What should I do if my car breaks down?

4 minute read

Broken down car with open bonnet and person looking at the engine during sunset

There is never a good time to break down and you should look after your vehicle to ensure that the chances of vehicle failure are reduced. However, if it were to happen, would you know what to do and be able to keep calm?

In this article, we provide you with advice in case you ever find yourself stranded at the side of the road and how you can stay safe while you’re waiting for the recovery vehicle.


What to do if you breakdown on the motorway

The motorway is one of the most dangerous places you can break down. It’s a large open space where vehicles are driving at fast speeds. You will need to act in a calm manner to ensure that you and any passengers remain safe until you’re back on the road.

The most important thing to remember is not to panic. If you feel that something is wrong with your vehicle, exit the motorway as safely as possible. You could take the next exit or pull into a service station. If this isn’t possible or it’s an emergency situation, such as a tyre blowout or complete engine failure, use the hard shoulder or closest emergency refuge area (ERA). Remember to put your hazard lights on so that cars around you are aware that there is a problem.

If you use the hard shoulder, ensure that you park the vehicle as far to the left as you can, away from the fast-moving traffic. Turn your wheels away from the motorway just in case the car rolls. This will ensure that if you leave your handbrake off accidentally, your car won’t roll into the road. If it’s dark, put your side lights on as well as your hazard lights so that vehicles can clearly see you.

All passengers should exit the vehicle on the left hand side. The driver should not attempt to get out using their door. Pets must be left inside the vehicle, as this is thought to be the safest place for them. The last thing anyone wants is for their pet to become scared and run into traffic, which would cause further danger to all.

Do not attempt to place a warning triangle behind the car if you’re on the motorway. The more time you spend near the motorway, the higher your chances are of getting injured. Sit or stand as far away from your vehicle and the road as you can and wait for the rescue services to reach you.

You should use a mobile phone to contact your breakdown service company as soon as possible. If there’s no signal or your mobile has no battery, walk to the nearest emergency phone which will be situated somewhere along the hard shoulder. Walk as far away from the motorway as you can. The telephone will automatically connect you to the Highways Agency or the police and is free to use. When you’re talking on the phone, always face the traffic so you can keep an eye out for any potential danger.

Once your vehicle has been repaired and you’re safe to travel again, be sure to join the motorway in a safe manner. Either wait for a large gap in the traffic or use the hard shoulder to speed up so that you can join the motorway with minimal risk.


Who do I call if my car breaks down?

If you have breakdown cover, you should call your provider who will take some details and send out a rescue vehicle to your location. Alternatively, you could use the motorway emergency phones.

If you don’t have breakdown cover, you might be able to take a policy out over the phone while you’re on the side of the road. There will likely be a fee for this, however the provider will be able to repair your vehicle, take it to the nearest garage or give you a lift home.

If you don’t think you have breakdown cover, it might be worth contacting your car insurance company as they may include breakdown cover within your policy. With Age Co's Car Insurance, provided by LV=, Breakdown cover can be added as an optional extra.


Should you stay in your car if it breaks down?

You should monitor the situation that you’re in to determine whether it’s safe to wait in your vehicle.

If your vehicle breaks down on the motorway, it’s highly advised that you leave the vehicle and get behind a safety barrier if possible, refer to the national highway guidelines for more information.

If your vehicle breaks down on a similar busy road, such as an A road, or you’re in a compromising position, such as on a blind corner, it would be safest to exit the vehicle and find a secure place to stand and wait for the breakdown vehicle.

If you’re in a relatively quiet town centre that’s well lit and you’re out of the way of traffic, then it will likely be safe to remain in your vehicle.

Pets should always be left in the vehicle unless you consider the situation to be an emergency, such as the vehicle is on fire.