You’re driving along when suddenly, your car shudders, sputters a few times, then your dashboard flashes like crazy. It might sputter or shudder again a few times. Then it slows to a halt.

You’re having a car breakdown, and your mind is going wild. What do I do? What’s wrong with my car? Can I afford this? We hope you’re never in this situation, but if you are, follow the tips below for the best outcome.

1. Make Sure You’re in a Safe Place

When your car starts to break down while you’re driving, you don’t have a lot of control over the situation. Depending on how bad it is, you have anywhere from thirty seconds to five minutes to get to somewhere safe to stop your car.

If you’re on the highway and have seconds, try to get to the shoulder, and if possible, aim for a spot right under a streetlight. That extra bit of visibility can help your auto courtesy or towing service find you and keep you safe.

Once stopped, turn on your hazards, put on your emergency brake, and try to keep your headlights on if they’re still working. If not, turn on the interior lights in the car, so you’re visible to other automobiles on the road.

There are horror stories of people getting hurt or taken when accepting help from strangers on the side of the road. Stay inside and keep the doors locked if you’re alone until help arrives. If you’ve called a roadside service, ask the dispatcher what kind of car your technician is driving. Not all auto contractors have branded vehicles.

2. Remove Valuables

If you do have to leave your car on the side of the road to be towed or need to come back to it later with a spare, don’t leave expensive things inside. An abandoned-looking car on the side of the road is just asking to get broken into.

Take whatever you can carry with you when you get picked up, including registration papers, laptops, emergency cash, electronics, and anything else you would miss if stolen.

3. Call the Police

Once you’re safe, call the police’s non-emergency number to let them know you’ve left your car on the side of the road. Tell them your plans to remove it, the make, model, and color. This will ensure the highway patrol or city doesn’t tow it before you can make it back there.

Time is of the essence here. Many cities will tow “abandoned” cars after a certain number of days. Be sure to ask the person on the phone if your city has any of these rules.

What to Do if You See Flames or Smoke

Most of the time, it’s safer to stay in your broken-down car until help arrives. But if there’s smoke or flames, that’s not the case. Do what you can to get away from the car as quickly and safely as possible.

Never try to cross a busy highway — walk down the shoulder aways until you feel like you’re a safe distance from your vehicle. Then, call 911 and let them know what’s going on and what the closest mile marker or exit you see is.

A car fire is not only dangerous for you but to other people on the road.

This Car Breakdown Advice Could Save Your Life

Unless there’s a fire, staying in your car in the event of a car breakdown could save your life. You never know what could happen in the dark on the side of a highway, especially if you’re alone.

Call your car breakdown service, a friend, or towing service to come get you. Then wait inside with the lights on, and don’t get into a car unless you’ve verified their identity first.

We know it sounds macabre, but it’s realistic. Follow our site for more car-related advice (which is usually less somber).