advice on how to handle the situation if it arises again? Is it time to take your car in for routine maintenance?

By asking these questions, you’ll be better prepared if there IS a next time.

Above all, give yourself a big pat on the back! As a relatively new driver, you got through it and you learned from the situation. Next time, you’ll be even better prepared to handle it like a pro!

Give yourself AND your teen added peace of mind by downloading our


When your teen is in a car accident, the upset and trauma can leave them bewildered about what to do. Our Accident Checklist outlines the key things your teen should do so they don’t miss anything important. 


About Morgan Hill:

Morgan Hill is an essayist and humorist. She has written for many online and print publications including Insider, Your Teen Magazine, Revel, and MASK Magazine. She is the mother of freshman and senior sons in high school. When not writing, she can be found at flea markets, in her garden, photographing architecture, taking cooking classes, or eating the stinkiest cheese she can find. You can also find her on Twitter @MorganHWrites or Instagram @MorganHillWriter

If you enjoyed reading, “When Your Teen’s Car Breaks Down: 10 Things They Need to Do,” check out these other posts!

Essential Things Every Teen Driver Should Have in Their Car

8 Common Mistakes Teen Drivers Make and How to Correct Them

The 7 Best Apps to Keep Teen Drivers Safe on the Road

Why Not Join Us?
I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )
Join over 3.000 visitors who are receiving our newsletter and learn how to optimize your blog for search engines, find free traffic, and monetize your website.
RAISING TEENS TODAY is a resource and safe zone for parents to share the joys, challenges, triumphs and frustrations of raising our oh, so imperfect (but totally awesome) teens. PLUS, sign up and you'll receive my FREE e-Book "Scoring Scholarships!"

You may also like

Leave a Comment