What should you do if your car breaks down

Breaking down is stressful, especially if it's the first time and you have no idea what to do! Here's our top tips and advice to help you.


By Marmalade Author

Updated on Feb 11th, 2022

Breaking down can be extremely frustrating and even dangerous and frightening for some, especially young drivers who are new to the road and have never broken down before. Even a simple flat tyre can be immensely challenging and can ruin your day if you are not prepared or know what to do. By knowing how to handle the situation in advance, it can ease the potential danger, stress and cost of a breakdown. Aside from having breakdown cover, the most important thing to remember is your safety first!

What is breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover is a service that assists you if your car breaks down so that you and your vehicle are not left in the lurch and helpless. Hopefully, you have it included in your insurance package, if not it may be extra to pay for but it’s more than worth it - our Black Box insurance offers breakdown cover for just £25 extra.

Should your car break down you call the helpline and a mechanic will be dispatched to your location with the goal of fixing the problem so you can be on your merry way. Should it be a simple issue such as a dead battery or a flat/punctured tyre, they will be able to fix the issue on the spot and in good time. If it’s a more complex issue and the mechanic can’t fix it, they will tow your car to a location of your choice, such as a local garage or your home.

What to do if your car breaks down in a town or city

If you break down in a city where traffic is slow-moving, you can generally just pull into a car parking space or onto a side road. Somewhere you won’t be in the way of oncoming traffic and are in close distance of being able to find help. If possible, try to get get the car to a garage! But if you break down on a country road where there are no houses around for miles or a motorway – what do you do then?

What to do if you break down on a quiet road

  • Find a safe place to pull over such as a lay-by. If it’s not possible, try to get the car as far away from the road as possible as to not obstruct other road users
  • Pull up your handbrake, switch off the engine and turn on your hazard lights on (and side lights if it’s foggy, dark or raining -  to help other motorists spot that your car has broken down).
  • Leave the car on the passenger side. Don’t exit through the driver’s door.
  • Put on your reflective jacket if you have one, or put a warning triangle on the same side of the road, 45m behind the car. If you don’t have either, be extremely cautious as it will be very difficult for other drivers to see you.
  • Make sure you’re a good distance away from the car (preferably behind a barrier) where you can safely call for assistance.
  • Return to your vehicle and wait for help to arrive
hazard warning triangle you man car break down

What to do if your car breaks down on the motorway

  • Find the safest place to pull over such as a garage or service station. If neither of these is close, then use the hard shoulder. Note: You should only ever use the hard shoulder in an emergency, not to stretch your legs, sleep or make a call)
  • Make sure you’re as far over to the left of the hard shoulder as possible, pull up your hand brake, put your hazard lights on and turn your steering wheel so the wheels are pointing to the left. If it’s dark, raining, or foggy, put your sidelights on too.
  • Get all passengers out of the car and exit through the passenger door. Stand behind the crash barrier or move up onto the verge.
  • DON’T attempt to display your warning triangle. It’s not worth the risk on the motorway with all the fast-moving traffic.
  • Call your car breakdown provider or the emergency services on your mobile. If you don’t have a phone, follow the signs and walk to the nearest emergency phone point on your side of the dual carriageway. The call will go directly through to the Highways Agency (HA) or the Police. They will be able to pinpoint your location and call your breakdown provider or a recovery service. (If you are a lone female or vulnerable individual, the HA or Police will ensure you are given priority so will be there as soon as possible).
  • Return to your vehicle and wait for assistance to arrive.

If you don’t have breakdown cover you can contact any breakdown service or tow company such as the RAC or AA even if you aren’t a member. Just beware that call-outs to have your car towed can cost as much as £250! We recommend that you arrange breakdown cover at the same time you arrange your insurance – giving you peace of mind before you set off.

Don’t try to fix your vehicle on the motorway. You should always wait for help to arrive.

What to do if your car breaks down on a Smart motorway

Smart motorways are potentially more dangerous as these can sometimes involve the hard shoulder being used as another lane. If you see a warning light appear on your dashboard or feel like the car isn’t right you should leave a smart motorway at the next exit. If it’s not an option - here’s what you need to do:

  • Pull over into an ERA (Emergency Refuge Area) and use the SOS phone to contact the Regional Control Centre.
  • If this is still not possible, and your car comes to a stop in the left-hand lane – switch your hazard lights on - if it’s dark, raining or foggy, put your sidelights on too.
  • Exit the vehicle through the passenger’s side, but only if safe to, and wait behind the crash barrier.
  • If you have broken down in one of the middle lanes, switch on your hazard lights, keep your seatbelt on, call the Police and wait for assistance to arrive.

Smart motorways are controlled, and also have CCTV, so if you find yourself stuck in any of the traffic lines, the Regional Control Centre should see this and switch the lane sign to a red “X”. These are displayed when an accident or obstruction has taken place, or a slow moving vehicle is merging onto the motorway.

We hope this guide has helped you understand what to do if your car breaks down, even if it's just a simple reminder for you to get breakdown cover.

Good luck and be safe!


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