Guest Post: What to Do If Your Car Breaks Down In a Foreign Country

Guest Post: What to Do If Your Car Breaks Down In a Foreign Country

When you’re traveling abroad, so many things are uncertain. That’s part of what makes it exciting, but uncertainty can also cause some frustration when you’re dealing with emergency situations. For example, do you know what to do if your car breaks down in a foreign country? Most people don’t.

Fortunately, many things are the same across borders.

What to do if you break down on a major motorway

In many foreign countries, it can be especially dangerous to break down on a highway. This is especially true if you’re careening down the German Autobahn.

But if it happens, there a few measures you can take to stay safe and get back on the road quickly.

  1. Pull over as far away from traffic as you can get. If you’re on a hill, direct your wheels towards the grass’s edge.
  2. Put on your hazard lights, so other drivers have a better chance of seeing your car. Do this even in the daytime because every little bit helps. The flashing lights are still likely to catch drivers’ eyes. If you get out of the car, try to wear some reflector so that the other drivers can see you too.
  3. If you’re driving a rental car, call the rental agency. They should have roadside assistance. If you’re driving in Europe, you may have a breakdown cover policy to help you through this situation. Law doesn’t require them, but many people have them because they are likely to drive through different countries. If you don’t already have breakdown cover, some policies offer instant coverage. So you can sign up and get covered for this breakdown.  If you don’t have breakdown cover, you’ll have to arrange for local services yourself. This will mean calling mechanics and tow trucks to schedule pickup and service.
  4. Do not attempt the repair yourself, even if it’s something you would typically do. Because cars will be traveling at high speeds, it can be hazardous to get out of your vehicle. Also, keep in mind that different countries have different motor vehicle laws. In some countries, like India and China, people are rarely prosecuted for hitting pedestrians.
  5. If your vehicle can be fixed on the shoulder, take extreme caution when you pull back into traffic. Take your time with this to avoid getting into an accident.

What to do if you break down on a side road

Breakdown in a foreign country

No one likes breakdowns no matter where they happen, but if you break down on a quiet street in a foreign country, it’s much less tense than on the motorway. You may have to deal with a lot of horn honking and choice words from other passengers if it happens in rush hour, but your life is less likely to be on the line.

Still, you should follow necessary safety precautions that will be similar to what you’d do if you broke down on the motorway.

  1. Pull over to the safest spot possible and put on your hazard lights. Unfortunately, you may have to pull over in a traffic lane, so be sure those hazards are on. Also, some of the side roads in other countries are incredibly narrow. Fortunately, the cars are too small and light. If you get stuck in a situation like this, you may need help to get your car out of the way of traffic.
  2. Place a warning triangle or flares about 50 yards away from your vehicle, so other drivers can see that your car is stopped and avoid crashing into you.
  3. Contact your breakdown cover provider, if you have one. If you don’t have one, call a local mechanic who can perform whatever repairs you’ll need. He’ll likely be able to send or recommend a tow truck if you need one. Or, if you want breakdown coverage, you can call a service that allows for immediate signup and coverage. If you go this route, know that you’ll likely be subject to an additional fee (otherwise, everyone would join when they need it).

How to avoid breakdowns in a foreign country

Car Maintenance

Of course, your best option is to prevent a breakdown headache altogether. You can do this by maintaining your vehicle regularly.

If you’re on a very long trip, regardless of if you are in a foreign country or not, don’t forget about maintenance. You’ll need an oil change every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, so you may need to get one on the road.

Before you embark on any journey, do the following:

  1. Get an oil change – Oil changes are possibly the best and easiest thing you can do to keep your vehicle from breaking down. The longer you have oil in your engine, the more gunk it will pick up. Without an oil change, it will eventually become sludge and stop your engine.
  2. Rotate tires and look for signs of wear – If you can see Lincoln’s entire head when you place a penny upside down into your tire tread, you need new tires. It helps to get them rotated too because this will cause your tires to wear more evenly. This can help avoid a flat tire.
  3. Top off your fluids – Check your washer fluid, antifreeze, coolant and brake fluids before you go on any road trips. Low fluids is a silly reason to break down because it is easily avoided.
  4. Perform any regular maintenance – It’s a good idea to talk to your mechanic about the state of your car before you set out on the road. He can tell you if you might have trouble with spark plugs, timing belts or any number of things. It’s always much cheaper to have the maintenance work done than any repairs that would result from letting it go.

Why you want to avoid breakdowns abroad

As mentioned previously, different countries have different rules about things like hit-and-run accidents and vehicular manslaughter. We know there are severe consequences for these things in the states, but in some third-world countries, it’s surprisingly not always as big of a deal. This reason alone is enough to want to avoid breaking down in one of these countries.

But then there are other reasons. Like, imagine getting a tire blowout on the Autobahn. As your car is careening out of control, other vehicles are whizzing by at 190 km/hr (about 120mph). It happens, but you don’t want it to happen to you.

And then, there are potential language barriers. If you’re left to call a local mechanic in a foreign country, there will be a good chance that he doesn’t speak English. Because most tourists deal with rental agencies or take public transportation, there’s not a great need for mechanics to work on their English-speaking skills. So you’re stuck on the side of a road in a foreign land, and you’re doing your best to explain where you are and what is wrong to someone who doesn’t speak your language. That doesn’t sound like an excellent way for anyone to spend their vacation.

In truth, it’s never fun to break down on the road – but it’s especially stressful you’re in a foreign country. This is why it’s good to know how to handle the situation and better to understand how to avoid it. Perform regular auto maintenance to keep from getting stuck in a precarious position. 

Guest Author BioTrevor is a freelance writer and a self-proclaimed “Travelholic”. He enjoys traveling to parts unknown, sampling local cuisines, and sharing his experiences with the world. In his free time, you can find him planning his next trip or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.



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