Safety should always be your focus if you are unfortunate enough to break down in your car.

Whether you are on a busy road or in the middle of nowhere, a car breakdown can be frustrating and even dangerous.

That’s why it is so important that you stay calm and know exactly what to do next.   

Read on and find out what to do if you break down in your car, so that you can stay safe and be respectful of other drivers.

 

What Should I Do If My Car Breaks Down?

Whilst the approach you take can differ depending on where exactly your car breaks down, you should follow these steps:

  1. Try to stay calm
  2. Be aware of your surroundings and other road users
  3. Pull over where it is safe to do so
  4. Switch on your hazard lights
  5. Exit your car by the left-hand door
  6. Put on a hi-vis vest if visibility is low or it’s dark
  7. Place a warning triangle approx. 45 meters behind your car (do not do this on a motorway)
  8. If visibility is low, switch on your sidelights
  9. Call your breakdown provider

By following these steps and keeping an emergency kit in your car at all times, you will be able to handle a car breakdown.

Do not stand – or let any passengers stand – between your car and the oncoming traffic.

If your car is losing power or running out of fuel, make sure that you pull as far to the left as possible before it stops – and turn your steering wheel to the left. This can be useful in the event your car is hit from behind, as it will be pushed towards the verge, rather than the carriageway.

Remember, you may not be the only one in this position. Be sure to drive safely and make sure you know what to do if an emergency vehicle needs to get past you to help another driver.

Be cautious of accepting help from strangers in this situation. You should stay in your car with the doors locked – provided it is safe to do so – with the window cracked slightly open, and only allow them to call for assistance on your behalf.

If possible, you should absolutely wait for professional help to arrive.

A car driving on a pretty country road surrounded by grass and flowers.

A car breakdown is always stressful - no matter how beautiful the location.

 

What If My Car Breaks Down on a Road Trip?

When setting off on a road trip, you should keep a physical map in the car in case you need to navigate unfamiliar surroundings.

Make sure you have breakdown cover before setting off. Let your cover provider know you have broken down and inform your friends and family of your situation too.

If you break down in an unsafe area – like a busy motorway with no hard shoulder – and you can’t move your car, you may want to exit the vehicle and move to a safer location away from the vehicle.

If you would feel safer staying in your car – provided it is safe to do so - you can keep your interior lights on to make you more visible to other drivers if visibility is poor.

The best way to avoid a breakdown on a road trip is to have your car serviced well in advance of the journey. That way you can drive with the peace of mind you deserve.

 

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Some of the most common reasons for breakdowns include dead batteries, engine problems and tyre damage.

By carrying out some pre-road trip car maintenance checks on your vehicle, you can reduce your chances of experiencing a breakdown on the road.

 

What Should I Do If I Break Down on the Motorway?

When you break down on the motorway, you should first try to turn off the motorway at the next exit or pull into a service station.

If this isn’t an option, you can pull onto the hard shoulder instead.

Stop as far to the left as you can, and make sure the wheels are also turned to the left.

Next, turn on your hazard warning lights. You may need to turn on your sidelights if it is dark or particularly foggy.

It is important that you wait for help in a safe place - usually somewhere outside of the car. Leave any pets in the car and wait behind a barrier.

Ideally, move up the bank and stay upstream of any traffic.

Once you are in a safe space, call your breakdown provider to assist you. You should not attempt to perform any repairs yourself if you have broken down on a motorway.

If you have one, wearing a hi-vis jacket can make it easier for others to see you in the dark.

 

What About a Smart Motorway?

A smart motorway is a section of a motorway which uses traffic management methods –such as a running lane and differing speed limits - to control the traffic flow and reduce congestion in busy areas.

If you break down on a stretch of smart motorway, you should first try to drive to an emergency refuge area (ERA). It will have a blue sign with an orange SOS phone symbol beside it.

You should switch on the hazard lights and rear fog or side lights – especially if visibility is low.

Get out of your car on the passenger side and use the phone to call the regional control centre.

Stand behind the safety barrier until assistance arrives.

Do not leave the ERA without contacting the emergency services or Highways Agency – there won’t be enough space for your car to rejoin the motorway safely.

A regional control centre may be able to temporarily shut the inside line to help you get back onto the motorway.

If there is no ERA nearby, drive your car as far onto the motorway verge as possible and park there. Again, you should switch on your hazard lights, exit the vehicle on the passenger side and stand behind the safety barrier.

You can then call the emergency services and your breakdown cover provider for help.

 

What About an A-road or Dual Carriageway?

Breaking down on an A-road or dual carriageway is a little different to breaking down on a motorway.

You should pull over into a lay-by or exit the carriageway – whichever is the safest option.

If you cannot do this, try and pull over as far away from the road as you can.

Put on your hazard lights and – if visibility is especially poor – your fog lights.

Everyone in the car should exit the vehicle from the side furthest from the road.

Stand away from the car in a safe place. If you keep hi-vis jackets in the car, you should put one on.

Once it is safe to do so, call your breakdown provider. Do not attempt to fix the problem by yourself.

You should also place a warning triangle about 45 to 50 meters behind the car to make other drivers aware of the obstruction.

In the event you have broken down on a bend, you should place the triangle before the bend so that it will be easier for other drivers to see.

 

What Should I Do If I Break Down on a Country Road?

Breaking down in a more remote area can be particularly stressful – but this is actually a safer place to break down.

You should call your breakdown provider and tell them your location.

You can then call a family member or friend and ask them to come and wait with you for assistance to arrive.

You should use your hazard lights only if you are causing an obstruction. If this is not the case, then you can stay in the car and wait for assistance.

Try to stay calm and remember to lock the doors if you feel scared.

 

What If I Break Down on a Roundabout?

If you break down on a roundabout, you should try and move to an exit as soon as possible.

If this isn’t an option, try and stop near the left side of the roundabout – away from other exiting vehicles.

Switch on your hazard lights to alert other drivers that you have broken down.

You can then get out of the car and stand away from the moving traffic, where you can call your breakdown provider.

 

What If I’ve Broken Down on a City Centre Road?

With the hustle and bustle of city life to contend with, it can be particularly anxiety-inducing to break down on a city centre road.

Stay as calm as possible and exit the road. To let other drivers pass, you should move your car to a parking space or side road if possible.

Turn on your hazard lights and call your breakdown provider right away.

 

What If My Car Breaks Down at Home?

Certain breakdown providers like the RAC offer at home cover, meaning they can help you if you break down on your doorstep.

If your vehicle won’t start due to an issue like a flat battery or a cold engine, companies like the RAC can help. They can even tow your vehicle to a garage for repair if necessary.

 

What If I Don’t Have Breakdown Cover?

If you break down without cover, you can contact a local garage or call a breakdown provider for help.

In the event you are involved in an accident or something more serious, call 999 to contact the emergency services.

 

How Can I Avoid Breakdowns in the Future?

Breakdowns can be stressful, but there are several steps you can take to try and avoid them.

Is your boot full of things you don’t even need? This could be putting additional strain on your suspension and brakes, and you may even be experiencing reduced fuel economy.

Simply by emptying your boot, you can take the pressure off several of your car’s components.

Make sure that you drive sensibly and take care not to rev your engine in cold weather. This can damage your engine and other important related components, which could put you at a higher risk of a breakdown.

Likewise, you should try and avoid riding the clutch, as this can wear out the bearings which keep your clutch in good working order.

Try not to apply your brakes when you drive downhill either, as this can put unnecessary strain on the braking system.

Before setting off, remember to inspect your tyres and inflate them if necessary - a flat tyre could leave you stranded by the roadside.

A car's flat tyre.

Don't let a flat tyre put a stop to your fun. Always check your tyres before driving and inflate them if necessary.

If you notice a warning light on your dashboard - or a new smell or sound coming from your vehicle - then it is a good idea to have this looked at by a professional garage before the issue worsens.

Pay particular attention to the engine oil warning light, which could signal that your vehicle is leaking the oil it so desperately needs to prevent heat and friction from building up in the engine.

Pull over and look under your vehicle as soon as you see this light. Is there any liquid dripping? You should stop driving if so and have your car looked at by a skilled garage.

If there is no leak, then you should buy some engine oil and top up your fluid levels as soon as possible.

No matter where you break down, your safety is the most important thing. Regular car servicing can make a breakdown less likely to occur.

Be sure to book a car service every year to keep your vehicle in good working order.

 

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FAQs

What Should I Not Do During a Car Breakdown?

What Information Will My Breakdown Provider Need from Me?