Car stalled on side of the road

A stalled car can be a serious safety problem. The vehicle could be stuck in moving traffic, raising the risk of crashes, injuries, or worse. Occupants could be stuck without food or water in some rural location or in severe weather. And even cars parked on the side of a road are at risk of being hit by traffic going by.

Stalling car engines were once a common occurrence; it happens less frequently now. But just since October 2018, more than a million vehicles have been recalled in the U.S. because of stalling concerns, including vehicles from Chrysler, Ford, Jeep, Mazda, and Toyota.

What if your car’s engine gives out while you’re driving down a road? Experts have some tips.

When the Engine Quits

Once the engine dies, “the driver should be aware that without the engine running, the brakes and power steering systems will be affected,” says David Bennett, manager of repair systems at AAA. “Specifically, the brake pedal will be harder to push and the vehicle stopping distance will increase, and the steering wheel will be more difficult to rotate.”

Depending on what caused the vehicle to stall, your airbags may not be working properly, says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations for the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center in Connecticut. 

More on car Maintenance & Repair

You should turn on the emergency hazard lights as soon as possible, Stockburger says. That will make both of your turn indicators flash at the same time. You’ll find the button on your dash or atop the steering wheel column (in older models). It’s a red triangle button, usually a little larger and more prominent than other buttons on the dash. This will alert other drivers that you’re having an problem.

If you can do so safely, put your vehicle into Neutral and coast your car to the side of the road, out of traffic. Try to park your car as far away from traffic lanes as possible.

Once you’re safely stopped, try starting the engine again. For cars with an automatic transmission, shift into Park; for cars with a manual transmission, shift into Neutral. If you’re able to get underway again, get to a safe location off the road and call AAA, your roadside assistance provider, or a tow truck in case the engine stalls again. Bennett suggests letting the car run for a few minutes before setting off again.

If the engine won’t start, stay inside the vehicle, especially if your car is stuck in a traffic lane. At least inside the car, you’ll be protected. First call 911 to get police help in moving your vehicle to safety, then call for roadside assistance, AAA, or a tow truck.