What to do if your vehicle breaks down

If you break down on the road it can be scary and stressful, but knowing what to do can help you stay safe while you get help. Here is what to do if your vehicle breaks down.

The best way to avoid a breakdown is to make sure your vehicle is well maintained through regular servicing and checking things like your tyres and oil.

What to do when you break down

What you need to do depends on where you break down:

On a motorway

You must not use a warning triangle on the motorway hard shoulder.

  1. Turn on your hazard lights: This warns other drivers that your car is experiencing problems and may cause an obstruction or hazard.

  2. Pull over: Move as far away from traffic as you can by exiting the motorway or moving onto the hard shoulder.

  3. Get everyone out of the car: Move behind the crash barrier, or up the verge if on the hard shoulder. Leave any pets in the car. Wear a high visibility jacket if you have one so you will be seen if it is dark.

  4. Do not try to fix the problem yourself: You could put yourself in danger so always wait for professional assistance and do not return to your car if possible.

  5. Call for help: Contact your breakdown cover provider if you have a policy. If not, use the nearest emergency telephone for help.

On a road

  1. Turn on your hazard lights and move your car off the road: Find somewhere away from traffic to pull over and park your car.

  2. Safely exit your car: Get everyone out of the car using the doors facing away from oncoming traffic and find a safe place to wait.

  3. Use your warning triangle: If you have one, put a warning triangle at least 45 meters behind your vehicle to alert other road users.

  4. Contact your breakdown provider: If your car is obstructing traffic, call the police first who can help divert traffic.

If you find a safe place to stop away from traffic you can try to fix the problem yourself. If you are unsure what the problem is, you should wait for professional assistance.

What you need to tell your breakdown provider

Keep your breakdown cover membership card in your car, because It will show your membership number and the contact details you need to call for assistance.

When you call, you will be asked for the following information:

  • Your full name and breakdown membership number

  • Your location, for example the name of the road or nearest motorway junction

  • Your contact number

  • The cause of the breakdown, if you know it

How long will it take for help to arrive?

This depends on the provider and if your breakdown is considered a priority, but most aim to get to you within 45 minutes.

Most give priority to people in dangerous situations, such as if you have broken down on the motorway.

What happens next?

Your provider will send out a qualified engineer who will attempt to fix your car by the side of the road.

If they cannot repair your vehicle within a reasonable time, or the problem needs more extensive work, they will tow your vehicle to a garage.

Where you are towed to depends on the level of breakdown cover you have:

  • Roadside assistance: You will be towed to the nearest garage to your location

  • Vehicle recovery: You can choose to be towed to any location in the UK

If your policy includes onward travel cover, your provider can give you a hire car, or pay for the cost of emergency hotel accommodation if you are stranded far away from home.

Here is how to work out which breakdown cover is right for you.

What to do if you do not have breakdown cover

  • Contact a local garage, who may be able to come out and tow your vehicle back to their location, but they could charge you for this.

  • Use an emergency telephone to call for help if you have broken down on a motorway, and get towed to the nearest garage. This can cost over £100.

  • Get a policy after you have broken down. Most let you do this and then come out to assist you, but you will be charged a one off fee of up to £90.

Compare instant breakdown policies here

By comparing breakdown cover providers, you can find a policy that gives you the level of cover you need at a price you can afford.