What Should You Do If Your Car Breaks Down?

You’re on the road. You hear a weird noise. Your dashboard lights up and your vehicle isn’t operating as it should. Not sure what to do? We’re here to guide you through the process of what actions to take when your car breaks down. 

My car has broken down what do I do?

Should your vehicle break down, it is advised to follow the following steps to stay safe and prevent putting yourself and others in any danger: 

Step 1: Remain calm and respect other drivers on the road 

  • This will ensure your safety as well as that of other passengers in the vehicle and road users 

Step 2: Ensure your vehicle is in a safe place 

  • Attempt to pull over off the road if possible 
  • If on a motorway, and cannot get off on the next exit, pull onto the hard shoulder. However, do note that the hard shoulder is for emergency use only. 
  • Please stop as far to the left as possible turning your wheels to the left 

Step 3: Put on your Hazard Lights 

  • To let other road users know that you are experiencing difficulties, and whether the vehicle has come to a complete stop or not, turn on your hazard warning lights 
  • Do this at any time of day and if it is dark, foggy, or low visibility, keep your sidelights on as well 

Step 4: Leaving the vehicle 

  • Ensure you leave the vehicle by the left-hand door or the furthest away from oncoming traffic
  • Wear a reflective high-vis jacket if you have one or light-coloured clothing. This is especially important at night or in low visibility. 
  • It is ideal to stand away from the car in the opposite direction that you were travelling to help keep you safe if another vehicle comes close or hits your car. If possible, get behind a safety barrier if it is safe to do so to keep out of harm’s way. 

Step 5: Placement of Warning Triangle 

  • Put your warning triangle 45 metres (147 feet) behind your vehicle (this is about 50 yards or 60 paces) 
  • Do not do this if you are on a Motorway or on the hard shoulder as it is not safe! 

Step 6: Contact a breakdown service or local garage for assistance 

  • You can still contact breakdown companies even if you have no coverage including the RAC or AA. However, it may be more expensive in these cases. 
  • If on a motorway if it is recommended to call National Highways on 0300 123 5000
  • Local nearby garages may also be able to assist by sending someone out to try and fix your car or offer recovery services to bring it back to their garage for further repair 
  • If you do not carry or have access to a mobile, then it is recommended to walk to an emergency phone to call for help free of any charges. Follow the arrow on the posts that support the hard shoulder barrier. 

You may refer to the highway code for further information. 

Your vehicle has broken down on a motorway

It is vital to take precautions when on the motorway to ensure safety as although they are considered among the safest roads, it can be especially dangerous in a breakdown situation. 

Your vehicle breaks down on the hard shoulder

Follow the below steps should your vehicle have a problem or run into troubles on the motorway: 

Step 1: Exit the motorway

  • It is recommended to leave the motorway at the next exit or pull into a service station 
  • If this is not possible, pull up onto the hard shoulder stopping as far left as you can with the wheels turned to the left 

Step 2: Leave the vehicle safely and remain in a place away from traffic 

  • Put your hazard warning lights on and if it is dark or low visibility, the sidelights too
  • Exit the vehicle using the doors facing away from any oncoming traffic and get yourself and passengers over the safety barriers. Wait here. 
  • Pets are likely to be much safer if left inside the vehicle. This avoids the chance of them running onto the road. For ventilation, roll down the window a fraction of the way
  • Make yourself visible by wearing a high-vis jacket if possible 

Step 3: Get Help

  • Contact breakdown services 
  • Do not attempt to do any basic repairs yourself as it is not safe to do so. There could be a risk of being hit by another vehicle 
  • Do not use and put out the warning triangle as it is dangerous due to the speed of passing traffic
SOS help sign

Smart motorways and no hard shoulder

There may be times when your vehicle breaks down on a smart motorway and there is no hard shoulder. In these instances, follow these guidelines: 

Step 1: Get your vehicle to an emergency refuge area (ERA)

  • Make your way to a service area or try to leave at the next junction if the vehicle is still drivable. 
  • Aim for the next ERA if this cannot be done 

Step 2: If in a live lane, remember to go left 

  • Put your left indicators on while moving into the left lane 
  • Turn on your hazard lights and if it is low visibility, your sidelights as well 
  • Ensure both you and your passengers exit the vehicle on the left-hand side. If you have hi-vis jackets, put these on at the time 
  • Distance yourself from oncoming traffic and wait behind any safety barriers 
  • If you’re stuck in the vehicle, it’s not safe to leave, or have stopped in a live traffic lane dial 999 and stay in the vehicle with your seatbelts and hazard lights on

Step 3: Call for Assistance 

  • If at an ERA, use an SOS phone to contact the Regional Control Centre. This is a must! Give as much information as possible to the operator 
  • Contact Breakdown Services 
  • Dial 999 if in a live lane 

Rejoining the motorway

It is essential that after the vehicle has been fixed, to take caution and carefully rejoin the motorway. If on the hard shoulder, build up speed before rejoining and look out for a safe entryway within the traffic. If in an emergency refuge area, breakdown services can contact the Regional Control Centre on the SOS phone to make sure the lane is closed. It needs to be closed as there would not be enough space when building up speed. Do not leave an ERA unless instructed that it is safe to do so. 

How to be prepared for a breakdown and essential tips 

Planning in notebook

Essentials To Keep In Your Car Breakdown Kit: in this article, you’ll find a list of top breakdown kit essentials to keep on hand and be prepared for the worst. It is also recommended to consider getting breakdown cover and not to ignore any dashboard warning indicators or funny noises your car makes. 

To ensure your vehicle is kept in tip-top shape and avoid any risk of breaking down, we recommend regularly servicing it and taking it in for an MOT test. Through ClickMechanic you can book your MOT test for only £19 when booked with a service at the same time! This can help to save you both time and money as many mechanics can undertake the service before the MOT, which helps to spot any issues that can cause your MOT to fail. They may also complete all required maintenance work in one session, preventing you from organising separate servicing and MOT appointments.