Whether you’re a new driver or a seasoned motorist, breaking down is never great. As well as costs to cover in the aftermath, the feeling of being stranded – especially on a motorway – can be a worrying experience.

But by being prepared, knowing what to do in the event of a breakdown can make the situation a lot less stressful than it needs to be.

Here, we’ll guide you through what to do when breaking down on different roads, how to be more prepared in the event of future breakdowns, and what you should do it you don’t have breakdown cover. Let’s get started below…

What to do when you break down – general advice

  • Remain calm, take a few breaths, and be mindful of other road users
  • Try to move your vehicle off the road if possible
  • Switch on your hazard lights. If it’s dark or foggy, switch on your sidelights too
  • Exit the car through the left-hand door. If you have a hi-vis vest to hand, then put it on
  • Unless you’re on a motorway, place a warning triangle 45 metres behind your vehicle (this equates to around 60 paces)
  • Call your breakdown service

What to do when broken down on a motorway

Breaking down on a motorway can be especially scary. That’s why it’s important to follow the correct precautions to stay as safe as possible.

Step 1: Leave the motorway

If it’s possible, leave the motorway at the nearest exit or pull into a service station. If this isn’t possible then pull over onto the hard shoulder and stop your car as far to the left as possible. Be sure to also turn your wheels to the left.

Step 2: Exit your car safely

Turn on your hazard lights, as well as your sidelights if it’s dark or foggy. You and your passengers should also leave the car using the left-hand door. If you have them, now’s the time to put on your hi-vis.

Stand behind the safety barriers so you’re away from any passing traffic.

emergency phone

Step 3: Call your breakdown service

Using your mobile, get in touch with your breakdown service. If you don’t have a mobile phone to hand, walk to an emergency telephone (free of charge) on your side of the motorway. These are generally spaced one mile apart; breakdown services also use them as markers so they can more easily spot you.

Remember: whenever you’re using an emergency telephone, always face traffic.

If you do break down on a motorway, at no point should you try any of the following:

  • Attempt repairs
  • Place a warning triangle anywhere on the motorway, including on dual carriageways
  • Stand on the carriageway or between your car and other passing vehicles

What to do when broken down on a smart motorway

Without a hard shoulder to contend with, smart motorways have their own set of precautions to take. Here’s what you need to do should you break down on a smart motorway.

Step 1: Try to exit the motorway

Switch on your hazard lights and move into the left-hand lane. Next, exit the motorway at the nearest junction, service station, or emergency area – look out for orange SOS signs; these indicate safe sections of road.

Step 2: Exit the vehicle safely

As with regular motorway breakdowns, turn on your sidelights if it’s dark or foggy, and exit the car using the left-hand door. Again, put on your hi-vis jacket if you have one.

Stand behind the safety barriers to avoid passing traffic.

Step 3: Use the emergency phone service

It’s essential that you use the telephone found in the emergency refuge area. Be sure to provide the operator with as much information as you can. It’s also worth asking them to contact your breakdown service on your behalf.

Once the call is complete, stand behind the emergency barrier.

As with regular motorways, the same advice regarding attempted repairs, placing warning triangles, and standing between your car and other passing vehicles applies here.


What to do when broken down on an A-road or dual carriageway

A fast-moving road can prove just as dangerous as a motorway. Follow the advice below to stay safe after your car has broken down.

Step 1: Exit the road

If it’s possible, try to get off the dual carriageway or A-road and onto a quieter minor road. If that isn’t possible, pull into a lay-by or get as far across to the left of the road as possible.

Step 2: Turn on your hazard lights

To make other motorists aware of your situation, switch on your hazard lights. If it’s dark or foggy, turn on your sidelights too.

Step 3: Exit your vehicle

Leave your car from the left-hand side, put on a hi-vis jacket if you’ve got one and place a warning triangle behind your car.

Step 4: Call your breakdown provider

After informing your breakdown provider, wait outside your vehicle on the other side of the safety barrier.

What to do when broken down in a city or town centre

With a high potential for blockages and traffic jams, breaking down in an urban area can be stressful. Follow the steps below to keep those stress levels to a minimum.

Step 1: Exit the road

If it’s possible, move your car out of the way to a parking spot or side road so that other drivers can make their way past.

Step 2: Turn on your hazard lights

So that other motorists know you’ve broken down, turn on your hazard lights.

Step 3: Call your breakdown service

Once you’re out of other motorists’ way, give your breakdown service or local garage a call.

man on the phone to breakdown services

What if I break down without breakdown cover?

If you end up breaking down but don’t have breakdown cover (either as part of your car insurance or as a standalone policy), then don’t fret. You can still seek assistance.

Without breakdown cover, there a few options available to you:

  • You can still call a breakdown company and ask for emergency assistance. Keep in mind, you’ll more than likely have to foot the bill to pay for the cost of any help you get – which could be hundreds of pounds.
  • Join a breakdown provider there and then. Keep in mind, you’ll likely have to pay an additional charge, which can be as much £90.
  • Alternatively, you could also call a local garage to see if they can help. While this tends to be a cheaper option, there’s a chance they might not be available to assist you outside of normal working hours or at weekends.
  • In the event that you break down where roadworks are, then the Highways Agency might be able to tow you away.

How to prepare for a breakdown in the future

Minimising the stress of a breakdown is a case of being properly prepared. By keeping the following tips in mind, you’ll be in a better position to deal with a breakdown in the future.

  • To curb the chances of breaking down in the first place, be sure to get your car regularly serviced.
  • Make sure your breakdown cover is up to date. For more information on what’s included in breakdown cover, the types available to your and how expensive it is, head here.
  • Pack a road map so you can work out where you and where the nearest place to get help is.
  • Keep a warning triangle in the boot of your car
  • Have some spare change on you. This will help in the event that you break down in rural areas and you’re unable to get signal on your mobile phone
  • Pack walking boots and a waterproof jacket. There’s a chance you may have to walk to an emergency telephone, and British weather being the way it is, you might have to do that when it’s raining
  • You should also pack warm clothes and a blanket in your boot, just in case you break down during the colder months!

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