Advice and Tips

What to do if your car breaks down

Advice and Tips // 25 January 2019

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What to do (and what not to do) if you breakdown

Nothing ruins a day more than breaking down.

As you can’t control if, when and where you break down, it’s always best to be prepared if the worst-case scenario does happen and you find yourself stationary on the hard shoulder…or indeed in the middle of the road.

Stop as soon as you can

If you sense there is a problem with your car but it hasn’t broken down, stop as soon as it is safe to do so, either off the road completely or, if this isn’t possible, as far left as you can position it.

If you’re travelling on the motorway, indicate in advance and reduce your speed slowly as you pull onto the hard shoulder, coming to a stop as far over to the left as possible with your wheels pointing away from the inside lane.

If possible, pull over near to an emergency phone which will instantly connect you (free of charge) to breakdown recovery or the emergency services who will get your exact location. In the UK, emergency telephones are orange boxes, positioned at one-mile intervals.

Leave the vehicle safely and stay alert

If you break down, switch on your hazard lights and leave the stationary car (including any passengers) from the left-hand side which will be furthest away from any oncoming traffic. If you have pets in the car, leave them inside unless it’s an emergency.

After judging your surroundings, if you feel it is safe to put out your warning triangle (often found under your boot shelf) then do so, at least 45 meters behind your car to warn other road users to slow down.

If you are on a motorway or smart motorway, then the risk of placing a warning triangle on the hard shoulder is too great and should be avoided.

While you’re waiting for assistance, always face the direction of traffic flow and stay alert to your surroundings. If you have a reflective jacket it’s best to put it on, even if it’s not night-time.

In the event of breaking down suddenly in an operational lane of a dual carriageway or motorway, turn on your hazard warning lights and call the emergency services straight away explaining the situation. Do not disembark the vehicle or take your seatbelt off.

How to deal with a break down on a smart motorway

If you break down on a smart motorway, there is no hard shoulder to pull over. Instead, you will need (if possible) to stop in an emergency refuge area or exit at the next service station or junction if that’s closer.

Emergency Refuge Areas (ERA) are positioned no more than 1.5 miles apart and have a bright, highly visible orange road surface with clear signage on approach and an SOS orange emergency telephone.

If your car breaks down before you can reach an ERA or service station and you find yourself in an operational traffic lane, switch your hazard lights on immediately, keep your seatbelt on and call 999.