As I coasted to a stop at the traffic light, I felt the engine die. Adrenalin surged. Holy cow, I'm stuck in the middle of an intersection, blocking a hundred cars. Horns will begin blowing. What am I going to do?
Then I remember. I'm driving my uncle's new Prius, the Toyota hybrid car, and it's normal for the engine to shut off when you stop. The electric motor gets you moving again and the gas engine will start up when the computer is darn good and ready. Heck of a drug, that adrenalin. Really wakes you up. But what if it is a real breakdown? How do we handle it? We relax and don't panic, unlike me.
First thing to do is turn on the four-way emergency flashers. Every car has them. Learn where the switch is and how to turn them on. It could be tricky. In some cars you press buttons, in some you pull buttons. Then start thinking your situation out. What is the primary danger to you in this situation? It may well be getting hit by other traffic, so the flashers will help. Then consider getting off the road and out of harm's way. If you are still coasting, maybe you can coast off the road. If you are on an interstate, be sure to get as far off as you safely can get. Remember those videos of cops getting side-swiped while standing next to a stopped car. If you're in city traffic, or completely stopped, you should probably stay where you are rather than trying to cross lanes. Getting out to push is usually very dangerous in heavy traffic. If you can safely get out to raise your hood, it would help to signal other traffic that you are unable to move, so maybe they'll stop blowing their horns at you, unless you're in New York City, in which case just blow your own horn back at them. They like it.
The next thing is to call for help. Cell phones are wonderful, if you know the number to call. Now would be a good time to locate the number of a towing service, and put it in your phone, unless you have a smart-alec phone, which can find it at anytime. Don't think that if you wait long enough a Good Samaritan will come along and get your car running again. Modern computer-controlled engines are nearly impossible to diagnose without sophisticated equipment and, if your car has overheated, you have probably blown a hose or broken a belt, neither of which can reasonably be fixed at roadside, and anyway, the Samaritan might be an ax murderer.
You will probably spend less time if you call for towing and have it taken to a garage where it can be fixed right and you can be on your way again. According to the tow truck driver's association, very few of their drivers are ax murderers.
If you find yourself stranded on a lonely road in the country, you might feel better by letting the highway patrol know of your situation by dialing Star FHP, or a Sheriff Department number if you know it, but don't call 911. You don't have an emergency unless the ax guy is there. If a deputy or trooper is in the area, he might wait with you for the tow truck. That helps control the adrenalin. If it's late at night the tow truck can at least get you to civilization where you can get a cab or a motel. That way the situation is controlled and won't snowball into something worse. Relax, and get those numbers now.