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How to handle 4 common (and 1 rare) motoring mishaps

How to handle 4 common (and 1 rare) motoring mishaps

If you spend enough time behind the wheel, you will eventually encounter some hiccups.

We delve into five tricky car emergencies and go back to basics to help you safely deal with them.

Alternator or Battery Failure 

A dead battery might be one of a driver's worst enemies, but a failed alternator can be worse. Your alternator charges the car’s battery and provides energy for running the car’s electrical system. If you experience regular flat batteries, it could be a problem with the alternator.

If the alternator fails, you can still jumpstart the vehicle and get yourself to the nearest mechanic (you will need a new alternator as soon as possible). You can't jumpstart a dead battery without access to a fully charged battery to jumpstart from. Remember to turn off all your car's accessories (including air conditioner, radio etc.) before jumpstarting. Once you've started your car, it's advisable to drive directly to the nearest mechanic. 

Flat Tyre

The most common cause of flat tyres are striking objects, hitting potholes or being punctured by nails or screws.

If you experience a flat tyre, pull onto a safe, flat area off the road before attempting a tyre change or calling for assistance.

Start by turning off the engine and switching on your hazard lights. It's crucial to ensure the handbrake is on and the vehicle is in park.

If you are confident to change the damaged tyre, first make sure you can find your jack, wheel nut key and spare tyre, usually all found in the boot. Loosen the wheel nuts slightly before using the jack to raise the vehicle. Then, take the wheel nuts and tyre completely off.

Carefully put the new tyre on in its place, before putting the wheel nuts back on and starting to tighten them. Lower the car, and then tighten it all the way. Place the used tyre into the boot and put all your tools away.

It's advisable to extend your tyre's lifespan by rotating them (which means swapping where they are on the car) as recommended by your vehicle manufacturer. 

Colliding with an animal

Staying safe on Australian roads includes looking out for animals. In the instance where you hit an animal, it's vital to remain calm and in control. Never swerve to avoid an animal as this puts you and other motorists in more danger.

It's essential to pull over out of harm’s way. Once parked, take a breath (collisions can be scary) and check your vehicle thoroughly. Sometimes animals can get caught in the car grill or engine bay after being hit and you may need to attend to the animal.

If the animal is in the middle of the road, please be aware of your surroundings, keeping yourself safe before moving the animal to the side of the road. The bones of large animals can puncture tyres, and other drivers may swerve if they see it on the road.

If you hit a wild animal, and the animal is still alive, you should contact the nearest vet or wildlife organisation such as WIRES in NSW, Fauna Rescue in SA, Bonorong Wildlife Rescue in TAS, Wildlife Rescue Queensland or RSPCA in QLD or Wildcare Helpline in WA. If you have accidentally killed a domestic animal, Australian law denotes you must take it to a vet or contact the police or RSPCA.

Engine Overheating

As we head into the warmer months, it's good to know what to do if your car overheats. 

The first thing to note is that you should never attempt to drive an overheated car. Firstly, pull over safely, and turn off the engine. Your safest option is to contact a mechanic or wait until the temperature gauge has moved back to cool to retry the engine and drive it to be checked by a professional.

If you are more confident with vehicle maintenance and have coolant in your car's 'must-have kit', you could follow these steps:

Don't open the bonnet until the temperature gauge has moved from hot to cool. Be sure that the radiator cap is cool, and using a cloth or towel, remove the cap to check the coolant level. Fill the coolant to the top of the radiator before replacing the radiator cap. Ensure that all hoses have not been blocked, disconnected or burst, and then restart your engine.

Again, you’ll want to head to a professional as soon as possible to determine the cause of the overheating engine.

Brake Failure

Brake failure, while fortunately rare, is frightening for a driver to experience and requires a level head to maintain complete control over the vehicle.

In the unlikely event you do experience brake failure, do not turn off your car in an attempt to maintain some control, as this could cause skidding or locking your steering wheel. Don't apply the emergency brake too quickly, as the vehicle could skid.

So, what should you do if your brakes fail? Firstly, take your foot off the accelerator, downshift slowly to decrease momentum. Next, pump the brake pedal hard and fast. Most modern vehicles have dual braking systems that independently control the front and back brakes. Pumping the brakes aggressively may be enough to engage half of the brakes to slow you to a halt. 

Once you’ve started to slow down, gently apply the emergency brake, allowing you to remain in some control until you can gradually come to a stop whilst you steer yourself to safety. 

To warn other drivers that your brakes aren't working, you can honk your horn, place your hazards, and flash your lights. If you're on a freeway, it may be advisable to use the guard rail or divider using friction to slow the car down. If you must do this, come in at an angle and gently as possible rub the car against the obstacle. 

Here's hoping none of the above incidents ever happen to you; however, now you have a few tips and tricks to help keep you safe.

NRMA has a range of car insurance options to make sure you and your car are covered. For more information visit

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