DIY Vehicle Emergency Helps when You’re Out of Cell Range

What is summer vacation without outdoor adventures? It’s hardly a summer, right? If you are planning to exit the city and enjoy wide open spaces, make sure to pack the essentials in case you get stuck outside of cellular service areas.

Before You Leave, Pack…

A failure to plan is a plan for failure, so to make sure that you can make it to your destination and back, you must have the basic tools and supplies for emergency DIY roadside assistance.

Assuming your great outdoors getaway will take you to locales with unpaved roads, sparse population and little cell reception, we recommend:

  • Tire iron
  • Spare tire (at least have a “donut,” but having a spare full-size tire is preferable)
  • Bottle jack (appropriately rated for your vehicle’s weight and will provide sufficient ground clearance)
  • Folding shovel
  • Traction aids
  • Jumper cables

In times of vehicle issues in the middle of nowhere, a good supply of patience and a sturdy pair of walking shoes are also a must.

Help! My Car’s Stuck in the Mud

Ok, first scenario—your tires get stuck in the mud or sand. Here’s what we suggest:

  1. Rev the engine to see if your car’s momentum can get you past the area of no traction. Make sure your tires are pointing directly forward toward the path of escape. If it doesn’t work—i.e., your car does not move forward at all, continuing to throttle up your engine could damage the drivetrain and/or cause your wheels to spin and dig you in deeper, so stop! If, however, your car makes some forward progress, then move on to try…
  2. Rocking your vehicle. Reverse slightly and then transition to a low forward gear to see if the small path your tires made is enough to get the momentum you need to get out of/past the mud slick or sand pit.
  3. In the event that strategies #1 and 2 are unsuccessful, you will likely need to further assess the situation to determine the best way out. Options include:

a. Digging your way out…this is why we recommend packing a shovel.
If the mud or sand is up to the axles, you will need to remove excess material to create a trench or path for your tires. Remove enough material so that tracks extend several feet in front of your tires, creating a visible exit path. Then, get in and try driving forward again.

b. Making your own traction…this is why we recommend traction aids.
If your tires have an escape path but nothing to grip, add the grip. Traction aids that attach to your tires are preferable because they work for a wider variety of ground cover (ice, snow, mud and sand). Gravel can work, but it’s heavy and takes up a lot of space (that’s why you don’t see it on our recommended packing list). Kitty litter is not recommended because when wet, it essentially becomes mud, compounding the original problem.

An able passenger can certainly assist by pushing from the side opposite the planned escape path. If you are alone, though, and these strategies do not work, you may have to resort to walking until you find help.

Help! My Tire’s Flat

There’s really only one way to fix a flat—have the stuff you need to fix a flat: jack, tire iron and spare. (You should always have these, even if you’re city driving.) You may feel more prepared for this type of vehicle maintenance in an emergency situation if you either practice changing a tire before your adventure or watch a YouTube video showing how it’s done.

If you find yourself without the necessary tools, though, there’s little to do than hoof-it to where you can call for roadside assistance. We do not recommend driving on a flat because of the potential to damage the wheel and because the lack of responsiveness to steering and braking puts you, your passengers and others on the road at higher risk for accidents.

Help! My Battery’s Dead

Because the scope of this blog does not cover MacGyver-level tactical skills, we’re not going to explore ways to create DIY battery chargers. You should have jumper cables so that if a passerby can provide a jump, you’re ready. If not, then it’s back to two-footing it into cell range to call for roadside assistance.