Getting stuck on the side of the road isn't fun, but it can also come with some hefty costs in the form of tows and repair bills. Roadside assistance offers a convenient solution that can get you back on your way with a potentially lower price and much less disruption to your day. However, you can't solve every problem on the roadside, so it's critical to understand your options for various automotive emergencies.
While it's not possible to cover every eventuality, this guide will go over three relatively common scenarios so you can decide if a roadside assistance visit can get you out of your jam without a tow.
1. Charging System Trouble
Your car's charging system consists of its alternator, battery, and associated wiring and electronics. The charging system keeps your car's electrical and electronic components functioning, and modern engines can't operate without it. Problems with the charging system can leave you stranded or even stop your car dead on the road.
If you notice a battery warning light in your dash, that's an indication of a problem with your charging system. Roadside assistance can help you by changing your battery, although more severe problems (such as a failed alternator) will typically require a tow. However, a roadside assistance operator can test your alternator to determine if it's the cause of your trouble.
Modern vehicles typically use aluminum engine blocks that are much lighter than older cast iron blocks but highly susceptible to heat warping. Even a short period of overheating can cause severe and costly damage to your engine, so it's always a good idea to pull over immediately when you notice your vehicle overheating.
Overheating almost always indicates a problem with your cooling system that will require repairs, but you may not need a tow. If you're low on coolant (and don't see a massive puddle under your car), you may just have a small leak. In these cases, some roadside assistance services may be able to bring you coolant or water to top your car up so you can drive to a service center.
3. Flat Tires
Driving on a flat or damaged tire is incredibly dangerous and may ruin whatever chance you have of saving the tire. These situations are a perfect fit for calling for help, and you may be able to solve your problem without a tow. Roadside assistance drivers typically carry compressors that can reinflate a flat tire, which you can then drive on (briefly) as long as it holds air.
Your driver may also be able to install a spare tire, but this will only be an option if you're safely off the road and out of traffic. If your tire is severely damaged and you don't have a spare (or your vehicle is in a dangerous position), you'll usually need a tow truck.