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What to do if your car breaks down

What to do if your car breaks down

Find out what to do if your car stops running mid-journey, whether you’re on a motorway or a regular road.

Daniel Hutson
From the Motor team
minute read
posted 2 OCTOBER 2019

Breakdown survival guide

Breaking down can feel like a disaster, but it happens to most drivers at one time or another. According to statistics collected by insurance provider ETA, there are around four million vehicle breakdowns a year. If yours is one of them, the most important thing is to make sure you and any passengers travelling with you are safe, and then get in touch with your breakdown cover provider, if you have one. Here’s our in-depth breakdown survival guide…

What should you do if your car breaks down on the road?

  1. Get your vehicle off the road if possible, and turn on your hazard warning lights to warn other road users that you have a problem.
  2. Maximise your visibility. You’ll be easiest to see if you have light-coloured or fluorescent clothing in daylight, and reflective clothing at night or in poor visibility. It’s a good idea to put a fluorescent vest in your boot, just in case.
  3. Put your warning triangle on the road, but only if it’s safe to do so (and definitely never on a motorway). It should be at least 45 metres (147 feet) behind your broken-down vehicle, on the same side of the road. Walking near high-speed traffic is dangerous, so skip this step if there’s a lot of passing vehicles.
  4. Keep your sidelights on if it’s dark or visibility is poor. The more you can be seen, the safer for you and others.
  5. Never stand between your vehicle and oncoming traffic or anywhere that will prevent other road users from seeing your car’s lights.
  6. Call a breakdown service to come and help you. Only do this when it’s safe to do so.

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What should you do if your car breaks down on the motorway?

  1. Get off the motorway as soon as you suspect something is wrong with your car, by taking the next exit or pulling into a service station.
  2. Pull on to the hard shoulder if you can’t exit the motorway, and stop as far to the left as possible. Turn your wheels to the left. Never attempt to place a warning triangle on a motorway.
  3. Try to stop near an emergency telephone if possible. They can be found at intervals of approximately one mile along the motorway. To find the nearest one, you can follow the arrows posted along the hard shoulder. The phones are free to use and will connect you directly to an operator. The Highway Code recommends that you use these phones rather than a mobile, so your location can be pin-pointed.
  4. Get out of your car on the left and ask your passengers to do the same. If possible, wait behind a barrier and not behind your broken-down car. Keep a keen eye on any children and pets.
  5. Don’t try to fix the problem yourself. Even if you think you know what’s wrong, don’t put yourself in danger by attempting even simple repairs.
  6. Call your breakdown service or walk to an emergency telephone on your side of the carriageway.
  7. Tell the operator if you’re disabled, elderly or travelling alone. Then return and wait near your vehicle – but not too near the road.
  8. Switch on your hazard lights immediately if there is no hard shoulder or you’re unable to get your vehicle to it. Only make your way off the carriageway when it’s safe. If you don’t feel you can, keep your seatbelt on and dial 999.
  9. If you’re a disabled driver, switch on your hazard warning lights and display a ‘Help’ pennant. If you have a mobile, call 999 from your vehicle.

Luckily, most breakdown situations can be sorted out with roadside repair or recovery – where it’s safe to do so. And if you have breakdown cover in place, you’ll know in advance who is coming to help and what’s covered by your policy.

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