Death Valley is one of the most rugged, hot, and dangerous deserts in the world, which makes driving through this region a dangerous undertaking, especially for the unprepared.
So what is the best action if your car breaks down while driving in Death Valley?
What If Your Car Breaks Down In Death Valley?
Death Valley is a dangerous place to be stranded after a vehicle breakdown. Do not leave the vehicle and try to walk out of the area. Stay out of the sun. Keep drinking fluids while you wait for assistance. Preparation before entering the region is the best survival strategy in this desert!
A vehicle breakdown in Death Valley can be a serious situation that calls for a cool head and wise decision-making; your life may depend on it.
However, some specific dos and some important don’ts can affect the outcome after a car breakdown in this inhospitable location!
What You Should Do If Your Vehicle Breaks Down In Death Valley
Death Valley is located in the northern Mojave Desert in Eastern California and is one of the hottest locations on earth.
Driving through this desert holds challenges for motorists and vehicles alike as the heat takes its toll.
Even if you are well prepared and your vehicle is well maintained, you cannot consider yourself immune to a potential vehicle breakdown in Death Valley.
Knowing what to do if this event happens to you is essential since making the wrong decisions can be life-threatening.
The temperatures and the dryness in Death Valley are the leading causes of concern for motorists in this region.
The daytime summer temperatures can reach 122°F Or 50°C or more, while the winter daytime temperatures range between 41°F and 64°F or 5°C and 18°C.
It is not only the high daytime temperatures that pose a danger but the low nighttime temperatures that can contrast dramatically with the high daytime temperatures.
For example, the nighttime temperatures can range between 15°F in the winter to 65°F in the summer, or -9°C and 18°C.
Actions To Take After A Vehicle Breakdown In Death Valley
You should take several actions if you find yourself stranded in Death Valley to help maximize your chances of a happy outcome.
- Try to repair your car. If your car can be fixed with a simple repair, this would be the best option, as it will get you moving and allow you to drive out of the region. The viability of this option will depend on the problem with the car, your mechanical ability, and the availability of materials needed to repair it.
- Get out of the sun. The sun is harsh in Death Valley and will bring about heatstroke in a short space of time. Try to rig up a shelter between two open car doors on the same side of the vehicle. Don’t sit inside the car with the doors closed as the temperatures will be higher inside the car.
- Stay by the vehicle. Do not try to walk to the nearest town or settlement or try to go looking for water in the desert; the exertion and exposure to the heat are too dangerous. Wait at the vehicle for help to come.
- Drink fluids regularly. Stay hydrated by taking small, frequent sips of your water supply instead of drinking large quantities at once. Try to extend your water supply for as long as possible.
- Watch out for dangerous wildlife. Death Valley may be desolate, but certain animals have found a way to survive here that can pose a danger to you. Rattlesnakes and scorpions are the critters to watch out for that can make an already dangerous situation even worse. Don’t put your hands and feet anywhere where you cannot see. Be careful when lifting rocks or pieces of wood or other roadside debris.
- Flag down other vehicles. Keep a vigilant eye on the road looking for other traffic that may be coming in your direction. Wave a jacket, shirt, or another item to indicate that you need help and to attract the attention of the approaching driver.
Actions To Avoid After A Vehicle Breakdown In Death Valley
As much as there are actions you should take if you have a vehicle breakdown in Death Valley, there are some actions you should avoid in this situation.
- Do not rely on your mobile phone. Our modern convenience, the mobile phone, is unreliable in the primitive expanse of Death Valley. There are only two mobile phone towers, one in Stovepipe Wells and one in Furnace Creek, making coverage irregular in most of the Valley.
- Overestimate your abilities. Don’t be a hero and try to “go for help” or allow anyone else in your car to try to walk out of the situation. This is not Hollywood, where the good guys always make it out!
- Don’t ignore signs of trouble. If you or anyone in your vehicle experiences dizziness, nausea, or headaches, it could indicate the onset of heatstroke or dehydration. Get out of the sun and increase your fluid intake. Try dampening clothes on your upper body to help reduce your core temperature.
Precautions To Take Driving In Death Valley
Although not every vehicle breakdown can be avoided, there are some precautions you can take to reduce the risk of a breakdown and to make your situation safer should the vehicle give up on you in the Valley.
Drive Safely in Death Valley
Road accidents are the main cause of injury and death in the infamous Death Valley. These can be caused by falling asleep at the wheel on the long monotonous roads, not paying attention to other traffic, hitting wildlife such as donkeys or mules on the road, and speeding.
Don’t drive tired, and adhere to the speed limits in the area. Also, watch for natural hazards such as falling rocks in narrow canyons and flash floods when driving through low-lying areas.
Start With A Full Gas Tank When Driving In Death Valley
There are only two gas stations in Death Valley, at Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells. Therefore, enter Death Valley with a full gas tank to prevent becoming stranded without fuel.
Plan your route through the desert carefully to reach your nearest gas station before your vehicle runs dangerously low on gas.
Take Plenty Of Water When Driving Through Death Valley
Water is the source of life in a desert and will be the single most crucial commodity should you break down in the heat of the Valley.
Take more water than you think you will need. Consider taking a 2-day water supply for all the passengers in the vehicle. This equates to a gallon or 4 liters of water per person per day.
Take Warm Clothing For Your Drive In Death Valley
It may sound contradictory for the heat of a desert, but the temperatures can drop below freezing at night.
Wear warm clothing if you are stranded in the evening and into the night. The cold nighttime desert temperatures can be as dangerous as the heat during the day!
Pack Some Provisions For Your Death Valley Drive
The old boy scout motto of being well-prepared for every situation is a good one to live by when planning a drive through Death Valley. Besides taking extra water, we recommend taking the following provisions for your trip.
- Nonperishable snacks. Energy bars are a good option.
- Sports drinks. Sports drinks contain electrolytes which help to prevent dehydration.
- A water spray bottle. Spraying your face and upper body with a fine mist of water will help to keep you cool.
- A DC-powered portable fan. This fan can run from your car battery and help to keep you cool, especially when combined with the spray water bottle.
- A flashlight. A flashlight or a headlamp will be helpful if you are stranded in the dark and to signal other motorists that you need assistance.
- Sturdy walking boots. Good boots will help to protect you from dangerous critters.
- Matches. Matches or a lighter is a good emergency provision to help you make a fire to attract attention or boil water for a warm beverage on cold nights.
- Road flares. Nothing says “I need help” like a road flare!
- A good quality spare tire. The rocks in Death Valley are jagged and frequently cause punctures or tire damage for unwary road users.
- An electric car jack. Exerting yourself to use a manual jack in the heat is not a good idea.
- A first aid kit. Help is not around the corner in Death Valley, so making sure you have a good first aid kit is wise.
- A GPS device. Mobile phones are unreliable in this region, so a proper GPS device is a worthwhile addition to your emergency kit.
- Hard copies of maps of the area. Paper maps are a good idea and will help you find where and how far you are from help, especially when used with a GPS device.
- A solar-powered phone charger. While the cell phone coverage is spotty in the region, you may get a signal on high ground, and you need a fully charged mobile phone to use this possibility.
- A tarp. A tarp can be used for shade or to collect rainwater if you are lucky enough to experience rain in Death Valley.
Take Coolant For Your Car.
One of the most frequent causes of vehicle breakdowns in Death Valley is overheating or burst coolant pipes in the vehicle.
Vehicle coolant for your trip through this region is a good precaution to include for your car. You may be able to repair a burst pipe, but you will need the coolant to add to the system before you can get on the road again.
Tell Someone Where You Are Going
Tell a friend, relative, or a local guest house or hotel where you are going and when you can be expected to return. They can raise the alarm when you are overdue and initiate a search to rescue you.
Death Valley is not a place to take lightly or believe that a breakdown will never happen to you. The region is notorious for taking travelers by surprise with its harsh conditions.
Preparation before the trip and not taking unnecessary risks will ensure a pleasurable and safe trip through one of the most inhospitable locations on the planet.
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.