What to do if your car breaks down

Your car breaking down mid-journey is frustrating to say the least. But having breakdown cover will make the situation a lot less stressful. To help you stay calm and collected while you wait to be recovered, here are six tips for what to do when your car takes a turn for the worse and ends up stuck at the roadside.

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.

If you can, get your car out of the path of other vehicles to avoid causing any accidents. As soon as you realise there is a problem, put your hazard lights on as a warning to others. If you have a warning triangle, and it’s safe to put one out, place it at least 50 yards behind your car to tell others there’s a breakdown ahead.

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.

If you’re travelling with a pet, it’s safer to leave your animal in the car while you wait, to ensure there’s no chance of them escaping into the traffic.

3. Breaking down on the motorway

If you can, try to drive to the next junction or the nearest service station. If you’re not able to, you need to get your car onto the hard shoulder: Park it as far to the left as you can, and turn your wheels towards the grass verge in case it rolls.

Leave your hazard lights flashing as a warning to others. Make sure all passengers exit the car through a left-side door, moving far away from the vehicle and traffic, and put on any reflective clothing you have. Never attempt to put a warning triangle out on the hard shoulder.

Call for help using the emergency phone on your side of the carriageway. You’ll notice arrows which will guide you to the nearest emergency phone, located at approximately one-mile intervals along the hard shoulder. But if you can, try to pull over close to an emergency phone so that you don’t have to walk far along the hard shoulder to find one. If you do have to walk to a phone, keep as far away from the carriageway as possible.

4. 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.

You will need to call 999 first, followed by your breakdown provider, to alert them of your situation.

5. Breaking 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 stood 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.

6. Fixing your 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.

7. Be prepared

When it comes to embarking on a journey of any length, the best thing to do is to prepare for the unexpected beforehand. Prepare what to pack and keep in your car, in case of an emergency.

 

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