Whether you’ve broken down on a congested motorway, a suburban street or a quiet country lane, your number one priority is always to stay safe and avoid causing risk to other road users. So if your car conks out, switch on your hazard lights to warn other drivers that you have a problem, and if possible, turn into a side street or get out of traffic by pulling onto the verge or hard shoulder. If you have a hi-viz safety vest, put it on. And if your vehicle is causing an obstruction, place a warning triangle at the edge of the carriageway at least 50 metres behind your vehicle. But never use a warning triangle if you’ve broken down on the motorway – it’s not safe.
Staying safe and getting help
If you’re on a motorway, you and your passengers should exit the car from the left-hand doors and wait on the other side of the barrier. If you’re on a road, remaining in your car may be the safest option, but always assess the situation calmly and make an informed choice. If you have breakdown cover, now is the time to make a call. But don’t worry if you don’t have cover, because local recovery companies will generally be willing to help, although you’ll be charged for their services. Or if you’re on a motorway, the Highways Agency may be able to send Traffic Officers to provide assistance.
On a smart motorway
Smart motorways don‘t have the benefit of a hard shoulder, so if your engine starts to misfire and you think you’re going to break down, try to reach an Emergency Refuge Area (ERA) – these are clearly marked with blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol. One you’ve stopped safely and switched on your hazard lights, you and all passengers should exit the car via the left-hand doors and wait behind the safety barrier. Use the phone in the ERA to contact the regional control centre who will advise you what to do next. If you can’t make it to an ERA, pull over to the left of the inside carriageway as far as you can, switch on your hazard warning lights, then exit the car and cross the safety barrier. Now use your mobile phone to call the emergency services on 999.
Breakdown emergency kit
It’s a good idea to keep some breakdown essentials in your boot, and you can buy a ready-made kit at any motor accessories shop or online. These generally come with a towrope and jump leads, hi-viz vest, torch and a warning triangle. If you’re planning a long journey, you should also consider packing a blanket, drinking water, some non-perishable snacks, plus a portable power pack to recharge your phone.