Driver Hub  Owning a car  Maintenance   What should you do if your car breaks down
Frustrated woman in front of car with open bonnet

What should you do if your car breaks down

Holly West-Robinson profile

Holly West-Robinson

April 20, 2017

Driving advice Owning a car 7 min read

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 even get the car to a garage! But if you break down on a country road where there’s no houses around for miles, or a motorway – what do you do then?

Breaking down can be pretty scary for anyone, especially young drivers who are new to the road! In fact, it seems to be one of the things most young people are most anxious about these days too! Don’t worry too much though, we’ve provided some handy advice for if you do find yourself breaking down at any point, to help you handle the situation as best you can.

What to do if your car breaks down on the motorway

The motorway poses a big risk compared to breaking down on a country road. You should take extra special care if this happens!

  • Find the safest place to pull over such as a garage or service station. If neither of these are close, then use the hard shoulder. Note: You should only ever use the hard shoulder in an emergency, never to stretch your legs, sleep or make a phone call)
  • Make sure you are as far over to the left of the hard shoulder as possible, pull up your hand brake, switch on your hazard lights 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 if there is one, or move up onto the verge.
  • DO NOT attempt to display your warning triangle. It’s not worth the risk on the motorway with all the fast moving traffic.
  • Call your breakdown provider or the emergency services on your mobile. If you do not have a mobile phone, follow the signs and walk to the nearest emergency phone point on your side of the carriageway. The call will go directly through to the Highways Agency (HA) or the Police. They will be able to pinpoint your location and connect you through to 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 do not have breakdown cover you can contact any breakdown or tow company such as the RAC or AA even if you aren’t a member. Just beware that single call outs to have your car towed can cost as much as £250! We’d recommend that you arrange breakdown insurance at the same time arrange your insurance – to give you peace of mind before you set off.

Never ever try and attempt to fix or repair your vehicle on the motorway. You should always wait for your breakdown provider to arrive.

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

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

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

Smart motorways are controlled, and also have CCTV in operation, so if you do 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.

What to do if you break down on a quiet road

  • Find a safe place to pull over such as a layby, if this is not possible then try to ensure the car is as far away from the road as possible to prevent obstructing other vehicles and traffic from passing by.
  • Pull up your handbrake, switch off the engine and put your hazard lights on (as well as your side lights if it’s foggy, dark or raining to help other motorist’s spot your car has broken down).
  • Exit the vehicle on the passenger side. Do not exit through the driver’s door in case the vehicle is at risk of being struck by another car.
  • Put on your reflective jacket if you have one, or place your warning triangle on the same side of the road, 45 metres 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 are a good distance away from the car (preferably behind a barrier) where you can safely use your mobile phone to call for assistance.
  • Return to your vehicle and wait for the recovery service or your breakdown provider to arrive.

The most important thing to remember during any breakdown

  • Keep calm – It happens to most of us at some point or another during their driving career, and although it can seem like a worrying experience, it’s really not that bad!
  • Invest in breakdown cover in advance – try and make sure your car is prepared and stocked up with things that will aid in the event of a breakdown, such as keeping a blanket in the car, phone charger, warning triangle and something to eat and drink.
  • Get your vehicle serviced – Do this regularly and carry out some basics checks before embarking on any long journeys.

New Driver Insurance→

Get seamless cover before and after you pass your test on your own car!

Holly West-Robinson profile

By Holly West-Robinson

'Hi I'm Holly and I'm a young driver based in Peterborough! I love tattoos, food, drawing and anything art related, enjoy hanging out with friends and family and making a fool of myself. I'm definitely one of the adventurous types who's always up for a good old road trip!'  See more posts by Holly

Share this article

Angry man in car pointing
Learning to drive News Young driver stories 6 min read

Victims of road rage - Learner driver stories

Chloe Martell profile

Chloe Martell

October 17, 2019

As many of you know, we’re petitioning for change on how learner drivers are treated when they’re on the roads. Astonishingly, 90% of learner drivers have been subject to tailgating and overtaking when in their…Read more

Young girl in car
Driving advice Owning a car Young driver stories 6 min read

Kimberley's MOT misery

Kimberley Dodge profile

Kimberley Dodge

September 27, 2019

Fear. Dread. Horror. No, I’m not talking about the rush of panic when you spot a spider in your bedroom. I’m talking about the stab of fright that pierces your heart when you hear the…Read more

Interior Audi A1 steering wheel
Owning a car 7 min read

Audi A1 - Chloe's review

Chloe Martell profile

Chloe Martell

March 7, 2020

As a young driver, whilst I like to think that reading reviews about cars from petrol heads will help me when it comes to choosing my car, it really doesn’t. I want to know what…Read more