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Car Emergencies Happen. Do You Have a Plan?

young woman looking under the hood of her car

You might think it’s unlikely, but disaster can strike at any time. In March, a student was stranded near the Grand Canyon for five days after her GPS led her down a nonexistent turn. This summer, a man’s car broke down during a road trip, leaving him on his own for more than 48 hours. In September, a woman was stuck in her car for more than three days after falling asleep at the wheel and crashing into a riverbank.

There are more than six million car accidents each year in the United States. And despite current car safety technology, car breakdowns and roadside issues are more frequent than ever; in 2015, AAA rescued a record 32 million people from roadside emergencies.

Creating an Emergency Car Care Fund

Whether it’s an accident or a breakdown, it’s likely to run you a high bill. If you don’t have an emergency fund to cover these unexpected situations, you could wind up breaking the bank — or harming your credit.

In order to build up a solid car care emergency fund, you’ll want to consider the most common winter car issues and what they’ll likely cost to fix:

Accidents: Car accidents are common during winter weather. Twenty-four percent of all weather-related vehicle crashes happen on roads with snow, slush or ice, and 15 percent occur during inclement winter weather, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Even simple repairs can be costly. A dented bumper, for instance, can cost from $450 to repair up to $900 to replace. Paint damage can run anywhere from $50 to $1,500, while repairing major frame damage can cost up to $10,000.

Tires: Cold weather causes tires to deflate considerably, and weather-related factors such as slick or wet roads increase the risk of tire problems by over 11 percent. If you do damage a tire, you’ll likely have to replace more than one. Front-wheel and rear-wheel drive cars require that you replace two tires, but if your car is all-wheel drive, you’ll need to replace all four. The average consumer pays an average of $637 to replace all four tires, but it can run you as high as $1,800.

Batteries: Starting your car in the cold drains more energy from your battery. If your battery is older, you may need to completely replace it when the weather turns cold, at an average cost of $120.

Car tows: Tow companies generally charge by the mile, usually between about $2.50 and $7 depending on the size and weight of your vehicle. That might not sound like a lot if you’re, say, five miles from your destination. If you’re 100 miles away, however, you could be looking at a price tag of between $250 and $700.

How much you keep in your car care emergency fund depends on the make and model of your car and how much common repairs cost in your area.

Protect Yourself on the Road

In addition to an emergency fund, every driver on the road should also have a well-stocked emergency kit in the car, in case the worst-case scenario becomes reality. Here’s what to include:

  • Jack and spare tire. Your car came with these, but do you know how to use them? Nearly 60 percent of people report that they wouldn’t be confident changing a flat tire in an emergency. In a pinch, a can of tire inflator can do the job.
  • Jumper cables. Battery troubles are one of the most common roadside issues, according to AAA. When buying cables, make sure you’re getting ones that are compatible with all cars and that you know how to use them.
  • An emergency car battery charger. Jumper cables will only work if you can depend on the kindness of strangers. But if you’re completely alone and stranded, a battery charger could make all the difference.
  • A gallon of coolant and a gallon of oil.
  • A tire pressure gauge.
  • Duct tape and a small tool kit that at least includes pliers, a wrench, a knife and screwdrivers.
  • Bottled water, energy bars and a blanket. Should you get stuck in your vehicle, you’ll be grateful for provisions and a way to keep warm.

Be Preventative

It’s good to be prepared for emergency, but it’s better if you can prevent it. Check the fluid levels in your car, keep your gas tank full, and check your tire pressure.

Want to learn more? Take SAM’s My Transportation Plan course for information on what to do after an accident, the true cost of owning a car and more on car care planning.

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by the National Endowment for Financial Education.]