Breaking down
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Running a car

What to do if you break down

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Cars break down. It happens, and chances are at some point it’ll happen to you. It doesn’t matter if you’re driving an old car, a new car, your parent’s car - one day, it’ll be you standing mournfully at the side of the road.

Depending on where you are, it can be tricky or even dangerous to stop so it’s vital you stick your hazard lights on as soon as you realise you’re having problems. This lets other drivers prepare to avoid you if necessary.

  1. If you break down on a normal road

    Keep cool: you just need to get your car out of the way of other traffic as quickly and safely as you can.

    Once you’ve pulled over, you need you and your car to be as visible to other drivers as possible - and that’s even more important if you break down in the dark.

    1. Put on your hazard lights
    2. If you have a reflective jacket, put it on
    3. If it’s safe, put your warning triangle out on the road around 50 metres behind your car
    4. If it’s dark or the visibility is poor keep your sidelights on
    5. Make sure you stand safely out of the oncoming traffic - and if you think there’s any chance your car could be hit, move all your passengers to a safe place too
    6. Once you’re all safe, then it’s time to use your mobile to call for help
  2. If you break down on a motorway

    If you break down on the motorway, try to carry on until the next exit or services rather than pull onto the hard shoulder. If you have no other option, then you should pull onto the hard shoulder as far to the left as possible and stop with your wheels turned to the left.

    1. Immediately put on your hazard and sidelights for increased visibility
    2. Get out of the car by the left-hand door, and get all your passengers to do the same - no one should stay in the car
    3. Get everyone to move onto the bank where they are safe from other vehicles
    4. Leave pets in the car unless they can be kept under proper control
    5. If you have one, put on your reflective jacket, but don’t use your triangle - it’s too dangerous to be fiddling with that behind your car
    6. Call for help

    If you call from one of the emergency phones along the hard shoulder, it’ll have a reference on it that will make it easy for the recovery vehicle to find you. Otherwise, be prepared to explain where you are and which direction you were travelling in so that they can find you.

    Find out more about the hard shoulder.

  3. If you can't make it to the hard shoulder:

    In some extreme circumstances you may not be able to get to the hard shoulder. Stopping on the motorway is extremely dangerous and should be avoided whenever possible.

    If you do end up stopped on a motorway lane:

    1. Put your hazard lights on
    2. Only leave the vehicle if and when you can safely get clear of the carriageway
    3. If you can’t leave the car, use your mobile and call the emergency services immediately by dialling 999

    Getting back on the road:

    If your car has been fixed by the roadside and you need to re-join the carriageway from the hard shoulder, you’ll need to use the hard shoulder to get up speed first and wait for safe gap in the traffic.

     
  4. If you break down on a smart motorway

    If you run into car troubles on a smart motorway - the ones with the big flashy signs overhead - you should, as always, try to get to a safe place such as a service station.

    If you can't, check the sign above the dynamic hard shoulder - this is the left lane, separated by a solid white line as usual. If there is no speed limit showing and the sign is blank or showing a red X, pull over onto the hard shoulder as above.

    When there is a speed limit above the lane, the hard shoulder is in use as an extra lane because another lane is closed or the traffic is heavy. That means if you can't make it to a safe place, you're going to have to stop in a lane.

    If you have no choice but to stop in a lane of traffic:

    1. Put your hazard lights on.
    2. If you’re in the left lane, get out of the car from the left-hand door and climb over the barrier to safety. Otherwise stay in the car and keep your seatbelt on - then use your mobile to dial 999.
    3. The Highways Agency will then be able to adjust the signals to close the lane you’re in while you wait for a recovery vehicle. They’ll also keep an eye on you while you wait.

Is your car ready for tough weather? Check our winter driving infographic.


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Honor joined ingenie in 2014 and is in charge of words on the Young Driver's Guide and blog. Her first car is a Peugeot 206 cabriolet, which is a very sensible choice for the British climate. Follow her on .