What to do in the event of a breakdown

Unfortunately, we cannot predict when our car is going to break down, and when it does, many of us are unsure of what to do.

But with a bit of planning and our guide below of what to do should you break down, it can make the unexpected car failure a bit more straightforward and a less stressful experience.

A man looking under the bonnet of a car after breaking down

Before you leave

Having breakdown cover is important, as it can help get you out of a tight spot a lot more easily. If you are going on a long journey or travelling abroad, make sure your cover extends to your trip and if it doesn’t, you may need to arrange separate cover.

You should always ensure your car is well maintained as, generally, the better looked after your car is, the less likely it is to give up the ghost. Looking after your car is important anyway, as when it comes to selling your car you want it to be in the best possible condition. Check all fluid levels before a long journey and make sure your tyres are in good condition and inflated correctly.

Another tip is to always make sure your phone is well charged. It may also be worth buying an in-car charger just in case you need it. Always make sure the number to your breakdown provider is in your phone, as well as written down and stored in your glovebox, for example.

There are also a few items you should also carry in your car, in case of a breakdown:

  • A road map – It is sods law that your Sat Nav won’t be working when you need it to be, or that your phone can’t pick up a signal to show you where you are on the maps. If you have a road map, you can always explain to someone where you are, no matter what.

  • Reflective jacket – In most European countries, it is the law to carry a reflective jacket in your car. It isn’t in the UK, but it is good practice to keep one with you so you can easily be seen if you are standing at the roadside.

  • Waterproof jacket – Due to the unpredictable British weather, it is also a good idea to keep a spare waterproof in your car. The last thing you want is to be stood outside your car in the pouring rain in nothing but a t-shirt!

  • Red warning triangle – These can be picked up pretty easily and are very handy for warning other road users that you are in trouble.

  • Spare shoes – If you need to walk to an emergency telephone, you don’t want to be doing so in your best shoes. Keep an old pair of shoes or some walking shoes in the boot.

  • Winter essentials – During the winter, it is wise to keep some warm clothes and even a throw in your car, should you be stuck in a cold car for a long period of time.

Breaking down on a motorway

Breaking down on a motorway can be quite dangerous, but there are a few ways of how to cope. Firstly, you should pull to the left as soon as there is a hint of trouble. Pull onto the hard shoulder and slow to a halt, switching on your hazard lights as you do.

If you can, try and stop near an emergency phone, as these directly connect you to the police who will instantly know your location. These phones are located at one-mile intervals on the motorway.

When the car has come to a complete stop, turn the front wheels away from the road and towards the verge. This way, if the car is hit by another vehicle it will move away from the motorway rather than on to it.

If you have broken down at night or the visibility is poor, turn on your side lights before you leave. When it comes to exiting the car, make sure everyone leaves through the left-hand doors and moves away from the car.

Stand behind the crash barrier or move onto the verge, making sure any children are being looked after by a responsible adult. If you have any pets, they should be left in the car, or else they can get frightened and run onto the motorway. When everyone is safe, you should then call for assistance from your breakdown provider or The Highways Agency.

Don’t display your red warning triangle, as with the fast moving traffic, the risks far outweigh the benefits of doing this. You should also never try and fix the problem yourself, unless it’s something quick and simple like refilling with fuel. Even trained professionals will move the car to a safer area before they start working on it.

Other roads

If you break down on quieter roads in towns or cities, it can still be dangerous. The first thing to do is to pull over to a safe place away from the flow of traffic. Turn on your hazard lights, and if it is dark or the visibility is poor, leave your sidelights on.

Place your red warning triangle at least 50 metres behind the car, so as to warn oncoming traffic that your car has broken down. Next, call for assistance on the nearest telephone or on your mobile and stay in the car to wait for help to arrive, assuming you have parked it safely and away from traffic.