by Karen D. Koch
Teenage son calling on cell phone one early August evening: “Mom, something really bad just happened.”
Driving 70 mph in the left lane on northbound Interstate 5, my 18-year-old son suddenly faced a crisis. His front passenger tire blew out and shredded without warning. Debris was flying everywhere and the car was hard to manage. Fortunately, he was able to get to the side of the road, then looked at the damage and realized his back passenger tire was now flat too. He was still two hours from home, returning from a golf tournament, with two flats and only one spare tire. Fortunately, we have emergency road service on all our cars through our insurance so we started there. A quick call and emergency towing was initiated.
Then I got in the van (which I keep over 3/4 full at most times) with my older son in case I needed help, and we drove south 2+ hours, beating the tow truck by 30 minutes. Mason had spoken to the tow truck driver by phone and had already put the spare on the back so it could be towed. The tow truck driver eventually found us, and towed the car to a mechanic’s about 10 miles away. We left it there and drove home, getting in about midnight. The next day we had to arrange another tow covered by insurance to a place that would fix it. After a day of repairs and another round trip to pick it up, his car was home safely.
1. Strongly consider having emergency road service on all family vehicles either through your insurance or another carrier. My son doesn’t have a credit card, so it was a relief to know that towing was covered if I hadn’t been able to get to him, and they could get him and the vehicle to safety within a reasonable time frame without the worry of paying.
2. Consider having data on your child’s phone. My son doesn’t have a data plan and just uses wifi when it’s available. He didn’t know his exact location and our insurance was unable to “ping” him. Fortunately he had his golf range-finder in the car (like binoculars) and was able to see a sign about a mile south on the opposite side of the freeway (he was in a wooded area between cities–no obvious markers). Dark was coming on, he was tired and didn’t remember the most recent city he’d gone through on his five-hour drive. I gave him an A+ for ingenuity using the range-finder, but if he hadn’t been able to see a sign, the tow-truck hunt for him would have been longer.
3. Make your child practice changing a tire before it’s a crisis. Fortunately our son had a recent flat tire at college and had a nice, safe tire-changing practice run in the dorm parking lot. He knew the process and what to do. The tow truck driver could have done it for him, but it was dark when he arrived and my son had already completed the task so it was ready to be pulled.
4. Run through emergency procedures with your driver. My son knew to first get to a safe location and stop, then to call insurance. It was after office hours, though, and he didn’t know he could still call the office number on his insurance policy. Now he knows that number will route him through to claims, even after hours. He knew that if anyone had been injured that the first call would have been to 9-1-1. He was safely off the road, so he called us first, then I called insurance who linked us for a three-way call.
5. Have a phone charger for the car. Fortunately he had one so there was no risk of his phone dying in the process.
6. Be sure each car in the family has its own set of jumper cables and some sort of flares for safety. This is another thing to practice when the opportunity arises. Both my grown sons know how to handle jumper cables and how to jump-start a car. Many have the instructions on attached plastic tags. In this case he didn’t need one, but when I got home I made sure each car had its own set.
7. Know about safe locations. Our son got over on the right freeway shoulder safely and knew to use his hazard lights to alert others. His blown tires were on the passenger side, fortunately, so he wasn’t risking being too close to passing freeway traffic. If the blowout had happened on a bridge or somewhere with a barricade, he might have had to drive as he was able to a safer location. It was still daylight, so after he changed his back tire, he moved away from the car and freeway several yards to await the tow truck.
8. Make regular maintenance a priority. Our son was planning to have some mechanical work done and check for tire wear after his trip. He now has four new tires, but also had several hundreds of dollars worth of unexpected damage, some of which is cosmetic and will have to wait for financial reasons.
9. Carry bottled water, snacks, and a blanket in the car for emergencies. He had a cooler with snacks and drinks, but those supplies were nearly gone by that stage of his trip. He was very glad when we arrived with some water.
10. Keep $5 or $10 in the glove box for emergency gas. Missing wallet, no cash, card that won’t work? If you keep off-limits cash in a stash somewhere in your car, you’ll have a close-to-empty fuel tank crises averted.
9. Pray. Both you and your driver. This should really be #1. Every time we drive there is a risk. Even though I knew my son was ok when he called, I was in a panic thinking he was alone on the side of the freeway far from us, and that it would be dark soon. My wise 14-year-old daughter recently told me, “Mom, shouldn’t you pray before you panic?” so I did just that. I prayed that God would equip my son to handle what needed to be done, that the tow truck would find him, that we would get to him safely, and more. The good Lord did all this and more. Then I thanked God again and again for sparing him a more serious accident.