A car breakdown can ruin your entire day, and it can be dangerous as well as costly. If your car has never broken down before, it’s a good idea to be prepared so that you know what to do. The most important thing to remember is that your safety should be your top priority. Here are some tips on what to do during a breakdown on a motorway, a smart motorway, and a minor road.
If you break down anywhere:
- Move your vehicle off the road or pull onto the hard shoulder
- Put your hazard lights on (and your sidelights if it’s dark or foggy)
- Wear a reflective jacket if you have one
- Get out of the car (and get your passengers out, too)
- Leave animals in the car
- Stay away from moving traffic
- If you have a disability that prevents you from following these steps, stay in the car with your seatbelt on, switch on your hazard lights and call your breakdown provider or the emergency services
- If you can’t get onto the hard shoulder, stay in your car with your seatbelt fastened until it is safe to leave the car, and call the emergency services
If you break down on the motorway, you should also:
- If possible, keep up momentum until you are safely at the side of the road
- Move to the hard shoulder if possible, and position your wheels to face the grass verge
- If you can’t get to the hard shoulder, turn on your hazard lights and call the emergency services for assistance before you call your breakdown provider
- Call your breakdown provider with details of your car, your location and the situation
- Don’t attempt any repairs yourself
- Exit your car from a left-hand door rather than the driver’s side next to oncoming traffic, as it isn’t safe to stay inside the car in this situation. Move behind the crash barrier and up the bank if you can.
- If you don’t have a mobile phone with you, walk to an emergency phone at the side of the road. These are orange and the arrows on the posts at the back of the hard shoulder will guide you to the nearest phone. This phone will connect you directly to the highways agency.
- Don’t put a warning triangle on the hard shoulder as this isn’t safe for you
- If your breakdown provider fixes your car at the side of the road, merge back onto the motorway safely by building up speed on the hard shoulder, signalling early and checking your blind spots. Watch out for other cars also parked on the hard shoulder.
Breaking Down On A Smart Motorway
Smart motorways are different because they do not have a hard shoulder. If you break down on a smart motorway, you should:
- Stop at an emergency refuge area (ERA) or motorway service area, or leave at the next junction if possible
- If this is not possible, try to get the vehicle off the carriageway
- If you’re in the left-hand lane, put your hazard lights on, get out of the vehicle on the passenger side if it is safe to do so, and wait behind the barrier
- The authorities will see that your car has stopped, and close the lane so that your car isn't hit
- If you’re in another lane or you can’t get out of the car, keep your seatbelt on and call the emergency services
- If you stop in an ERA, use the SOS phone to contact the Regional Control Centre both when you stop and before you leave
Breaking Down On Minor Roads
Breaking down on a minor road is not as dangerous as breaking down on a motorway, but you still need to take steps to ensure you are safe:
- If you are on a busy or main road, you may want to pull into a side street if possible
- Put your hazard lights on and your side lights if it is dark
- Wear a reflective jacket if you have one, and if you have a warning triangle, place this about 50 yards behind your vehicle on the same side of the road to warn other road users
- If you are worried about your car getting hit by other vehicles, make sure that you and your passengers exit the car when it is safe to do so
- Call your breakdown provider and wait for assistance
What if You Don’t Have Breakdown Cover?
If you don’t have breakdown cover, you can either phone a local garage, join a breakdown cover provider on the spot, or if you are on the motorway, contact the highways agency. Here’s a little more information about each option:
1. Call A Local Garage
A garage will normally charge a call out fee, as well as a fee for each mile you are towed. If you are in an unfamiliar location you might not know where the nearest garage is, and this can work out to be quite expensive.
2. Join A Breakdown Provider
You can call a breakdown provider and join them on the spot, which would mean you would be attended to like any other breakdown customer. This comes with an additional fee but it could be your cheapest option, and you’ll be covered for the next 12 months.
3. Call the Highways Agency
If you break down on the motorway, you can call the highways agency using the emergency phones at the side of the road. They will tow you to a local garage, but this can come at a hefty price – at least £150.
Of course, the cheapest option would be to ensure that you have breakdown cover in place at all times. Some car insurance policies come with breakdown cover included, so contact your insurance provider if you’re not sure whether you’re covered.
Prepare For Long Journeys
If you’re heading out on a long journey, it’s a good idea to carry out basic maintenance and checks to help you avoid breaking down as much as possible. Check your oil and water levels as well as your tyre tread and pressure. It’s also a good idea to put a few things in your car in the event of a breakdown, such as:
- Your breakdown membership details
- A fully charged mobile phone
- A reflective jacket
- A warning triangle
- A first aid kit
- A torch
- Snacks and plenty of water
- A shovel, de-icer, an ice scraper and warm clothes in the winter
- Sun cream and hats in the summer
- Books or toys to keep children occupied
Many breakdowns are unavoidable, but if you know what to do and you have everything you need, you should be able to deal with it safely.