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How to Safely Push Your Car if You Break Down

Stephen Fogel
February 27, 2019

The idea of pushing your car is not a fun one. Clearly, something has gone wrong, leaving you stranded in the middle of a roadway, and now you might have to put your safety at risk in order to get it off the street. 

Let’s take a look at what your options are, as well as when and how you can safely push your car out of the way of traffic. 

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Safety first!

In a situation like this, your personal safety is the most important consideration. The first thing you should do is turn on your hazard warning flashers, and then assess the situation:

  • Are you on a busy highway, a congested main road or a side street without much traffic?
  • Are you alone in the car, or is there someone who can help you?
  • How far would you need to push your car to get it to a safer location?

Don’t try to push your car in heavy traffic: It’s extremely dangerous to get out of your car in heavy traffic, whether on a highway or a busy street. Other cars may not be aware of your situation, which could lead to them hitting you or your vehicle. 

If you can get out safely and the weather is not hostile, it would be best to wait for help in a safe spot on the side of the road. Otherwise, stay inside the car with your seatbelt on. Call your auto club or roadside assistance, if you have either one. If you don’t, it’s time to call a tow truck.

Don’t try to push your car out of the way alone: It’s not possible to both push your car and have total control of it. You need at least one person to push it, and another person to sit behind the wheel, steering and applying the brakes as necessary.

Don’t try to push your car a long distance: Survey the area, then pick the nearest safe spot you can push your car to in a forward direction. The sooner you are out of the traffic lane, the better. If you don’t see a safe spot nearby, stay in the car and call for assistance.

Don’t try to push your car uphill: It should go without saying, but don’t try to push a car uphill. This is extremely dangerous.

How to safely push your car

If you have someone with you who can help, the traffic is light, and it looks safe to push your car out of the way, here are some tips to make it easier:

Turn on the ignition: Even if the car won’t start, turn the key to the “on” position. This will unlock the steering wheel, allowing the person behind the wheel to steer the car while it’s being pushed.

Lower the driver’s window: This will allow the person behind the wheel to hear any directions given by the pushers. If the battery is dead and you have power windows, this may not be possible. 

Shift into neutral: This applies to both manual and automatic transmissions. It will disengage the transmission from the wheels, making it easier to push your car out of the way.

Some automatics have an electronic brake-transmission shift interlock, which may not work if your battery is dead. You may need to bypass the interlock — check your owner’s manual for the proper procedure. If you don’t feel comfortable dealing with this, simply call for help and wait. 

Release the parking brake: This is the last thing to do before you start pushing. Make sure that everyone involved is on the same page about where the car is headed.

Push smoothly, using your legs: Push on a part of the back of the car that’s unlikely to dent or bend. Don’t strain your back. Stay behind the rear wheels to avoid having your feet run over.

Stop as soon as you are safely out of the road: Once you're clear, stop, shift into park if you have an automatic transmission (or put it in gear if you have a manual), apply the parking brake, and turn the ignition off. Call a mechanic or roadside assistance for help.

Stephen Fogel

About the Author

Stephen has been an automotive enthusiast since childhood, owning some of his vehicles for as long as 40 years, and has raced open-wheel formula cars. He follows and writes about the global automotive industry, with an eye on the latest vehicle technologies.