What to do if you breakdown in your car

Concerned driver with car bonnet raised on mobile phone at the side of the road because of a breakdown

None of us leaves the house planning to suffer a car breakdown. But whether we’ve pushed things too far playing petrol station roulette and run out of fuel, or simply been unlucky, breakdowns do happen.

The most important thing to remember is the side of a carriageway is a dangerous place to be. Whatever kind of road your car has conked out on you’ll probably be close to moving traffic. And even if the vehicles don’t appear to be going very quickly, they can still cause serious injuries. The following is advice from various providers of breakdown cover. They’re the people who know first-hand what it’s like to be stuck at the roadside.

Adopt a ‘safety first’ approach during every car breakdown

Anyone who’s pushed a car will know just how heavy they are. And if you’re on your own, that makes it doubly difficult. If your car starts losing power or running out of fuel, make sure that before it stops altogether you pull as far to the left as possible. Then turn your steering wheel to the left. This is so that if your car is hit from behind, it will be pushed further into the verge rather than into the carriageway. Then switch your hazard warning lights on. If it’s dark and they still work, turn your side lights on.

Being prepared for a breakdown helps

You can buy reflective vests from DIY stores as well as motor retailers. Leave them in the glove box or door pockets so you can put them on before you get out of the car. If you have a warning triangle in the boot and it’s easily accessible, put that by the side of the road to warn other drivers. Don’t use one on a motorway hard shoulder: it’s too dangerous.

Leave the car when you break down

Get everyone out through the doors on the left side of the car. If there’s a crash barrier, stand behind it. If there isn’t, get as far away from the road as possible. Ideally, you should walk back in the direction you’ve just come from. If your car is hit by another vehicle you will be a horrified onlooker rather than a victim.

This is the point where you have a tough decision to make: any animals in the car must stay there. The last thing you want is the pet pooch running wild at the road side and possibly causing an accident. While everyone is getting out, and if you don’t know where you are, have a quick look at your sat nav so you can tell a rescuer your location. Alternatively, if you have one with you, take a map as you exit the car.

There are exceptions…

You might be alone in a dodgy part of town where you feel safer in the car than out of it. If that’s the case, breakdown services advise to stay in the car with the doors locked until help arrives. Equally, if you can’t get to the hard shoulder on a motorway, stay in the vehicle with your seatbelt and the hazard warning lights on.

Don’t try and fix your car’s breakdown yourself

Unless your car is safely parked in a layby or at a service station, don’t try to fix it by the road side. You will be putting yourself in danger of being hit by other vehicles. Breakdown services rarely try to fix cars at the road side. They tow them to somewhere safe such as a service station in order to work on them.

Call for help

If you belong to a breakdown service, once you’ve safely left your vehicle ring for help. Tell them where you are and whether you feel vulnerable or you or anyone with you needs medical help. If you don’t have a mobile phone or there’s no signal and you’re on a motorway, markers will point you in the direction of the nearest emergency phone. This will connect you directly to the police.

Alternatively, don’t break down…

Of course the best thing to do is not to break down in the first place. To reduce the chances of your car unexpectedly conking out, make sure you maintain it and have it regularly serviced.

Mandy Weston

Mandy Weston

Mandy is an ex-mechanic, with 22 years’ experience in the motor industry. As an in-house motoring expert, Mandy is the go-to woman for any relevant questions that our customers have; both garages and drivers. From specific problems with your car to general maintenance, Mandy is a reliable source of information and advice. Her passion for motoring is a huge factor to her success and the huge wealth of knowledge that she has. She now uses her remarkable grasp of the industry to write regular content for our readers to help drivers understand their car better, avoid being ripped off by garages and save money on their motoring requirements.