Guide to Breakdown Cover

Breaking down is not something anyone wants to think about too much, but in the unfortunate event of a breakdown you need to make sure you are not left stranded. We have put together a guide to help make sure you are not left out in the cold if you do break down.

Cars are far more reliable nowadays than they once were, but mechanical or electrical problems can strike at any time. If your vehicle breaks down and you don’t have a policy in place, you will face a perfect storm of problems, which could prove stressful and expensive.

  • You may end up stuck on the roadside not knowing who to call, potentially placing you at personal risk, especially if the breakdown happens far from home, or in the dead of night.
  • You could miss important commitments or disrupt your leisure plans.
  • You will likely face an expensive bill for repairs and a tow truck, or for a last-minute sign-up to a breakdown service provider, which will always cost you more than arranging cover in advance.

With all the above in mind, it’s simple common sense to ensure you never set out in your car without a valid breakdown cover policy in place, and with cheap breakdown cover available from less than £20 per year, there’s really no reason not to buy a policy.

Do you already have cover?

The first thing you should do is check your bank, your car insurance provider AND your car manufacturer (especially if the car was new) to check to see if Breakdown cover is included as part of the services they deliver to you. In the case of Banks, with premium accounts and rewards, almost all offer breakdown cover as part of the range of free services you get with the account, often alongside free European travel insurance.

Check your current car insurance policy to find out if you have breakdown cover already included. If you don’t ask them how much it would cost to add breakdown onto the policy, it is usually must better value to add breakdown cover this way and more convenient.

With many car manufacturers, they now include breakdown cover as part of the services they provide to you when you buy the car new that forms the car warranty, you can also take out a breakdown policy as a used car owner to enjoy the same benefits.

The benefit of having cover with a manufacturer is that they will not take you to the nearest garage for repairs but to a manufacturer approved garage, this ensures that the repairs are done correctly and to a high standard, within the warranty guidelines at no cost to you.

Types of Breakdown Cover

UK Breakdown Cover

The most common form of breakdown cover is UK breakdown, as the name suggests it covers instances of where you may breakdown in the UK only, although always check the exceptions listed as it may surprise you that although it says UK, it doesn’t quite cover the whole of the country for all circumstances. For example, under snow and flooded conditions they are not necessarily obligated to come and get you, so do check.

European Breakdown Cover

If you are travelling on holiday and driving in Europe, it is important that you buy a specific policy that covers you for European breakdown. It is absolutely vital to check the small print, not only of countries listed and included, but also what happens when you breakdown and the rules that involve vehicle recovery and repair. Some policies will only rescue you from the main roads, others include repair and replacement car if needed to continue on your trip.

Family Breakdown Cover

You probably want to make sure your whole family is suitably covered when they take to the roads. If so, this type of policy gives all family members the same level of cover at once, which is often reassuring peace of mind for parents.

Multi-car Breakdown Cover

Many households now have more than one vehicle, and you wouldn’t want to get caught out if you happened to break down in the wrong one! If you have more than one car, a multi car breakdown cover policy is a great choice, not only in terms of great price but also in terms of what they offer.

Commercial Breakdown Cover

If you use your car (or van) for work as well as pleasure, then you may not be protected by a normal consumer breakdown policy – so please check your current policy and look at commercial breakdown cover as an option if you use your vehicle for business purposes.

What to do once you’ve bought a policy

You’ve now got the right breakdown cover for you. Here is a list of very simple things to do so that if you are in a breakdown you are as prepared as possible:

  • Take a photocopy of the policy details and put it into the glove box of the vehicle with a pen
  • Make sure you have a mobile phone and a charger that works in the vehicle
  • Bring a torch and put it into the car for walking along the hard shoulder or standing away from the car
  • A high visibility jacket or singlet should also be in the boot of the car
  • Ensure passengers have a warm coat in the car, if you break down on the motorway you may need to stand away from the vehicle for at least 40 to 45 minutes

Now you are ready for driving and are covered against all eventualities in case of breakdown.

What should you do in the event of a breakdown?

Hopefully you will never have to put this advice into action, but in case you should breakdown here is some advice on what you should do to remain safe by the side of the road.

Broken down on a motorway?

Ideally you should leave the motorway at the next junction, or exit onto a motorway service area. However, this is not always possible, so in the event that you have to stop immediately, indicate and pull over safely onto the hard shoulder. Make sure you park your vehicle as far left as possible, with the wheels turned to the left. Try to stop as close to an emergency roadside telephone, which are approximately a mile apart on the motorway.
Before you get out of the vehicle, engage the handbrake and turn your hazard warning and sidelights on. In very poor visibility you should also put on your rear fog lights.
Make sure that you and your passengers leave the car from the near side doors, and stand as far back from the road as possible. (Up on the bank or behind a safety barrier if possible.) Leave any animals in the vehicle.
DO NOT attempt to make any repairs, no matter how simple you deem them to be. This can be highly dangerous and could result in an accident.
Instead walk to the nearest emergency roadside telephone. A blue and white marker post is placed every 100m along the hard shoulder with an arrow indicating which way the nearest telephone is situated. Remember to walk as far away from the traffic as possible.
If at any time you should feel threatened by another person, return to your vehicle from the near side doors and lock all doors. Once you feel the danger has passed leave your vehicle again.
If you are calling for recovery from a mobile telephone, then you should try and locate your exact location on the road.
Wait for the recovery service to arrive. This is normally between a 40 and 60-minute wait.

What if you’re in a ‘Free Recovery Area’?

If you do breakdown in a free recovery zone, then you will need to use the SOS telephone box to call for free assistance. Marker posts along the motorway will let you know the direction of the nearest SOS telephone box. You should be aware that a free recovery vehicle will only take you out of the free recovery zone and then you will have to phone for your own breakdown recovery.

How do you know where you are?

If you breakdown on a motorway, then you need to give a detailed description of your location. As many of the motorways look very similar this can sometimes be tricky to do, especially if you are lost and have no idea of your location.

Luckily there are sign posts all along the motorway, (roughly 1 mile apart) which give information on which road you are travelling on, which direction you are travelling in, and how far you are from the start of the motorway. Here is an example of the sign you may see and information on how to understand it.

Broken down on other roads?

If you breakdown on any other roads, which are not motorways then it may be a bit safer to check your car yourself and judge whether you need a recovery truck. Follow these simple steps to ensure you and your passenger stay safe at the side of the road.

Pull over and put your hazard lights on. If your vehicle is causing an obstruction, try and remove it from the road as quickly as possible.
Carry a reflective jacket in the car, and put it on.
If your vehicle is in danger of being struck by another, then get out of the car with all passengers.
If it is safe for you to repair the damage, then you will need to place a warning triangle on the road at least 50 yards behind your broken down car. (N.B. Remember to retrieve it once you have fixed the car)
DO NOT stand between your vehicle and oncoming traffic.
If you are unable to fix your car then call for breakdown assistance, and give them a detailed description of where you are.

Common breakdown call-outs

We have listed the top reasons for car breakdowns, so that you can take precautionary measures to ensure the same doesn’t happen to your car.

Car battery

The biggest cause of vehicle breakdowns in the UK is battery related problems. There are a few different reasons why car batteries fail or weaken, these are:

  • Leaving the headlights, interior lights, radio and air conditioning on whilst the car is not running
  • Driving for short journeys, not allowing the battery to charge.
  • Not maintaining your battery and making sure that the terminals are kept clean.
  • Alternator not charging the battery, you will need to check your alternator.
  • The battery is just old and it needs to be replaced

Flat tyres and other tyre issues such as blowouts, or even no spare tyre, are reoccurring problems. There are steps that you can take to make sure that your tyres are up to standard which should help prevent a breakdown.

  • Make sure you check your tyre pressure every fortnight, and refer to your vehicle manual to find the correct pressures for different speeds and loads, and adjust them accordingly.
  • This may sound obvious, but avoid hitting kerbs, as this can result in slow tyre leaks.
  • Any uneven tyre wear may mean that your tyres need re-aligning, and you should get a mechanic to check them immediately.
  • Keep a spare tyre and jack in the car. Make sure that the spare is ready to use and pumped up to the correct level, otherwise it will be of no use to you in an emergency.
  • For information on how to change a tyre on your car, take a look at our useful leaflet and print it out to keep in your car.
Car keys

Losing your keys can be a one of the most frustrating reasons to call out a recovery truck. Many modern cars have a transponder key to prevent theft, these are very expensive to replace so its worth getting a spare made, as a dealer may take a few days to obtain a replacement.


There are a few indicators of a failing alternator, these are:

  • Persistent battery problems.
  • Dim headlights when the engine is idle.
  • The belts that drive the cars alternator could also operate the radiator fan and water pump. If there is a rapid rise in the engine temperature, and a red ignition warning light this could mean that the belt is broken, you should immediately stop and call for recovery.
Starter motor

If the starter motor fails to crank the engine, or turns to slowly then the engine will not start. Usually the starter motor in a car is very robust, but they can fail from time to time. Garage maintenance should point out any potential faults with a starter motor.

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