Vehicles have become increasingly reliable, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that you can still have an emergency while driving.
Before we begin: What does it mean to “pull over immediately”? It means pull over as quickly as it is safe to do so. Don’t swerve across traffic. Don’t slam on your brakes and become an additional hazard to those around you. Check both sides of your vehicle, be aware of who/what is in front of and behind you. Check the side of the road to see if there’s a place to pull off. And then pull over.
12. Drop and Spills
Has this ever happened to you? You’re driving along and you reach into your to-go bag and a french fry tumbles out and onto the floor. You don’t want to leave it there, and as you’re fumbling to reach for the errant fry with one hand and steering with the other, your container of chicken nuggets knocks over on the seat. Sweet & Sour dipping sauce begins it’s slow avalanche of goo. What do you do? Too many people bend down while they’re driving and try to clean-up the mess while still on the move. Don’t do it. Every second your head spends pointing down, your car is moving forward without a driver! Even at slow speeds, it’s very unsafe to be a distracted driver.
If you drop something — your phone, keys, makeup, a french fry — either let it sit there until you get to your destination or pull over before you attempt to fish it out.
11. Distractions & Chaos in the Cabin
Sometimes things get exciting inside a car. The kids, who normally play the super fun game of: Don’t touch me! / I’m not touching you!, suddenly start a slap and pinch fight. Or your normally docile dog sees another pooch crossing the street, or riding in the car next to you, and jumps into your lap to get a closer look. Don’t try to solve problems like these and drive at the same time. It’s tempting to try to reach the kids in the backseat and separate them, or wrangle the dog into the backseat while you keep one eye on the road. It’s much simpler (and wiser) to pull over and get things back under control. Then get back on the road.
10. Medical Emergency
If you think that you may be experiencing a medical emergency, pull over immediately. We’ve heard too many stories about people who have all the signs of a stroke or heart attack, yet they decide to try to “make it home” before calling for help. This is a recipe for disaster, not only for you but for other people sharing the road with you. If you have any reason to believe you’re getting seriously ill, pull over and call 911.
Even less deadly medical problems can make us lousy drivers. So consider pulling over and resting if you have something in your eye, a migraine headache or intense heartburn. Pull over if you need to use the bathroom, or you spill something in your lap. Anything that causes you to worry about it more than what’s happening on the road in front of you is a good reason to pull over and stop driving until the problem is solved.
9. Poor Visibility
Your visibility can suddenly become impaired for all kinds of reasons: a sudden downpour, thick fog, broken windshield wipers, a big splash of mud and an empty windshield washer reservoir, a bouncing rock or hail that cracks your windshield or a hood latch that breaks and sends the hood flying up while you’re driving. And this doesn’t even count the most common source of poor visibility — failure to clean off the windshield when it’s snowy or icy. Bottom line: If you can’t see well for any reason, pull over right away and either fix the problem or wait until the weather changes before getting back on the road.
8. Loud or Sudden Noises
Your car is not supposed to make any loud, sudden or unidentifiable noises. A loud or sudden noise can be benign. It could be a plastic milk jug that you ran over. On the other hand, it could also mean your motor just launched a loose bolt into the engine block.
Loud or sudden noises indicate that something in the health of your vehicle has just changed. It’s changed from one piece to several pieces or changed from attached to unattached. Either way, it’s best to be safe rather than sorry and pull over so you can try to figure it out.
7. Dashboard Lights
If either of those lights comes on, don’t try to make it home before investigating. Driving with no oil pressure can wreck a car’s internal parts in minutes. Severe overheating can blow your head gasket or warp or crack your cylinder head or block just as quickly.
A customer of ours had the oil light come on and drove home before calling us. We asked him, “Why did you try to get home?” He said he felt better equipped to investigate the problem at home. That’s understandable, we said, but it may have just cost you several thousand dollars in damage. If you see the oil light or your vehicle is overheating, unless it’s unsafe to do so, pull over immediately and call for help.
6. Sudden Change in Handling
If something changes in your car’s handling and you can feel it in your steering wheel, chances are it is serious. It could be a sudden, extreme change like a tire blowing out or a wheel about to fall off. Or you might notice that the steering wheel is suddenly wobbling or tugging in one direction. These are potentially serious problems that require pulling over.
Not every change in handling is dire. A small wobble could be something relatively minor like a lost wheel weight or a bad tire. It could be as simple as a change in road surface. Here’s the catch: If you try to make an on-the-fly diagnosis, you risk losing control of your vehicle. There are a lot of crucial pieces in the front end of the car. Because they’re attached to the front wheels you can often feel a change in the steering wheel. Pay attention to it.
5. Steam/Water Vapor
Steam is usually an indication that coolant, which is under pressure, is escaping from your car’s cooling system. If it’s leaking slowly and hitting an exhaust pipe or something else that’s hot, it may not be an emergency. But if it’s leaking quickly, you can overheat the engine and do serious damage to your engine and your wallet. If your engine is overheating, you can sometimes save yourself thousands of dollars by pulling over before permanent damage is done.
Don’t twist off the radiator cap right away to have a look-see. If your car is overheating, or even if it’s not, the coolant is under very high pressure and can burn you. So if you’re not mechanically inclined, pull over, turn off your engine and find a good, local garage that can lend a hand. Visit Us Online to find a conveniently located Brakes Plus near you.
If you notice a new smell — like hot plastic, gas or burnt sugar — it’s best to pull over and investigate it. It could be relatively simple such as a little gas on your shoe from when you just filled up your vehicle. Or a plastic grocery bag that’s sitting too close to your heater outlet. But it could be something more serious like wire insulation burning, or a radiator or gas leak. So if you notice a smell that’s unusual and you can’t identify it, it’s best to pull over and make sure it’s nothing getting ready to cause a disaster.
Your two primary concerns are gasoline, which you should never smell in the passenger compartment once you’re moving, and something that’s smoldering and could catch fire. Smoldering electrical wires are the most common source of fire. Once you pull over, you should investigate the smell carefully. And if you’re at all concerned, call for help.
There are lots of reasons why smoke might be issuing forth from your vehicle. Some are not immediate emergencies, for instance if engine oil is dripping onto a hot exhaust pipe. A small amount of oil can produce a lot of smoke. But other times, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Or there soon will be. If you see smoke, it’s best to pull over and check it out.
If you see flames anywhere in your vehicle, pull over immediately. Even if the flames are small, the fumes are dangerous and you should not be breathing them in. The best thing to do is to pull over and get your vehicle out of the flow of traffic immediately, evacuate your vehicle, get a safe distance away, and call 911.
1. Police / Flashing Lights
The sight of approaching police lights can be startling, but it doesn’t always indicate that you’re being pulled over. You can help officers get to emergency calls by immediately pulling over to the right side of the road and stopping. Other vehicles and pedestrians should avoid intersections. If a lit-up patrol car is directly behind your vehicle, you should pull over at a safe turn-off and prepare for an officer interview.