They say that half the fun of road trips is the journey, but you and I both know that sometimes, you just want to GET there. At ANY cost. But there are some situations where pulling over and taking a break - either for you or your car - is the safe thing to do. Here are 10 good reasons to pull over - on a road trip or any time.
1. Steamy engine. If you see that steam is escaping from under your hood, that's generally an indication that your coolant is leaking. Depending on how fast it's leaking, you could be in danger of overheating your car, which can do serious damage to your engine. Find somewhere safe to pull over and let the car cool off before having a look. Check out our previous post on how to avoid having your car overheat and what to do if it does.
2. Lack of visibility. Those of us who love to leave early for road trips often get caught in early morning fog or mist; and summer weather can be unpredictable. If visibility diminishes quickly in the fog - or in a rain or snowstorm - try to find a safe, legal place to pull over as soon as possible. This is especially important if you don't know the area - no one wants to drive off a mountain because they can't see the road ahead.
3. Losing something on the driver's side. If you drop a French fry on the driver's side, the only damage will be to your floor mats. But if you drop anything solid, like a phone, an empty soda can, a bottle of water, those items will a) distract the driver and/or b) get caught under the gas or brake pedals, impeding the driver's ability to stop or go. Don't fuss around trying to retrieve the item while the car is in motion - find somewhere safe to pull over and get it then.
4. Change in car handling. If the steering wheel suddenly feels like it's pulling to one side or the other; if the brakes aren't catching well or you can't break evenly; if the car is juddering and you're not driving over rumble strips - pull over.
5. Oil light. It's a running gag on The Big Bang Theory that Penny's "check engine" light is usually on in her car. Driving around with your "check engine" light on isn't a great idea but a check engine light means you have a few minutes to drive it over to the mechanic. If your oil light comes on, however, investigate right away! Driving with a loss of oil pressure can several damage your car after only a few minutes. Pull over and call for roadside assistance as soon as you can do so safely.
6. Hitting or rolling over something. First of all, it's best to avoid hitting things altogether, so here are a few tips from a previous post on how to avoid hitting a deer It's going to be pretty obvious if you hit a deer but hitting other things - debris other drivers have left on the road, a rogue construction sign, a smaller animal - can potentially be cause for pulling over. If you're worried your tires have been compromised or if something may have bounced up into your undercarriage, take the time to pull over and check.
7. Medical problem. Our instinct as humans is to "try and make it home" when we're feeling ill or in crisis. But obviously, that's crazy and dangerous to yourself and others. If you suspect you're having a heart attack or some other medical emergency, pull over. "Medical reasons" covers other less dire problems as well - anything that forces you to focus more on your body than on your driving means that you need to take a break. Whether you have a migraine or even just have something in your eye, pull over.
8. Bathroom break. Basically, anything that makes you feel desperate and distracted makes you a bad driver. You should have gone at the last rest stop but you didn't and now there's nothing for miles? Time to pull over and find some bushes.
9. What's that noise? Any loud and sudden noises that your car makes while driving is a cause for concern. You might have just driven over a rock that bounced off your underside - or something in your engine may have blown or come loose. If you can't immediately identify what happened, it's worth pulling over and checking things out.
10. What's that smell? When you're driving through farmland, you may expect to smell manure; driving through the mountains last weekend, we expected to smell woodsmoke from forest fires. But if you smell something unusual - burning plastic or rubber, or a gasoline odour - pull over as soon as possible to assess where that smell might be coming from. It might just be the dog, but better safe than sorry.
With any luck, you'll make it through your road trip without having to pull over for any of these reasons. But before you leave on any trip, make sure your emergency car kit is up to date and make sure you have all the necessary info to get in touch with your roadside assistance provider.
- Rose R.