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What to do if you break down

Vehicle Recovery Service

In the event of a breakdown it’s important to know what to do for your own safety and the safety of other drivers

When was the last time you saw a broken-down car on the hard shoulder of a motorway? Chances are, you’ll struggle to remember.

For those of us who’ve been on the roads for a few decades – either as a passenger or a driver – broken-down cars used to be a staple sight of long journeys and jump-leads a must-have item in the boot. If you find yourself having to pull over to the side of the road these days, it’s more likely to be to take a phone call than open the bonnet.

It’s possible that many will have forgotten what to do in this situation, aside from call a breakdown service for recovery. With that in mind, here are our top tips on what to do if you break down.

If you break down on any road other than a motorway

  • • Get your car off the road or as far over to the left-hand side of the road as possible
  • • Turn your hazard warning lights on and make sure your headlights are on if it’s dark or visibility is poor
  • • Put on a hi-vis jacket and lightly coloured clothing if you have them
  • • Carefully place a warning triangle 45 metres (about 150 feet) behind your car, on the same side of the road. Don’t forget to retrieve it when you’re rescued!
  • • Get off the road if at all possible. If it’s not, don’t stand between your car and oncoming traffic

If you break down on the motorway

They’re the safest to drive on, but motorways are a daunting place to break down. Knowing what to do should take as much worry as possible out of the situation.

Get to the hard shoulder at the first hint of trouble. If your car starts to hiccup, judder or behave unusually in any way, move to the hard shoulder as quickly and safely as you can.

You might be hoping that the issue is temporary and will resolve itself, but you don’t want to break down in the outside lane where traffic is doing 70mph. If your car breaks down in a live lane and you can’t get to the hard shoulder, this is obviously an extremely dangerous situation.

Immediately put on your hazard warning lights and apply the handbrake. Stay in your car with your seatbelt on unless you think you can safely get clear of the carriageway. Dial 999 and follow the instructions of the emergency services. Do not attempt to deploy a warning triangle.

Assuming you are able to get to the hard shoulder

  • • Pull over as far to the left as possible with your wheels pointed towards the kerb
  • • Turn on your hazard-warning lights and headlights and apply the handbrake
  • • Get out of your car through the passenger-side door and use an emergency roadside telephone rather than your mobile to call for help, as this enables recovery services to pinpoint where you are more precisely
  • • Make sure you face traffic when speaking on the phone and be sure to inform the operator if you have young or vulnerable people travelling with you
  • • Climb over the crash barrier and stand well behind it while you await rescue. Don’t attempt to deploy a warning triangle
  • • If the recovery service manages to repair your car on the hard shoulder, don’t forget to build up speed quickly before rejoining the main carriageway

If you’re on a ‘smart motorway’

If you have to stop on one of a ‘smart motorway’ where the hard shoulder has been converted into a live traffic lane, look out for one of the regular ‘Emergency Refuge Areas’ (ERAs) that allow you to pull off the motorway safely.

If you’re able to get your car restarted in the ERA, you must use the emergency telephone provided there before you leave, as ERAs aren’t long enough to build up enough speed to rejoin the carriageway safely. The Highways Agency will either send a traffic officer to help you or close the inside lane to allow you to rejoin the motorway safely.

Recovery options

Many new cars come with breakdown cover and main dealers often provide cover if you have your car serviced with them. If neither of these apply to you, taking out third-party breakdown cover is recommended for peace of mind.

If you don’t have cover when you break down, don’t panic – most rescue services allow you to join (for their normal fee) over the phone at the roadside before rescuing you. You might prefer to call a local garage and arrange for a tow, but this will usually incur a call-out charge as well as a cost-per-mile for towing.

Be prepared

Although breaking down is quite unusual these days, we still recommend that you carry a few useful items with you in case it does happen. These include:

  • • A torch
  • • Two hi-vis jackets
  • • A hazard-warning triangle
  • • A pair of walking shoes and a couple of old jackets (especially in winter months)
  • • A mobile phone: get a cheap one that runs on AA batteries and keep it in your glovebox for emergencies. A car charger for your smartphone may sound like a good idea, but if your car has an electrical problem, it may not work
  • • A road atlas. You may break down in an area with no mobile signal and this can help you figure out exactly where you are

It’s reassuring to know that car reliability has improved so much that breakdowns are becoming less and less frequent (almost 50% rarer according to some sources).

Read more:  What to do if you break down | Carbuyer
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