What expats should do when their car breaks down while driving in New Jersey

LIVING IN NEW JERSEY: One of the scariest things that can happen perhaps, as an expat driving in NJ for the first time, is suddenly realizing you don’t know what to do if your car breaks down. Sometimes as a new expat, it’s not until you are in the situation that you get this dreaded realization that you know nothing about how a particular situation works in this new country. Luckily in NJ and the USA, things are not too difficult, just a little different perhaps than home. 

What to do if your car breaks down

Make sure your car is safely off the road

If your vehicle breaks down on a road or highway while driving in NJ, firstly move your car safely off the roadway to the shoulder on the right (or on the left, if appropriate). In most cases it will be the right hand side as you drive on that side. You need to assess whichever is the safest option to keep your vehicle out of the traffic flow and minimize chances of being struck by accident by another car. You should of course keep your cell phone nearby to call for help. Be very careful getting out of your car, as traffic on interstate and local highways moves extremely fast, and if you are hit, it could be very serious, even fatal. That is why it is important to park your car well away from the traffic if possible.


Work out your location details

If you are driving in NJ on an interstate highway or major NJ roadway, you can determine where you are by noting some key location markers. These may not be very familiar to you, especially if you have never been asked for them before but they may include:

  • the nearest mile marker-these are regularly posted signs along major highwaysNJ_milepost_sign
  • the last exit number – each exit usually has a number as well as a description of locations you can get to by taking the exit. 


  • nearest emergency call box – these are not very frequently deployed unfortunately versus some countries, so take note of one if you think you will be needing it sometime soon…
  • rest area – these may have gas stations and food facilities or may just be a nature spot to pull over.


  • a cross street – in the suburbs and town areas, you will need to be able to name this location.

  • which direction you are traveling i.e. east or west; north or south. Most major roads are divided roads, and are labelled by the direction as well as number e.g. NJ 3 West, Garden State Parkway North or I-80 East.


  • Any road or location markers such as County Road number or junction number for intersections etc. 

This is vital information that helps to accurately direct someone on how to find you easily. You will likely need this when calling for assistance.

Who to contact for help?

You may contact the NJ State Police, your Emergency Roadside Assistance Provider (such as AAA or insurance company service-provider) , or a local towing operator to assist you with your disabled vehicle. You should use your cell phone to call for assistance, or if this is not possible, walk carefully to a nearby telephone. If you are on one of NJ’s major roadways, and have no cell phone, there is also the option of waiting with your car until a State Police patrol passes, and they will likely stop to assist you. In poor weather or busy periods, this may take a while. 

If driving in NJ on a major road controlled by NJ Turnpike Authority (NJ Turnpike, Garden State Parkway, Atlantic City Expressway), then there is another convenient option. You can dial #95 on your US cell phone to reach the New Jersey Turnpike Authority’s Operations Center and request assistance. An authorized service garage will be dispatched to assist you. These garages have regulated fees for drivers on NJTA roads which are overseen by the state, to ensure prices are reasonable for drivers.

If you don’t have a cell phone, turn on your hazard lights and wait for a State Police patrol. If you have a white handkerchief, white plastic shopping bag or some other bright cloth, tie it on the car door handle or other exterior part of the vehicle, on the side facing traffic. This is to signal that you need help. Often passing drivers will alert staff at the next toll plaza, about disabled cars.

Do not attempt to flag down passing vehicles. This, as well as hitchhiking, picking up or dropping persons off on the Parkway and Turnpike is illegal. It is also extremely dangerous to try and get someone to stop on major roadways where traffic is travelling at very fast speeds. The State Police will usually organize some assistance in the case, where you are unable to yourself.

You can call 911 to help you get in touch with State Police quicker but they will not organize towing on your behalf. The 911 service is intended for emergencies where there is life or safety endangerment only. So avoid calling this number unless there is no other option.

The American Automobile Association (Triple A) have a thorough checklist of what to do in the case of vehicle breakdowns, which you can access at: http://exchange.aaa.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/AAA-What-To-Do-When-Your-Vehicle-Breaks-Down.pdf


What are the options for Emergency Roadside Assistance service?

There are a few options when it comes to Emergency Service Providers. These may include:

  • Joining the American Automobile Association (AAA), and using their roadside service providers. This is very similar to state or country-based car associations elsewhere in the world such as in Australia or UK.
  • Joining a specialty roadside assistance program such as AutoVantage or Good Sam. When considering what requirements you may need in a roadside assistance provider, you may find some useful recommendations and reviews in this article by Top Ten Reviews.com.
  • Using the road assistance service provided by your car insurance providers. This is an option that is often provided by large car insurance companies for an extra amount of premium per year. These services are provided by StateFarm, Allstate, Nationwide, NJM insurance companies.
  • Most car brands provide a roadside assistance program as part of a new car purchase plan. The roadside assistance cover lasts between 4-6 years or 50-100k miles, depending on the car brand. Honda, Ford and VW are brands with such programs but there are many more. A list of new car roadside programs can be found on Edmunds.com website.
  • Ringing a local towing or automobile garage.
  • Using the towing or garage service providers that the NJ Turnpike Authority sends. Costs for these services are regulated, and more details can be found on the NJ Turnpike Authority website.

Pre-Drive Check List

Remember though, before you even get into the car to drive, to check that you have your driver license (NJ or expat country), your International Driving License (if driving with a foreign license) and your insurance and registration papers. This is required every time you drive. If you have membership for a roadside service association or assistance phone number, remember to take that in the car on every trip or just leave it in the car ongoing.

With weather extremes occurring while you are driving in NJ during summer and winter, make sure you are equipped in case your car breaks down.

  • In summer, always drive with spare drinking water.
  • In winter, there are more serious issues if you are not dressed for the cold when you are driving and you car stops working while out in the snow and ice. Make sure you carry hat, gloves and a proper winter coat in the car, even if you are not expecting to use them. If you car breaks down and there is a long wait for service help, be well equipped in case you have to get out of your car and walk somewhere. Exposure can start having an affect very quickly in bitterly cold weather.



Winter driving in NJ; Image ©ExpatAussieInNJ

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