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05 Feb 2020
Jamie Gibbs Jamie Gibbs

What should you do if your car breaks down?


A red warning triangle in front of a broken down car

Breaking down can be scary and confusing, but with a bit of planning you can stay as safe as possible.

Something that most drivers dread is a breakdown on the road. Panic and confusion can set in, leaving you unsure what to do.

Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. So here's what you do if you break down.

If you don't have breakdown cover already, now might be the time to consider it.


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Top tip: Don't panic

Easier said than done, we know. But being overcome with panic is likely to cloud your judgement.

You're in control of the car, and remaining in control is what's important.

Breaking down on a motorway or smart motorway

Smart motorways are particularly dangerous because there's no hard shoulder. But here's how you maximise your safety:

  1. Switch on your hazard lights.
    If visibility is poor, switch on your fog lights too.

  2. If you're able to, move the car to an emergency refuge area.
    These appear every 1.5 miles and have a blue sign with an orange SOS phone symbol.

  3. If safe to do so, get out of the car from the front passenger's door.

  4. Use the SOS phone to get in touch with Highways England.

  5. Wait on the other side of the safety barrier if there's one.

If you can't make it to an emergency refuge area:

  • Pull up as close as you can to the left-hand verge.

  • Leave the car from the passenger's side and get clear of the car.

If you've broken down in the middle or right lanes, or if it's not safe to leave the car:

  • Stay inside

  • Keep your seat belt on

  • Call 999 straight away

Smart motorways use CCTV to check for breakdowns, and can close your lane once they're aware of you.

Breaking down on quieter roads

While not as dangerous as on a motorway, breaking down on other roads can still be hazardous.

Here's what to do:

  1. Switch on your hazard lights. If it's dark, switch on your sidelights too.

  2. Pull over to a safe place away from traffic.

  3. Leave the car through the door furthest away from traffic.

  4. If you have one, put on a reflective vest or jacket.

  5. If you have one, put a red warning triangle at least 45 metres behind the car. This should be on the same side of the road as your car.
    45 metres is about 60 steps from the back of the car.

  6. Call for help. This could be your breakdown provider if you have one, or a local garage.

  7. If your car is obstructing the road, call the police on 101 (the non-emergency number) and let them know. They may need to divert traffic or make the area safe.

Prepare before you set off

It's best to prepare for the possibility of a break down so you have all you need to deal with the situation.

Here are some tips:

  • Keep a breakdown kit in your car with a few essentials. They take up little space and could make a real difference

  • Take your car for a free health check before you set off on any long journeys.

  • Watch out for any early warning signs and get them looked at as soon as possible.


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