You’re driving along a UK motorway, A-road or country lane when your car starts sputtering and stalls. Don’t panic! Follow these tips for safely handling a breakdown in the UK.
- Breaking down on a motorway or dual carriageway
- Breaking down on a minor road
- Getting in touch with your breakdown provider
- What to do if you don’t have breakdown cover
- Preparing for future breakdowns
First, manoeuvre your car to the hard shoulder or side of the road as soon as safely possible. Switch on your hazard warning lights and set up a warning triangle behind your vehicle if you have one.
If you must exit the vehicle, do so only via the passenger side and stay protected behind the barrier if present. Open the bonnet to look for obvious issues, but don’t risk roadside repairs yourself.
Call 999 if in an unsafe position. Otherwise, phone a friend for a lift or ring a reputable local garage for a tow.
Stay with your vehicle until help arrives. At night, keep interior lights on so your car is visible. Remain inside the car with heat on if the weather’s poor.
Stay calm, alert and hydrated. Breakdowns are a nuisance but temporary glitches. With breakdown coverage and by following these tips, you’ll be on your way again soon. Maintain your car well to avoid breakdowns, but rest assured help is available if needed!
Breaking down on a motorway or dual carriageway
Find a safe place
If you’re driving on a motorway or dual carriageway and you start to feel like your car is on the verge of breaking down, it’s vital that you get yourself to a safe place as soon as possible. This protects other drivers and makes it easier for breakdown services to reach you.
Slow down gradually while signalling before pulling onto the hard shoulder of a motorway or as far left as possible on a dual carriageway. Avoid sudden braking or swerving. Give other drivers time to react.
Figure out where you are
Note the nearest exit number and any identifiable landmarks so you can accurately describe your location to breakdown services or emergency responders. Check road signs if unsure exactly where you are.
Make yourself visible
Activate your hazard lights to alert other drivers that you’ve stopped. If you have a high-visibility vest, put it on before exiting your vehicle. At night, turn on interior lights so your vehicle is visible.
Get out of the vehicle carefully
Avoid exiting on the driver’s side which puts you dangerously close to traffic. Climb over to the passenger side, then exit and get well away from the vehicle in case it gets hit. Direct any passengers to do the same. Stay behind a barrier if available.
Pets should remain secured inside the vehicle if possible with windows cracked for ventilation. Provide water if you have it.
Contact breakdown services
If you have roadside assistance, contact them right away to arrange help. Have your membership details and exact location ready. Use an emergency roadside SOS phone if your mobile is out of battery.
On smart motorways without a hard shoulder, aim for the next exit or emergency refuge area. If unavailable, pull left and allow traffic to react.
Setting off again
When cleared to continue your journey, carefully re-enter traffic only when there is a long clear gap. Build up speed slowly while checking mirrors and blind spots.
If your vehicle can’t be quickly repaired, it will be towed to a garage or other location per your coverage. Remain calm and follow safety procedures. Help will arrive soon.
What if I don’t have breakdown cover?
If you don’t have roadside assistance coverage, your options are more limited when breaking down on a busy carriageway. First, try contacting a family member or friend who can come to your aid quickly.
If that is not possible, look up the number for a local reputable garage or recovery service and request a tow truck. This will likely involve a lengthy wait and potentially expensive fees if not covered by insurance.
In a dire emergency without phone service, use the roadside SOS system to call for police assistance. Explain you have no breakdown coverage and need help.
To avoid this dangerous situation in future, strongly consider purchasing breakdown cover from a provider like AA, RAC, Green Flag from Comparoo or your insurance company. It’s an affordable way to get rapid expert help when you really need it. Don’t risk being stuck alone on a busy highway!
Breaking down on a minor road
Finding a Safe Place
If your vehicle starts showing signs of breaking down on a minor road, try to pull off into a nearby side street, carpark, or as far left as possible. Choose a spot with enough space for other cars to pass and for breakdown trucks to park.
Making Yourself Visible
Turn on your hazard lights and set out a reflective triangle or flares around 45 metres behind your car to alert oncoming traffic. This is safer on minor roads than motorways. Also put on a high-vis jacket when exiting your car. In low visibility, turn on sidelights too.
Exiting the Vehicle
Only exit your vehicle if there is a safe, clear spot to go. If the road is narrow or busy, stay inside with your seatbelt on until help arrives. If you do exit, take care and use the passenger side away from traffic.
Contacting Breakdown Services
If you know how to fix a minor issue like changing a flat tyre, do so only if it is safe and legal to do so. Otherwise, call for professional help right away to avoid making the situation worse. Provide details like if you have children or special needs.
Setting Off Again
Retrieve any warning triangles or flares before departing. Carefully check all mirrors and blind spots before pulling out when clear. Drive cautiously and continue to the next garage if the problem recurs.
- Carry a roadside emergency kit with a high-vis jacket, torch, triangle, first aid supplies, and other essentials.
- Know where your vehicle’s jack, spare tyre, and wheel brace are kept before needing them. Read the manual.
- Face oncoming traffic when exiting a broken-down vehicle so you can react to hazards.
- If possible, raise the bonnet and boot when stopped to show drivers you need assistance.
- Call the police if your location feels vulnerable. Track their ETA.
Stay calm and think rationally. Most minor road breakdowns can be resolved fairly quickly.
- Consider roadside assistance coverage for faster response and peace of mind if you break down in future.
Getting in touch with your breakdown provider
Most insurance policies include some roadside assistance, but coverage varies. Having a membership with providers like AA, RAC, Green Flag provides more robust options.
Have their contact info accessible in your vehicle and save in your phone under ICE (In Case of Emergency).
Many providers have apps to quickly request aid and pinpoint your location. Download before needing it. When calling, have ready:
- Full name and membership number
- Exact location
- Contact phone number
- Nature of breakdown if known
Share useful details like children/pets aboard and any safety concerns.
Types of Coverage
Towing up to 10 miles to a local garage. Limited additional perks.
Towing up to 20-30 miles from the breakdown site. Additional services like battery jump starts, fuel delivery, lockout service, etc.
Towing to any single destination within the UK. Greatest flexibility but the highest cost. Additional mileage can be purchased.
Covers alternative transport like taxis, public transit or temporary vehicle rental if repairs will take time.
Adds breakdown assistance throughout most of Europe. Crucial for driving holidays and trips across borders.
Comparison of Coverage Levels
The more comprehensive the coverage, the higher the annual cost but the greater peace of mind. Local recovery meets most needs for £50-100/year while national recovery runs £150-200+.
Do your research to find the provider and level right for your budget and travel habits.
Upon arrival, the mechanic will attempt to fix your vehicle roadside. If unable to do so, your coverage level dictates available towing mileage and destination options.
Review your policy so you understand what is covered before an emergency strikes. Stay calm when calling for breakdown assistance and help will arrive promptly.
What to do if you don’t have breakdown cover
While not ideal, there are options if you break down without roadside assistance coverage:
- Contact a local garage: Many can dispatch tow trucks for a fee. Look up options in your area and save numbers.
- Join a breakdown service: Most providers like AA, RAC, Green Flag allow you to sign up on the spot and receive same-day assistance. You’ll pay a premium fee.
- Use an emergency roadside phone: These connect you to Highways Agency or police to request basic assistance. Limitations apply.
- Call your car insurance company: Some include basic breakdown recovery, so check your policy. They may arrange a tow truck.
- Ask passing motorists for help: As a last resort, seek aid from kind strangers. Use good judgement to stay safe.
Breakdown assistance without a membership typically involves high costs and waiting. To avoid this in the future:
- Review your car insurance policy for any included breakdown cover to understand what is covered.
- Strongly consider joining a major provider like AA, RAC, Green Flag for nationwide assistance and additional benefits.
- Save emergency contact numbers in your mobile phone and store a roadside kit in your car.
- Maintain your vehicle diligently to prevent breakdowns.
With preparation, you can get back on the road promptly even without existing cover. But memberships offer peace of mind and should be strongly considered by all drivers for their benefits. Don’t get stranded alone – be ready to call for help.
Preparing for future breakdowns
Having a breakdown is never convenient, but you can take steps now to be ready when it happens.
Consider the following ways to prepare:
Assemble a Roadside Emergency Kit
Keep essential supplies in your car in case you break down:
- High-visibility vest
- Torch and spare batteries
- Reflective warning triangle
- First aid kit
- Non-perishable snacks/water
- Emergency contact info
- Cash and coins
- Basic tools like jack and tyre iron
- Rotate food/water supplies every few months. Store kit where easily accessible, like the boot.
Get Breakdown Coverage
Joining a major provider like AA, RAC or Green Flag brings peace of mind. Compare levels of service and price. Consider:
- Personal vs vehicle coverage
- Roadside assistance vs nationwide recovery
- Number of callouts allowed annually
- Additional services offered (key recovery, battery service, etc.)
- Look for discounts through professional associations, bank accounts etc.
- Apps make requesting aid easier.
Maintain Your Vehicle
Regular maintenance dramatically reduces breakdown risk. Follow the manufacturer’s schedule in your owner’s manual for:
- Oil and filter changes
- Tyre rotation and air pressure checks
- New brake pads, battery, hoses etc. as needed
- Conduct quick weekly checks: fuel, oil, coolant, lights, tyre treads.
- Monitor the dashboard for warning lights and investigate immediately.
Maintaining your vehicle properly helps avoid the stress of breakdowns entirely.
By keeping emergency supplies, breakdown cover details, and maintaining your vehicle, you’ll stay safe, save money, and avoid the hassle of being stranded when your car inevitably does break down.
Don’t get caught off guard – proper preparation brings peace of mind!