What to do if your car broke down

11 minute read Published on Feb 20, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

Man calling someone for help with his broken car. His white car's hood is open.

A car breaking down is a worst-case scenario for many drivers. Whether a pothole damaged your car or a new tire went flat, there are various causes of car breakdowns in Canada. The key is knowing what to do when a car breakdown occurs. Below, we offer a step-by-step guide on what to do if your car breaks down anywhere in Canada. Continue reading to learn more.

A step-by-step guide on what to do if your car breaks down in Canada

Even if you drive a vehicle from one of the most reliable car brands in Canada, there is always a risk that your car will break down while driving. Even new cars malfunction, let alone older vehicles. No matter what type of car you drive, the following is a list of steps that you should take if you find yourself in a situation with a broken-down vehicle:

1. Turn on your hazard lights

If your car breaks down, the first thing to do is to turn on your hazard lights. Your hazard lights signal to other drivers that you are experiencing a problem, warning them to steer clear of you. This is the best first step to take, especially if you do not have complete control of your vehicle.

2. Pull over safely

Step number two is to pull over on the side of the road or into the nearest parking lot when it is safe to do so. Never come to a complete stop in the middle of the road if you can help it. Instead, slow down and pull onto the shoulder of the road.

Ideally, you want to stop somewhere as far away from traffic as possible and where the ground is level. This will make it safer and easier to perform any necessary repairs should you choose to do so.

3. If you can’t pull over, stay in your vehicle

If pulling over safely isn’t an option, then come to a slow stop and remain in your vehicle. Although remaining on the road is not ideal, some vehicle breakdowns may necessitate it. Proceed to turn on your hazard lights and stay inside your car while calling 9-1-1 or roadside assistance. Getting out of your vehicle in the middle of the road will slow down traffic even more and put you at risk of injury.

4. Put on the parking brake and turn your wheels away from the road

Once you’ve stopped, properly park your car by putting the parking brake on and turning your wheels away from the road. If your car rolls, it won’t roll into oncoming traffic.

5. Call emergency services or roadside assistance

Depending on the situation, you may need to phone emergency services by dialling 9-1-1 or roadside assistance. Emergency services should be called if you suspect that you or someone else involved has been injured.

Alternatively, if you are in a dangerous position, such as stopping in the middle of the road, calling 9-1-1 might be your best bet. If no one is injured and you are safely pulled over on the side of the road, then it is recommended that you call roadside assistance.

If you have roadside assistance coverage, note that this is not typically a part of comprehensive car coverage; call your insurance provider as soon as possible. Otherwise, call CAA or a tow truck company for help. Whomever you call, they will come to the rescue and give you a tow to the nearest auto body shop. If you don’t already have roadside assistance coverage, you can sign up for a service then and there if you like.

6. Make your car visible to other motorists

Step number six after your car breaks down is to make it as visible as possible to other drivers. Turning on your hazard lights is a great first step. However, we also recommend popping the hood of your car and placing a reflective sign, pylon, or flares behind your car to make other drivers aware of your presence. A reflective sign and flares are just two of the things you should keep in your car should an emergency situation arrive.

7. Wait for roadside assistance or emergency services to arrive

Once you’ve worked your way through the above six steps on this list, all that’s left to do is wait. Depending on who you called, roadside assistance or emergency services should arrive imminently. They will take care of towing your truck, giving you a lift to where you need to go, and getting you checked out by a medical professional, if necessary. In the meantime, if there is someone you need to contact about your situation, do so using your mobile device.

Does car insurance cover a broken down car?

Standard car insurance plans that include accident benefits coverage, liability car insurance, and more do not typically cover a broken-down car. That said, it depends on what circumstances led to your car breaking down.

For example, if your car broke down due to general wear and tear or a mechanical failure, your insurance company likely won’t cover it. Car parts like tires and batteries are usually not covered by basic car insurance plans in Canada. However, if your car broke down after being involved in a collision, this may be covered by your policy. Two of the most common causes of car breakdowns that are not covered by standard auto insurance plans include:

Wear and tear

Auto insurance plans in Canada do not typically cover damage that is caused by wear and tear, such as an old car battery, belt, or tires. This is due to the fact that these types of items or components all break down over time. No car battery will last forever, which is why all car owners should budget for the cost of repairing or replacing old parts from time to time.

Although car insurance doesn't typically cover the repair or replacement of such items due to wear and tear, some car manufacturers offer tire maintenance, protection plans, or warranties if you want additional coverage against wear and tear.

Mechanical failures

Mechanical failures are a second type of risk that most car insurance plans do not cover. Again, mechanical failures are considered to be a common result of car ownership. Thus, insurance companies do not provide compensation for them. The only exception to this is if the mechanical failure is the result of a collision. In this case, your collision car insurance or direct compensation car insurance may cover it.

Items to have in your car in the event of a breakdown

If your car breaks down on the road, several items would be good to have in your vehicle. After all, you never know what time of day or season the breakdown may occur. You also don’t know how long it will take for emergency services or roadside assistance to arrive.

For this reason, we recommend keeping various items in your car at all times should this worst-case scenario occur. Before leaving home, run through a quick vehicle inspection to ensure your car is in tip-top shape and that it contains everything you need.

Vehicle emergency kit

A first aid kit is a must, no matter the time of year you’re travelling. Whether you're stuck on the side of the highway in the middle of winter or your car gets caught in a snowbank, having a first aid kit will come in handy. A standard first aid kit for a car should contain the following items:

  • Non-perishable food
  • Bottles of water
  • A blanket
  • An extra pair of shoes and socks and a set of warm clothing or items to layer
  • A first aid kit that includes a seatbelt cutter and window punch
  • A shovel, ice scraper, and snowbrush in case you are stranded in the winter
  • A candle and a lighter or matches to keep your vehicle warm
  • A flashlight
  • A whistle

Portable phone charger

A portable phone charger is another important item to keep in your vehicle. You never know when your phone battery will die, and a dead phone could be the difference between you calling for help and you being stranded for hours on end. If your car breaks down, you want to be able to phone emergency services, roadside assistance, or, at the very least, a friend or family member for help. But you need a charged phone to do this. Keeping a portable phone charge in your car can also help you stay safe in other ways.

For example, if you rely on your phone’s GPS navigation, having a phone charger will ensure your phone doesn't die while driving, which means you’ll always have access to your map. Remember that phone batteries drain faster in colder temperatures, making a portable phone charger even more important during winter.

Spare tire

A spare tire is also important. Many car breakdowns occur due to flat tires, and flat tires can come on quickly. Even if you don’t know how to change a tire, having a spare tire in your car will be useful. If you phone roadside assistance because of a flat tire, you still need to provide your tire as a replacement. Keep the spare tire under your trunk or somewhere else in your car.

A car jack and lug wrench

If you are knowledgeable enough to change a tire on your own, then keeping a car jack and lug wrench in your car will come in handy. These are the main two tools you need to change a tire on your own, and changing a tire might be easier than you think. If a flat tire causes your car to break down and you can pull over somewhere safe, consider changing the tire yourself rather than calling for a tow truck. Doing so could save you a lot of money, especially if you don’t already have a roadside assistance membership.

Emergency flare

An emergency flare is another smart item you should always keep in your car. If your car breaks down in a remote area, at night, or during a storm when visibility is limited, having an emergency flare can help people locate you. Setting off a flare immediately draws attention to your whereabouts, leading emergency services to find you sooner.

Kitty litter

Carrying a bag of kitty litter in your trunk might be wise if you regularly drive during the winter in snowy or icy conditions. This might sound strange, especially if you don’t have a cat. But the reality is that kitty litter creates traction when spread on the ground. This traction might just be enough to allow you to get unstuck from the snow. If you get stuck in the snow, spread the kitty litter around your tires, rock the vehicle back and forth, and set yourself free.


A shovel is another must if you regularly drive in wintery conditions. If your car breaks down or gets stuck in the snow, a shovel will come in handy as it can help you remove the snow from around your tires, giving you the space you need to reverse or accelerate safely.

Jumper cables

A dead car battery is one of the most common causes of a broken-down car. Thankfully, there is a remedy for this: jumper cables. While this doesn’t work 100% of the time, it is worth trying. Sometimes a car battery isn’t completely dead, it simply needs a little jump start especially on a cold day. Thus, if your car battery dies unexpectedly, grab the jumper cables from your car before calling for roadside assistance and ask another vehicle for a jump. You never know - your battery may come to life, saving you money and the hassle of waiting for a tow.

Car manufacturer’s manual

We also recommend keeping a copy of the car manufacturer’s manual in your vehicle at all times. There is tons of useful information here, like the ideal fluid levels and load-bearing weight, as well as advice on how you can keep your car in tip-top condition. All of this can help you avoid a breakdown in the first place or even help you get out of a bad situation if your car breaks down.

Driver’s licence and vehicle registration

Whatever you do, make sure that you have your driver’s licence and vehicle registration on your person or in your car at all times. It is illegal to drive without these items. Thus, carrying them with you will help you avoid a fine and help you out in an emergency situation, such as a car breakdown. If you call for roadside assistance or emergency services, they will ask to see a copy of your licence and registration.


WD-40 is yet another item to keep in your car, as it can come in handy if it breaks down. WD-40 acts as a lubricant, which can help in all kinds of scenarios relating to a car breakdown. For example, if you are trying to change a tire but can’t get your lug nut loose, applying WD-40 will likely do the job. This could be the difference between successfully changing your tire, getting back on the road, and having to call and wait for roadside assistance.

Duct tape

Duct tape is another must-have if your car breaks down. Believe it or not, duct tape can be used to perform a variety of emergency fixes. Although duct tape only offers a short-term solution, it could be enough to allow you to safely travel home or to an auto body shop rather than having to call a tow. For example, duct tape could temporarily stop a leak, seal a crack, or re-attach a broken side-view mirror.

Car hammer

Lastly, keep a car hammer in your car to avoid a car breakdown going from bad to worse. This tool will allow you to break a car window and escape safely if a major emergency makes you unable to exit your vehicle. Plus, most modern car hammers also feature seatbelt cutters, which can be useful if a worst-case scenario arises.

Auto insurance is the ultimate vehicle essential

No matter what goes wrong, whether your car breaks down due to a collision or general wear and tear, having auto insurance is paramount. Not only is it important, but it’s mandatory everywhere in Canada. In Ontario, the following four types of coverage are mandatory:

Meanwhile, there are several types of auto insurance coverage that are optional yet highly recommended for drivers:

Learn more about how car insurance coverage in Canada works and how it can protect you in the event of a vehicle breakdown. You can reach out to a BrokerLink insurance advisor if you want to learn more about the most important types of coverage for vehicle breakdowns, such as roadside assistance coverage.

Contact BrokerLink to learn more

If your car breaks down while driving, there are several steps you should take to ensure the safety of yourself and your vehicle. A BrokerLink insurance advisor can walk you through these steps and can also offer advice on what types of car insurance to add to your policy. Depending on the circumstances of the vehicle breakdown, auto insurance can help pay to repair or replace your vehicle if it is damaged. A licensed insurance broker at BrokerLink can also provide you with free car insurance quotes to give you an idea of how much a policy will cost you.

Please note that your rates may be impacted if the breakdown occurred due to a collision. If you were found to be at fault for the collision in question, your rates may go up. Contact BrokerLink to request a free auto insurance quote today. Quotes can be obtained over the phone, in person at any of our 200+ locations, or on our website using the online quote tool.

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