At their best, breakdowns and collisions are inconvenient, while at their worst, they have the potential for deadly consequences. The difference can be in knowing what to do when something happens.

“If your vehicle breaks down, don’t panic,” says Silvana Aceto, media consultant for CAA South Central Ontario. “Stay calm and try to pull your car off to the side of the road as quickly as you can, and as safely as possible.”

CAA offers free, downloadable checklists that can be stashed in the glovebox, to help ensure that you have all the information you need should either one happen to you.

The best insurance against a breakdown is maintaining your vehicle, and promptly repairing any issues that crop up. However, even the best-kept vehicle can hit a snag and leave you stranded.

Even if you get your vehicle far away from traffic, turn on your four-way flashers to indicate your position. Whether you get out of the car or stay inside it will depend on the circumstances, but if you decide to get out, watch for oncoming traffic before you open your door, especially if it’s dark or the weather is bad. Never stand behind or in front of your vehicle, which could be fatal if another vehicle strikes it.

“Know your vehicle’s location when you call for help,” Aceto says. “Use the nearest intersection, the highway exit, mile markers on the highway, or landmarks such as a shopping mall or restaurant.”

If you’ve broken down on the highway, never try to cross it, even if traffic seems light. Oncoming vehicles will look like they’re moving more slowly than they actually are, and it’s likely that you’ll misjudge the distance.

You’ll either cause a crash as drivers panic and try to avoid you, or if you’re hit at highway speeds, it will inevitably be fatal.

Collisions present their own difficult circumstances. First and foremost, determine if anyone needs immediate medical attention, and if so, dial 9-1-1.

If no one is hurt, then the worst is over, and now it’s primarily about the paperwork. Stay calm, and follow the tips on the CAA checklist. As soon as possible, write down the other driver’s license plate number, or use your phone to snap a photo. If the driver takes off, you have the number to give to the police.

If it’s safe to do so, get the vehicles off to the side of the road or into a parking lot. If they can’t be moved, then stand on the sidewalk as far away from the cars as possible. Rubbernecking drivers tend to stare at the crash, and could miss someone walking on the road in front of them.

If the other driver becomes argumentative, stay calm and don’t fight back. If you can’t defuse the situation, get back in your vehicle and lock the doors until the police arrive.

But it’s more likely the other person will be cooperative, so exchange names, driver’s license numbers, and insurance information. Get the names and numbers of any witnesses. Take a moment to write down all pertinent information while it’s still fresh: the time of the crash, the weather, and if traffic lights were red or green. Draw a diagram showing the position of the cars, and note (or photograph) any stop or yield signs.

All of that may seem like overkill, but it’s very easy to forget the details. Some of them could be vital when you’re making your insurance claim, or if you have to go to court, either to testify against the other driver or to defend yourself. The aggravation following a collision is never fun, but handling everything properly right from the start will help make it all go much more smoothly.