It’s a scenario guaranteed to ruin your day. You’re driving down the highway, and all of a sudden your car stops working properly. Maybe you’ve got a blow-out, maybe it’s a broken belt, or maybe you have no idea what the problem is. Whatever the situation, when your car breaks down, you have to do some quick thinking to keep yourself safe.  However you intend to get help, there is a smart way to stay off the road and make sure nothing worse happens to you while you wait for a tow truck to arrive.  AAA estimates that over 1 million people are stranded on the highway during the summer months, with the number increasing to nearly 5 million in the winter.  Chances are, you will experience a breakdown at some point during the life of your car, so it pays to know the right steps to take.

Move Your Car off the Road

It’s very rare for your car to simply die in an instant. Most of the time you’ll be able to maneuver it to the side of the highway. If you’re traveling on surface streets and your engine shuts off at a stoplight, most of the time you can get a little more juice out of the  battery if you keep trying to restart it. As soon as you know there’s a problem, you should turn on your hazard lights, especially if you can’t move the car right away. Don’t get out of the vehicle in the middle of traffic. Remember that pedestrian fatalities make up nearly 15 percent of car crash deaths in the United States, many from situations where they tried to navigate busy streets and highways.

Be Wary of Strangers

After you’ve called for help, using OnStar or AAA or some other method, it’s a safe idea to keep your hazard lights on and even open the hood so that other drivers will know you’re having car trouble. But be careful with those who stop to help, especially if you’re traveling alone.  It’s always a good idea to stay in the car with the doors locked and simply tell them that help is on the way. For your safety, you should never leave your car, unless you know exactly where you are and how to reach a public place in a short amount of time.   Criminals can often target the drivers of broken-down vehicles, so it’s important you keep a cell phone on you at all times, and if it’s late at night, don’t hesitate to call the police. A patrol officer can find you and wait with you until the tow truck comes.

Don’t Try and Repair the Car

You might be familiar with car engines, but the chances are slim that you’ll be able to repair the problem without any tools or parts. And if you’re not sure what’s going on, there’s a chance you could damage the engine or make the situation worse. If your tire blows and you know how to put the spare on, be very careful. The tire could be on the side of the road that’s nearer to traffic, which makes trying to change it with cars speeding by at upwards of 70 miles per hour very dangerous. If you’ve never changed a tire before, you shouldn’t attempt it. It might seem possible to save time and hassle by doing things yourself instead of calling for roadside assistance, but actually the opposite is true.

Know Your Location

Many people break down on the highway during a road trip or can’t pinpoint their exact location for whatever reason. That’s why it’s important to always keep in mind what highway you’re on and which exits you have passed, and any signs that tell you which exits are coming up or how far you might be from the next town. If you have OnStar, they will be able to pinpoint your location, but many people don’t have access to that technology. So when you call for help, you have to be prepared to identify landmarks and estimate how long it has been since you left the house or got on the freeway. If you’re near a mile marker or a phone box, it can be easier for authorities to locate you in an emergency.

Experiencing a break down can be really scary, especially if you’ve never been through one before. The best way to handle any emergency is to be prepared before it happens, and if you have a realistic plan for what to do if you’re stranded on the highway, it’s a lot less likely that your safety will be in jeopardy. Stay calm and use common sense, and you can help protect yourself on the road and off of it.

Amy Thomson blogs for  Monkey Car Insurance.  Check out  her other articles at Twitter @VroomVroomAmy .