So Your Car Broke Down on a Family Trip…What’s Next? by James Folta

1) Don’t Panic

The most important thing is to remain calm. You probably want to pound the dashboard until your knuckles are raw and bloody and make insane deals with gods you’ve never believed in. But before you promise a portrait in blood to Isis, try taking a deep breath. Hold it in until reality starts to fade away and then exhale. Don’t let feelings of terror set in; they’ll only alarm your family and lead you to make worse decisions.

2) Turn Your Car Off

It sounds obvious, but people often forget about this one. If there are any problems with the engine, you can avoid causing further damage. You’ll want to conserve your battery and your precious fuel. Also, the sound of the engine will draw unwanted attention; you don’t know who is around and you don’t want to run into anyone before you’ve been able to prepare and get a better handle on your surroundings.

3) Check For Damage or Hazards

Careful! Make sure everything is safe before you think about getting out of the car. Are there flames? Broken glass? Bandits? Remote roads are heavily trafficked by murderous bands and unfriendly clans’ warriors. Look and listen for threats. Based on visible landmarks, create a quick map. Divide your surroundings into different quadrants and assess each section’s relative safety. Your glovebox might have a small flashlight that will help you see in low-light situations.

4) Evaluate Your Supplies

At this point, you can’t know how long it’ll be before help arrives. It’s a good idea to assume you’ll be stranded much longer than you think, and it’s best to plan on being marooned indefinitely. Stockpile any food, medical equipment, and sundries on the driver-side dashboard where you can keep an eye on them. The panel inside the door of most cars can be pulled back to hide valuables and supplies that you don’t want stolen. Steel yourself and trust no one. You will need to be harsh and unforgiving in your rationing.

5) Arm Yourself

The worst case scenario is if bandits or wild beasts arrive before you are prepared. If you don’t have any of your weapons on hand, don’t worry, you can make your own. A head rest makes a handy bludgeon, an aerosol can with a lighter is an intimidating flame thrower, a bumper can be torn off and used as a club. Be creative. Remember, defending yourself is a “when,” not an “if” scenario—it is essential that you begin to mentally prepare your family to kill. Begin to slowly and systematically harden them and erode their instincts for restraint and empathy.

6) Sort Your Family

Once you’re armed, test each of your family members on their strength and courage. Have each of your loved ones do simple exercises like lifting heavy objects or arm wrestling, and then assign them a letter grade based on their strength. Require the weakest to begin a training regimen to improve themselves and their usefulness. To test courage and fortitude, a close-quarters screaming contest will sort the wheat from the chaff. As the most important member of the car, you may consider banning anyone with “B”s or lower from sitting up front with you. Obviously, you should by now be severely shaming anyone who cries.

7) Send out Scouts

Based on the map you’ve made, you should have a fairly good idea of where the best hunting and foraging will be located. Start thinking long-term and begin regularly sending out your family members with grades of average strength and high courage to locate additional food and supplies. Be sure to make it clear to everyone that these scouts may not return. You can turn on your hazard lights every few hours as a beacon to guide their return. But make no promises—you cannot appear weak.

8) Accept Your New Life

By now it will probably be clear to your family that you won’t be returning to the home compound anytime soon. Your life is here now, in the car, and you must all start cutting mental ties with your life before the car. Try not to dwell on regrets, and start a conversation about goals and plans. Do you want to expand territorially? In the spring will you plant crops? Will you allow other worthy travelers to join your new kingdom? How will you distribute the scalps of defeated enemies? This is a chance to have a little fun. You will need to come up with a new system of laws and decision-making. The design and creation of a flag is a great project for the kids.

9) Thrive

If you can survive your first winter and defeat enough gangs of bandits to earn a reputation as a ruthless car warlord, you will have established yourself and your broken-down car kingdom. Best of luck to you (unless I encounter you in battle, of course!). Cherish your family, and remember that in this mad world of ours, the little things still count the most. Each day is a tiny blessing worth fighting for!

James Folta is a writer, comedian, and improviser living in Brooklyn. He has published writing in various print and online media, including McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Esquire, and Find more of his work online at

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So Your Car Broke Down on a Family Trip…What’s Next? […]