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What to do when your car breaks down in Singapore

You might have a car breakdown. But it doesn't need to be a mental breakdown. Photo by Goncharov_Artem

If something can go wrong, it will. We hate to be pessimists, but Sod’s law applies to pretty much everything in life, including driving. Statistically, if you own a car, you’re guaranteed to experience at least one breakdown in your driving career––even with all the improvements made over the decades, modern cars aren’t immune to technical failures.

But while you can’t predict a breakdown, you can definitely be prepared for one when it does happen. (Hope for the best, prepare for the worst!) Fortunately, we’re never that far away from help on our little island.

Car dashboard icons close-up by PixieMe

Basic troubleshooting: why does your car break down?

Unless you’re a professional mechanic, you might not be able to diagnose your car’s exact issue. But most of the time, car breakdowns are caused by a few simple things. Here are a few of them:

Your car ran out of fuel. Yes, it’s silly, but it has happened to the best of us! Ultimately, you’re never that far from a petrol kiosk in Singapore, but don’t let that keep you from taking a few minutes to fill up your tank.

The ignition switch is malfunctioning. If you use your car every day, that ignition switch––which helps your car power on and start––will wear out, just like anything you frequently use. If it fails, your engine will stall. Sometimes, this is fixable, but not always.

The alternator is failing. This is the bit that charges the battery while the car’s running, and generates electric power in your car. All that wear and tear does need some TLC after a while! Take heed when the battery warning symbol on your dashboard starts to flash––that means you’re about to run out of juice.

The fuel pump is worn out. In this scenario, your car’s fuel pump might not be delivering petrol from the tank to the engine at the right pressure.

Calling for help, via Shutterstock

Okay, but what should I do when my car breaks down?

  • Keep calm and don’t panic. This might seem like ‘no shit Sherlock’ advice, but there’s always that one kancheong driver who will start hyperventilating in the middle of the road. (We’re not speaking from experience here. Of course we aren’t.) Take a deep breath. You’ll be fine.

  • Get out of everyone’s way, to a safe, open space. If you’re driving, start braking and slowing down. Turn your hazard lights on to let everyone know you’re in trouble. Stay in the outermost (leftmost) lane and pull your vehicle over as far out of the travel lanes as possible. If you’re stuck in the middle of the road, wait for the traffic to clear before trying to get out of your car; if you can, try and make it to the nearest parking lot, if not the side of the road. Or, if you’re on the expressway, try to move your car to the road shoulder. Once you’ve stopped the car, don’t forget the handbrake to stop your car from rolling away. And, do NOT try to manually push your car off the road if there’s other traffic around!

Warning triangle and case by DLG Images

  • Call attention to yourself and your vehicle. You need help! Make sure other people can see that from a distance. Keep your hazard lights on. Don’t stay in the car if there’s any chance of collision. Get your fellow passengers out of the car––away from traffic––and have them stand behind the guardrail to stay safe if you’re at the side of a road. If you have a breakdown triangle, place it around 20m behind your car––important, especially if you’re in the middle of the road. Pop the boot open, as it’ll signal to other drivers that you’re in need of assistance.

  • Troubleshoot. If you’re in a relatively safe environment, you could try troubleshooting before ringing for help to see if it’s something you can fix by yourself. Check your car’s dashboard for any warning lights, e.g. whether your tank is out of petrol, your battery is out of juice, or your engine oil is leaking/has depleted. If it’s a flat tyre, you can probably swap it out yourself. (You do have a spare tyre in your boot, right?)

Okay, your tow truck probably won’t be as cute as Tow Mater… but it’ll be just as supportive and helpful.

  • Call for assistance. So you can’t fix it––no worries. It’s totally fine to call for help. Ideally, you’ll have a list of numbers for tow truck services or regular car workshop to dial for help, either in your phone or on a piece of paper in the glove compartment; your insurance provider or manufacturer may even have given these to you. Otherwise, here are some useful numbers: Island Recovery Service –– 9182 8211 AXA Assistance Singapore –– 6322 2600 Cheong Towing Services – 9183 3558 Go! Towing & Transport Services –– 8666 6060 BH Auto Services – 9101 3232 Carzin Garage – 6841 6043 833 Motorsports – 6457 7833 Automobile Association of Singapore roadside assistance hotline –– 6748 9911 (members only) Expressway Monitoring and Advisory System (EMAS) –– 1800–2255–582 (if you’re on the expressway) Incidentally, if you’re covered by warranty, you might qualify for complimentary towing and roadside assistance! And, if you’re leasing a car, you’ll have access to these services through the leasing company. (We make sure our customers are covered in situations like this when they lease from us!)

  • Sit tight and wait for help. In general, the best thing to do is wait outside the car at the side of the road, well away from traffic––you don’t want to get run over by another driver! Some suggest waiting inside the car with your seatbelt strapped on, which is also valid, but you definitely don’t want to be doing this if your car is emitting smoke. Make sure you have all your personal belongings on you: ID, phone, insurance information. Once the tow truck driver arrives, ask for their identification. This ensures that you’ve got the right company, and you’ll be able to identify their personnel. (It’s rare, but you certainly don’t want to get scammed out of your car!) Note: if your car breaks down on an expressway, you’re in luck––an LTA traffic marshal may be on the way to help you (and “remove obstructions” like, well, your car). The Intelligent Transport Systems Centre has many cameras placed along the expressway, which detects incidents and accidents on the road, allowing a vehicle recovery crew and tow truck to be swiftly dispatched to the right place.

Auto repair by Doka Ryan

So what can you do to prevent these breakdowns?

Prevention is usually better than the cure––a truism, but never one truer, especially in a pandemic! You’ll never be able to completely prevent a breakdown, but you can minimize the chances of one happening.

  • Basic car maintenance. There are a few things you can do on the regular to keep your car working well. For example, you can ensure your engine oil is consistently topped up, and that you have enough battery fluid knocking around.

  • Don’t miss your regular servicing. Just like exercise helps keep your body in tip-top condition, the same goes for your car––giving it a thorough servicing at the workshop every 10,000km or every year will help prevent unnecessary breakdowns.

  • Have good driving habits. Good driving helps your car live longer. For instance, braking suddenly with hard stops and starts will wear your brake pads and rotors down a lot faster than normal. Practice the art of braking smoothly when coming to a halt, and you’ll spend less money replacing those brake pads––and minimize your chances of a breakdown or accident!

  • Fix problems early. If you can feel something off with your car––like strange noises, warning lights, changes in how the steering or suspension feels, starting problems, odd smoke or fumes––don’t ignore it, take it to a workshop ASAP. Problems don’t go away if you ignore them. Deal with them early, and you won’t be shelling out big bucks for expensive repairs further down the line.

Want to know who you should call when your car needs servicing? We have all the deets. Head on over to ST Auto and ask our friendly sales staff! Call +65 6464 9098 or email us at

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