What do I do if my car breaks down?

Did you know that there are 4727 breakdowns a day in the South East? There are only 554 in Wales, but that’s still a hefty number.

Anyway, your car breaking down is not ideal but as the statistics above show, it’s pretty common. And, it could happen to you at any point.

Therefore, it’s important that you are prepared in the event of your car breaking down. So in this article we are going to cover what you should do if you break down on different roads, what you should keep in your car in the event of a breakdown and whether you should look at breakdown cover. You can read our article on what to do in the event of an accident here. 

What do I do if my car breaks down on a motorway?

Breaking down on the motorway is the most dangerous place to breakdown so it’s vital that you know what to do.

If you have broken down then you will have to pull on to the hard shoulder. You need make sure you stop as far to the left as you can and make sure that the wheels are also turned to the left. Then pop your hazards on and if it’s foggy or dark you should keep your sidelights on as well.

When it comes to getting out of the car, you, and any passengers, should get out of the car using the doors on the left and stand behind the barrier or move up the bank. You will have to leave any animals in the car.Do not put a warning triangle on the hard shoulder but you should put on a reflective jacket if you have one. Do not try and fix the car yourself. If you have breakdown cover then you need to ring them and they will help you. If you do not have breakdown cover, the AA, RAC and Green Flag will still send a breakdown service to come out to you and your vehicle. You will have to pay for that and will also usually have to pay for 12 months cover but honestly, if you’re broken down on the motorway then it’s worth it.[vc_single_image image=”52072″ img_size=”article-image”]If you don’t have a mobile phone then walk to an emergency phone on your side of the carriageway. It’s free and it connects straight to the police. If you have a disability that means you cannot follow the above advice then stay in your car with your seatbelt on, switch on your hazards and use a mobile phone to either call your breakdown cover or the emergency services.

If you cannot get to the hard shoulder stay in your vehicle unless you can be 100% sure it’s safe to leave it and call the emergency services.

What do I do if I break down on a smart motorway?

A smart motorway is a motorway that uses technology to manage traffic. It does this by using the hard shoulder as a traffic lane as well as variable speed limits to ease congestion. If you’re on a motorway in which the hard shoulder has been turned into a traffic lane then this is what you have to do.

You will firstly have to find somewhere to stop, so either use an emergency refuge area, motorway services or leave at the next junction. If this is not possible then try and get the vehicle off the carriageway. If you have to stop in a traffic lane then turn your hazards on as soon as possible. If you’re in the left-hand lane then, if it is safe to do so, get out of your vehicle (on the left hand side) and wait behind the barrier. You can then ring your breakdown cover.

It should be noted that if you stop in an emergency refuge area you will need to use the SOS phone to contact the Regional Control Centre when you stop and before you leave, you must remember to ring them before you leave.

If you cannot get out of your car or you are in another lane, stay in the car with your seatbelt on and call the emergency services.

What do I do if I break down on a road?

[vc_single_image image=”52071″ img_size=”article-image”]If you break down on a standard road that is not a motorway, then it’s still not ideal, but you are in a slightly better position. That does not mean that you have to be lax on safety though, it is still dangerous and you can get hurt.

You should try and move your vehicle off the road if you can though be very aware of verges, you’ll have to get your car back out again at some point. Put your hazards on and keep your sidelights on if it’s dark or foggy.It’s still safer to get out of your car and we do recommend it. If there is a barrier then wait behind there but if there’s not still try and give yourself a fair distance between you, your car and the oncoming traffic. If you do get out of the car use the doors facing away from passing traffic.

If you have a reflective jacket then you should put that on and, if it is safe to do so, you should put out a warning triangle at least 50 yards (or 45 metres) behind your car.

Then you can call for assistance, be that breakdown cover, a garage or just a family member to come and tow you away.

As we said, just because breaking down on a standard road isn’t as dangerous as a motorway doesn’t mean you have to be relaxed about safety, it is still a potentially dangerous situation to be in.

What should I always keep in my car?

If you have broken down, then it does help to have certain supplies and equipment with you to make breaking down just that little bit easier. Some of the things that you should ideally have in your car at all times are;

  • A Hazard Triangle
  • A high visibility jacket
  • Details of your breakdown cover and insurance company details
  • Spare tyre/jack
    • Somebody will know how to change a tyre, even if you don’t yourself. Though it is a good idea to learn if you can
  • Road map
    • Your satnav could bail out the same as your car, a map can be a saviour
  • First aid kit
  • Mobile phone and charger
    • In case your phone dies, we would recommend one of those old phones that has a standby life of a decade (that’s an exaggeration, it’s more like a month but it’s a lot longer than your average smart phone)
  • Water
  • Non-perishable food (cereal bars, crisps etc.)
  • Waterproofs
  • A blanket for the colder months
  • A torch


Those are things that you should definitely consider having in your car. Particularly if you are making a long journey or in the colder months. Greencar estimated that half a million cars would break down in December 2015 and the cold weather played a part in this, so even just stocking up for the winter can’t hurt. You can read our top tips for looking after your car in the winter here. You can also read our top tips to maintaining your car here. 

Is breakdown cover worth it?

Now we’ve discussed what to do in the event of a breakdown, should you invest in breakdown cover?

Our opinion is, yes, it is worth it. Breakdown cover is one of those things that it’s appreciated until you need it. While you might think that it’s a waste of money now, when you’re standing behind a motorway barrier in the middle of winter when it’s dark, we are pretty sure you’ll say it’s worth it.

Also, call-out charges when you don’t have breakdown cover can be pricey, and more expensive than the cost of breakdown cover. Basic breakdown cover doesn’t have to cost much at all and will cover you for roadside assistance. Basic breakdown cover from the AA costs £49 a year, and that will cover you as long as you are a minimum of a quarter of a mile away from your home. Most packaged bank current accounts which offer perks such as travel insurance also offer roadside assistance.  

So, while it may seem like a lot or unnecessary, we can assure you that in the event of a breakdown, it really won’t be. We do recommend that you shop around though, as different companies will have different offers and deals on.

Hopefully this has given you some idea of what to do in the event of a breakdown. It’s not ideal, and we sincerely hope that you are never in the position where you have to follow this advice but it’s always much better to be safe than sorry. 

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