How To Get Out Of That Driving Nightmare

The first thing you need to remember? Don’t panic. We ask the experts to tell you how to get out of six sticky situations you and your car could possibly land up in. And yes, every one of them is real.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

The first thing you need to remember? Don’t panic. We ask the experts to tell you how to get out of six sticky situations you and your car could possibly land up in. And yes, every one of them is real.

1 You’re winding your way down (or up) a multistorey carpark when your car suddenly breaks down. Next thing you know, a long line of cars has built up behind you.

Don’t freak out, says motoring expert Dr Andre Lam. “Be cool, apply the parking brake, put the car into Park (mode), and flick on your hazard lights.” Then try restarting your car. If that doesn’t work, call a tow-truck company and ask it to send a vehicle to get you out of that tight spot. Provide the height restriction of the carpark and your car model so they don’t send a truck that’s too big.

Some carparks – like at Square 2 in Novena – have emergency numbers on the walls, says Lynn Tan, who used to compete in motor sports. Or go to the building’s management office. You’ll need extra hands to direct the cars off the slope once the tow truck arrives.

2 Your car won’t start because the battery is dead.

You’ll be tempted to google how to fix it. Don’t, says Lynn. “Google is only going to throw up multiple scenarios and confuse you. A car is complex. If you’re not familiar with how things work, just call for help.” Andre adds that you should also keep a spare battery pack or charger in your boot in case of an emergency. And of course, make sure you have someone on speed-dial who can help. Andre’s advice? “Always be friendly with those who could potentially help you. Most brothers will take a good burger as payment.”

3 Your car breaks down on a busy expressway.

Here’s where your immediate reaction matters. “If there is enough momentum, signal left to get onto the road shoulder. But if traffic is heavy and it’s too dangerous to do so, put on your hazard lights and gently slow down – don’t jam on the brakes, or others behind you can’t react in time,” says Andre. Once it’s safe, get out and place the warning triangle at least 20m behind your car. Then call for help while keeping a safe distance from the car. “It’s dangerous to stay inside or near a stationary vehicle in busy traffic, as drivers who aren’t alert may not realise you’ve stopped, and that might cause a collision,” adds Lynn.

4 Your car gets trapped between a pillar and a wall while making a turn in a small carpark.

Andre says it’s always possible to reposition your car so it’s at the right angle to get out. You just need to assess how the wheels need to be turned. When in doubt, go for a slightly wider turn. “It’s better than turning too tight or too early. Then take note of the carpark and never go there again,” he adds. If you’re thick-skinned enough, Lynn says, you can ask a stranger to help you out. Or save yourself the trouble and ask your friends about the carpark if it’s unfamiliar. That way, you can consider parking somewhere else.

5 Your tyre goes flat and your car swerves.

“A blowout causes a strong pull on the steering wheel towards the side of the blowout. Tighten your grip and attempt to steer the car back in line. Don’t slam on the brakes; instead, gently brake and move to the side of the road,” says Andre. He adds that newer car models have built-in devices which warn you when your tyre pressure is low. But you can also install tyre pressure monitoring systems that send a warning if a blowout is imminent. Or get run-flat tyres that can keep going even without air pressure.

6 You drive into a flash flood.

If there’s no way to avoid it, go at a snail’s pace. Engage first gear and keep revving to prevent water from entering the exhaust pipe. Be careful of submerged kerbs that you can’t see, and avoid fast-moving water, because just 30cm of moving water is enough to cause your vehicle to float and get swept away, says Lynn.


› Move the car to the side of the road so you’re not obstructing traffic – but do this only if no one is injured. If someone is hurt, it becomes a police case and vehicles should not be moved.
› Call 995 for an ambulance if someone needs medical attention.
› Take down the other driver’s details – that means name, contact number, and photos of the licence plate.
› Take pictures of the damage, but also in the context of the location where the incident happened. You’ll need these for the insurance company report. If you’ve got a dashboard camera, remove the SD card so new recordings don’t overwrite the one you need.

› File your insurance claims within 24 hours of the incident. If you don’t, your claim could be declined.

Dr Andre Lam, motoring contributor to The Straits Times and Torque

Lynn Tan, former competitor in motor sports events and former chair of the Women in Motorsport Commission