What should you do if your car breaks down?

Frustrating, costly and potentially dangerous — all car owners would love to be able to prevent breakdowns from happening.

And whilst good vehicle maintenance and regular servicing can prevent some issues, it’s important to know just what to do if you’re stranded on the side of the road due to a breakdown.


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How to prepare for a breakdown

  • Invest in a car breakdown kit, including:

    • High visibility jackets
    • Blankets
    • Torch
    • Water
    • Spare tyre and jack
    • Warm, waterproof clothes
    • Warning triangle
    • Jump leads 
  • Arrange breakdown cover through your insurer or a third party

What to do if your car breaks down

1. Move to safety and warn others

Depending on where you break down and what the problem is, moving your car to the side of the road might not be easy.

As soon as you realise there is something wrong, put your hazard warning lights on to let others around you know. Then, move to safety: if you’re on a motorway or dual carriageway, make use of the hard shoulder. If you’re on a smart motorway, this could mean finding an emergency layby or a refuge area (ERA).

If you can, try to drive to the next junction or the nearest service station. Park your car as far to the left as you can, and turn your wheels towards the grass verge in case it rolls.

2. Leave your vehicle

If you’ve broken down at the side of the road, you and any passengers should leave your vehicle and wait for help a good distance away from it. This means that if others collide with your stationary vehicle, you will be safe.

Leave your hazard lights on, even after you have parked on the hard shoulder and turned off your engine. You should always exit your vehicle from the passenger side door, and move away from the road, taking your car breakdown kit and mobile phone with you, and putting on reflective clothing. This applies to both motorways and minor roads.

3. Call for help

If you have broken down on a smart motorway, you should firstly call 999 for help. After you have alerted the emergency services, they can change the overhead screens to move traffic away from you, and slow the speed limit down for safety.

Then, you should call your breakdown cover. Many insurers will offer this as an insurance add-on for an extra few pounds per month. Your breakdown cover provider will send a mobile mechanic out to you to either fix your vehicle or get you towed to safety. You may need to wait a few hours for assistance, although motorway breakdowns, families, the elderly and lone women are often prioritised.



What happens if I can’t get to the hard shoulder?

If you find yourself unable to get to the hard shoulder, keep your seatbelt on and switch your hazard lights on immediately. Needless to say, this is a dangerous situation to be in, so don’t leave your vehicle until you’re absolutely clear it is safe to do so.

Once you have exited the vehicle safely, call 999, followed by your breakdown provider, to alert them of your situation.

What happens if I break down on a smart motorway?

If you break down on a smart motorway, the procedure is slightly different. If possible, try to drive to the next emergency refuge area (ERA), which is basically a lay-by at the side of the road for you to safely pull into.

ERAs are found no further than 1.6 miles apart, and they’re marked by a blue sign featuring an orange SOS phone symbol.

As you would in any breakdown, switch your hazard lights on and exit your car via the left-hand door, if it’s safe to do so. Use the phone to contact the regional traffic control centre, and ensure you’re standing outside of the safety barrier while you wait for assistance.

If you’re unable to reach an ERA and the hard shoulder is open to traffic, make your way over to it. Again, switch on your hazards and stop as close to the nearside verge as possible. If it’s safe to do so, leave your vehicle using the left-hand door. If it’s too dangerous to do this, stay in your car with your seatbelt fastened. Call 999, followed by your breakdown provider.

Once the regional traffic control centre is aware of your situation, either from the police or CCTV, they can change the overhead signs to help keep traffic away from you. A traffic officer or the police will also be sent to assist you.

Should I attempt to fix the car?

Even if you know what the problem is with your car, and how to fix it, you need to consider whether it’s safe to do so. Changing a tyre might be manageable, but consider your surroundings carefully. Never attempt to fix your car if you break down on a motorway. In any case, it’s always better to wait for help from the professionals.

What to do with a broken-down car

Breaking down at best can be an inconvenience, and at worst, it can be dangerous, so it pays to be prepared!

Follow our steps to ensure that you remain safe whilst you call for help, and remember — finding breakdown cover is the best thing you can do to protect yourself in the event of a breakdown.

Shop Car Insurance at Swinton today.

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