What should you do in the event of a breakdown?

Breaking down is an unfortunate thing that everyone never wants to happen to them, but more often than not, most people will experience it at some point in their life.

If you notice a plethora of flashing lights on your dashboard, your car feels sluggish, or you hear a worrying noise, your vehicle may be breaking down. When you do find yourself in this position, we’ve listed a few things you can do depending on the situation.

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 if you have to stop immediately, switch on your hazards and pull over safely and smoothly onto the hard shoulder. If you can stop slower, then signal left and pull over onto the hard shoulder as safely as possible.

Make sure you park your vehicle as close to the left as possible, with the wheels turned to the left as well to help if the car tries to roll. Try to stop as close to an emergency roadside telephone, which is approximately a mile apart on the motorway.

Before you get out of the vehicle, engage the handbrake and turn your hazard warning lights. If it is dark then also use your sidelights, and if visibility is awful then use the fog lights to protect yourself.
Make sure that you and your passengers leave the car from the left side doors, never use the right side. 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, as it is safer for both you and the pet.

Never attempt to make any repairs, no matter how simple you think they may be. It is always safer to get a professional to do it as it may be another issue that you have not realised.

Rather than attempting repairs, phone your breakdown provider either from your mobile phone or if you haven’t got breakdown cover, then use the emergency phone located at mile intervals on the motorway.
If at any time you should feel threatened by another person, or feel unsafe on the side of the motorway, return to your vehicle and lock all the doors. Once you think the danger has passed leave your car again and wait as far away as possible.

If you are calling for recovery from a mobile, then you should try and locate your exact location on the road. You can do this by using the motorway location signs, which we’ve broken down for you below.
Wait for the recovery service to arrive, this usually is between a 40 and a 60-minute wait. If there is traffic then it will be longer; however, most providers will be able to update you on an approximate time for you to get help.

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

If you do break down in a free recovery zone, then you will need to use the SOS telephone box to call for free assistance. Free recovery zones usually exist around long-term motorway repairs or long-term lane closures. 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 breakdown recovery.

On a smart motorway?

Breaking down on a smart motorway requires a slightly different procedure to other motorways. Smart motorways have Emergency Refuge Areas (ERA) which are frequently located throughout the motorway. Some smart motorways have hard shoulders, but they are occasionally used to ease traffic flow. Once you’ve got to the ERA or hard shoulder, phone the emergency services or the Highways Agency via the SOS phone. They will then be able to make sure you are safe and advise you on the next course of action. Follow their instructions as they may dispatch emergency services depending on the location of your breakdown.

Broken down on other roads?

If you break down 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 on the side of the road.

  • Pull over in a safe and convenient location 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. (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.

Once you’ve done all of these steps, make sure you stay safe until your car is recovered or moved.