What to Do if Your Vehicle Breaks Down

Each year, the RAC attends around 2.5 million breakdown callouts. Calls to other breakdown services push this figure even higher.

If you’re unlucky enough to breakdown, what should you do while you’re waiting for help to arrive?

What to do if you break down on the motorway

Safety first

  • Stopping on the motorway can be dangerous. If your car is still driveable, try to reach the next junction and pull off the road. If there’s no other option, pull onto the hard shoulder, as far to the left as you can.
  • Switch on hazard warning lights and sidelights to warn other traffic.
  • If you’re on the hard shoulder, you and your passengers should get out of the vehicle by the left hand door. Keep as far away from the carriageway as possible – move up the bank if there is one or behind a motorway barrier.
  • Do you keep reflective jackets in the car? Put them on. Don’t use a warning triangle on the hard shoulder, though.
  • It’s too dangerous to try to repair the car on the hard shoulder of a motorway. Don’t attempt it.

Calling for help

  • If you have a mobile phone with you, call your breakdown service for help – use driver location signs to help pinpoint your location, or there will be reference numbers on roadside marker posts and SOS telephones.
  • Some breakdown services offer customers smartphone apps which use GPS to pinpoint your location. They’ll also route your call through to their control centre.
  • Use a motorway emergency telephone number on your side of the carriageway if you don’t have a mobile phone. Never cross the carriageway. Arrows on posts along the hard shoulder will tell you which direction to walk to the nearest emergency telephone. You call is free and connects directly to the police/Highways Agency.

Where there is no hard shoulder on the motorway

  • If possible try to drive on to the next junction, service area or layby.
  • If there is no choice but to stop the car in a lane of live traffic, use hazard warning lights.
  • If you’re in the left-hand lane and feel it’s safe to leave the vehicle, do so by the left-hand door and wait behind the motorway barrier.
  • If you don’t feel safe leaving the vehicle, stay inside with your seatbelt on and dial 999. The Highways Agency’s regional control centre will use signals to close affected lanes to protect you while help is on its way.
  • Some motorways have emergency refuge areas instead of a continuous hard shoulder. If you pull into ones of these areas, use the SOS telephone to call for help. Operators will be able to monitor you via CCTV.

Breaking down on other roads

  • Pull off the road if possible and turn on your vehicle’s hazard warning lights.
  • If your vehicle is still too close to other moving traffic, get yourself and passengers out of the car. Wear hi-viz jackets if you have them. Don’t stand between the vehicle and oncoming traffic.
  • Decide if it’s safe to try to fix the car yourself by the road or whether you need to call for assistance from a breakdown service. if the road is busy or you are too close to moving traffic, don’t expose yourself to danger, but wait for help.
  • be more visible: if you have a warning triangle, carefully place it on the road at least 45 metres from your car. Use sidelights if visibility is poor.
  • Use your mobile phone to call a breakdown service

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