When you should pull over

27 August 2020

Our last two articles spoke of the safety of pulling over and how to stay safe once you have pulled over.  But how do you know it’s time to pull over?  Obviously many times it is obvious, the car starts playing up and you know it’s the right thing to do, however there are other signs that people, especially those who have no mechanical or operational knowledge of auto vehicles, ignore.

                This can be especially important as often if you notice the signs, it will provide more time for you to pull over safely, rather than have to complete a last second urgent manoeuvre to the side of the road.  This will also potentially allow you to choose an ideal location where a tow truck can access or another road side vehicle or towing service.

                A hard to control vehicle or steering issues

                Many different problems can cause the steering wheel to become “Hard” or the steering in general to become “difficult”, to various different degrees.  Nearly in almost all these situations, continual driving will only worsen the problem, making any further driving extremely dangerous.  Further, if the steering is affected, then if you are required to potentially make a last second manoeuvre or change to avoid a hazard, you may not be able to do so, resulting in a crash or other undesirable scenarios. 

                At the first sign of a steering issue, you should look to pull the car over to a safe place and assess the issue.  If you di not have a sufficient automotive knowledge it recommended that you call an assistant vehicle immediately, whether it be a road-side mechanic or a  towing service. 

                One thing you can look for is whether you have a flat tyre, as this can be one of the minor causes to a steering issue and can be rectified immediately.  However there are a range of other issues that may occur, some which can escalate quickly, especially in modern cars and precaution is recommended.

Flat tyre

                As above, a flat tyre may be indicated by harsh steering, or you may even hear the tyre blow out.  It may be the “flop” noise that you hear when continuing to drive and sometimes it’s another driver who may point it out to you (that was nice of them).  However you realise that it’s happened, your best move is to find a safe spot to pull over immediately.  Continuing to drive is not only a danger as your steering and stopping distances are compromised, but you may also continue to do further damage to your car.


                Most people have been driving a long and heard a loud bang or clang at one stage or another, or you might have that annoying rattle coming from somewhere behind you.  It is important to get to know what your car sounds like and what is considered normal and what isn’t.  A sudden sharp noise can be caused by running over something on the road, however it may also mean something in your engine has blown or loosened.  Regardless, it is always recommended that you pull over after such an incident.  Even if you have knowing run over a piece of junk or somebody’s back bumper (like we did, long story…), this in itself can cause damage to the car and there may be parts still attached that you should remove from underneath.  If you didn’t run over anything, it pays to pull over safely just to pop the hood to see if anything is out of place.  Even if you don’t know what you’re looking for under there, it pays to have a peak to see if there has been any obvious damage, spillage of any fluid or smoke or fumes are being emitted from somewhere.

                If you do hear a noise and cannot ascertain if anything is wrong than pay extra attention as you continue to drive, listen to the sound of the engine to see if it sounds different and continue to be extra vigilant for the rest of the trip.  And yes, all of the above may mean you need to turn your radio down.

                Smoke and Fumes

                It’s an alarming sign I know, and we shouldn’t have to say it , but if anything is steaming out of the front of your vehicle, pull over!  The next recommendation is to turn off the vehicle immediately but do not pop the hood and open yourself unless you know exactly what you are doing.  There are a range of possibilities that could have caused the issue, some which may spurt and burn people.  Further, if somebody is coming to have a look, the quicker you have turned it off, the quicker it will cool down and make it safer for whoever has the first look.  It may be worth have a look at your heat gauge before you turn it off to see if there is a heating issue.

Unless you, someone else or a contacted road side assistance officer know that the whatever has cause the problem is one hundred percent rectified, it is best to call a tow truck and have the vehicle removed to a mechanic as further driving may be extremely dangerous.

                When you know you’re going to run out of fuel

                If you find yourself in a position where you are almost positive you are to run out of fuel, it may be best to pull safely to the side of the road before the car starts spluttering and juttering along.  This also allows you to choose a safe spot rather than have to pull over in an emergency in an area that could potentially be unsafe and allow the vehicle to be a hazard.  Follow the guidelines of the previous articles to ensure that this is done safely and surely for everybody.

                Once on the side of the road, you may be able to sue your phone to determine how far the next fuel station actually is, allowing you to better ascertain your situation.  There are apps these days that actually tell you where all the local service stations are (what an amazing world we live in).  Only you will know your car better than we do, but there also a few things that can help stretch your car if you only require a few kilometres to the next station. 

                Firstly, don’t accelerate too hard as this uses more fuel per the distance travelled and can likely cause you to brake more.  Secondly, turn of the air conditioner and climate control as this uses energy, and thus fuel.  Unfortunately the next thing to do is to keep your windows up so the car is a little more aerodynamic (Yes, even after you have turned off the air conditioner, I know, not good for the Queensland summers!).

                The best way to avoid running out of fuel is to have a small container or jerry can (make sure it is approved to contain fuel).  Sometimes only a few litres will be needed to get you to the next service station and can save you the need for a towing service vehicle or a tow truck.

And Remember…

If you pull over and nothing’s wrong, then no harm done!