Vehicle Breakdown Tips and Information

If and when you do breakdown it’s best to have some knowledge on staying safe at the side of the road. Whether you know the basics of how to stay safe whilst you’re broken down, or you have a comprehensive understanding of how to fix your vehicle, we hope to increase your knowledge in some way.

Have a read of our breakdown tips and information and hopefully next time you breakdown you will know exactly what to do.

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 anytime 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.

I am 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 I know where I am?

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.

Motorway Location Sign

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

With more than 6.5 million vehicles left broken down in 2008, we have listed the top 5 reasons for their breakdowns, so that you can take precautionary measures to ensure the same doesn’t happen to your car.


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:

How to jump start your car
  • 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 problems such as blowouts were the second most common callout in 2008. There are steps that you can take to make sure that your tyres are up to standard which should help prevent a breakdown.

How to change a tyre
  • 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.


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.