What to do when your car breaks down

2 minute read

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Essential breakdown tips for staying safe when your car conks out...

  • Try to stay calm and help others in the car stay calm as well
  • If you think your car is about to stop, try to find a safe place to pull over - on a dual carriageway this can be a lay-by or on a motorway, a service station
  • Making sure you have some basic essentials can make a bad breakdown situation much more bearable

Before you set off

Like the Scouts say – be prepared. If you're heading off on a long journey, or even doing the daily commute, a few simple checks before you leave can save you from the breakdown blues.

Keep a copy of your breakdown cover documents in your glove compartment or save your breakdown provider's emergency number so you have it when you need it. Make sure you've downloaded the what3words app to your mobile phone, so you can easily find and share your location if you need to.

Breaking down is a pain, but can be quite daunting if you're on a busy road or motorway

Stay calm

Thankfully, catastrophic and sudden breakdowns are rare. Your car will usually give you some indication that it's not happy. Listen out for unusual sounds; keep an eye on dashboard warning lights and don't ignore that loud beep that warns you you're about to run out of fuel or electricity.

Try to stay calm and keep others in the car calm as well. If you act erratically, other motorists won't be able to anticipate your actions and you could cause an accident.

Your breakdown professional will be with you as soon as they can.

Stay safe

If you think your car is about to stop, try to find a safe place to pull over. On a dual carriageway or on a motorway, this could be a lay-by or hard shoulder.

If the car grinds to a halt before you reach a safe place, try to bring it to a halt as far away from the main flow of traffic as possible. Pull off the road if you can on an A or B road and pull on to the hard shoulder on a motorway. 

If you're on a smart motorway and there's no hard shoulder, stop in the emergency refuge area or pull over off the road if you can.

When you stop on a motorway hard shoulder, normally the safest place to wait for help is away from moving traffic and so that you can see the rear of the vehicle. If you can get there safely, stand a safe distance behind a crash barrier (if there is one) and well away from the broken down car.  Ideally, you should all be wearing hi-vis jackets.

If you stop in a live lane of a motorway or on the carriageway and you can't safely move the car off the road, put your side lights and hazard lights on straightaway. Whilst you will be best placed to assess your situation and make decisions regarding your own safety, if you decide to remain in the vehicle stay in the car then put your seatbelts on and call 999.

Never try to mend the car at the side of the road. Call your breakdown service and leave it to the professionals.

Be visible

Put on the car's hazard lights, and its side lights if conditions are gloomy. If you're not in a safe place, such as a lay-by or service station, you'll need to assess whether it's safe to leave the car.

On a busy road, in poor weather and in the dark it's difficult for other drivers to see you when you get out of the car, so be sure to wear a hi-vis jacket.

If you have a warning triangle, place it at least 45m behind your car if it's safe to do so. This gives other drivers a heads up that there's a hazard ahead. Don't place a warning triangle on the motorway – it's too dangerous.
When you stop on a motorway hard shoulder, everyone will need to get out of the car and stand behind the safety barrier.

Call for help

With a motorway breakdown, there are markers on the side of the road that indicate the nearest emergency phone.

If safe to do so, you can walk along the hard shoulder to the nearest emergency phone or you can call your breakdown service for help. You need to know where you are, so the markers on the motorway can help pinpoint your location.

With breakdowns on other roads, try to remember the last turn off, or check your phone's GPS for your location.

Or if you have the what3words app, open it up and you'll be able to find your location and it's unique three word reference.

If you feel unsafe in the area you've broken down, tell your breakdown cover provider. They can give you advice about what to do and will often prioritise people who are stuck in unsafe situations.


Essential kit

Some basic essentials can make a bad breakdown situation much more bearable. Our breakdown equipment checklist outlines what to carry in your boot in case of breakdowns.



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