Car Breakdowns: How To Stay Safe

If your car breaks down, follow these rules to stay safe and get help as quickly as possible

Happily, cars that have broken down are an increasingly rare sight on our roads these days thanks to improving technology and reliability. As electric cars become more popular, common issues like overheating engines and blown gearboxes should be even less likely.

Rewind a decade or two and any journey long enough to involve a stint on the motorway usually involved multiple sightings of cars stricken on the hard shoulder. Having a set of jump leads in the boot was essential and the car conking out meant depressing walks of varying lengths to reach a telephone. Nowadays, pulling off the road is more likely to be due to a call on your mobile or wanting a coffee than it is to do with looking under your car’s bonnet.

Breaking down has become such an irregular occurrence that many drivers may have forgotten what to do, other than calling a breakdown recovery service. If you think you may fall into that category, or just want some reminders, read on for our top tips:


If you break down on any road other than a motorway

  • Get your car off the road or as far over to the left-hand side of the road as possible
  • Turn your hazard warning lights on and make sure your headlights are on if it’s dark or visibility is poor
  • Put on a hi-vis jacket and lightly coloured clothing if you have them. Ideally, you should carry one hi-vis vest for each passenger and ask all occupants to wear them. If the car is in the road or verge, ensure everyone leaves the stricken car and stands in a safe place well away from traffic – particularly if the speed limit is above 30mph
  • Carefully place a warning triangle 45 metres (about 150 feet) behind your car, on the same side of the road. Don’t forget to retrieve it when you’re rescued!

If you break down on the motorway

The motorway is the safest type of road to drive on but it can be an intimidating environment in which to break down because of the speed at which traffic is traveling, so it’s worth knowing what to do if you have any problems.

If you sense something isn’t quite right with your car and it’s safe continue, check the car’s temperature gauge is normal, and if so, drive steadily to the closest exit where you can leave the motorway and find a safe place to inspect the car. If it isn’t safe to continue, or you risk further damage to the vehicle, try and move safely over to the hard shoulder as soon as possible. Juddering or a loss of power might be something you hope proves to be temporary but breaking down in a fast-moving live lane on the motorway is obviously very dangerous.

If you can’t get to the hard shoulder and find yourself stricken in a live lane, immediately put on your hazard warning lights and apply the handbrake. Stay in your car with your seatbelt on unless you think you can safely get clear of the carriageway. Dial 999 and follow the instructions of the emergency services. Do not attempt to deploy a warning triangle.


Assuming you are able to get to the hard shoulder

  • Pull over as far to the left as possible with your wheels pointed towards the kerb
  • Turn on your hazard-warning lights and headlights and apply the handbrake
  • Put on a hi-vis vest or jacket and ask all passengers to do the same
  • Get yourself and all occupants out of the car through the passenger-side doors and ensure you’re all safely stood behind a metal barrier away from the motorway. Use an emergency roadside telephone rather than your mobile to call for help, as this enables recovery services to pinpoint where you are more precisely
  • Make sure you face traffic when speaking on the phone and be sure to inform the operator if you have young or vulnerable people travelling with you
  • Don’t attempt to deploy a warning triangle
  • If the recovery service manages to repair your car on the hard shoulder, don’t forget to wait for a large gap in traffic and build up speed quickly before rejoining the main carriageway

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