What to do if your car breaks down in the UK

Someone standing next to their broken down car.

Whether you’re on a busy motorway or in the back of beyond, being stranded with a broken down car can be both stressful and scary.

And while there isn’t always too much you can do to prevent a breakdown, you can make sure that you’re prepared for any eventuality.

I’ve broken down on the motorway

There is no scarier sight than seeing your car shut down while travelling on a busy motorway. If this happens to you, follow these steps:

  • Use your hazard lights: As soon as your exhaust starts spluttering or your engine cuts out, use your hazard lights to warn other drivers that you’ll be coming to a halt pretty soon.
  • Pull over: Use whatever power your vehicle has left to get yourself as far away from traffic as you can. Ideally, you’ll want to leave the motorway, but if you can’t, use the hard shoulder.
  • Get out on the left: Once the car is static, get yourself and any passengers out through the doors on the left, away from oncoming traffic. You should leave any pets in the vehicle. Stand behind the crash barrier on the side of the road, or up on the verge if there is one.
  • Call your breakdown cover provider: If you have breakdown insurance, motorway recovery should be included as standard – you should contact them directly from your mobile phone. If you don’t have breakdown cover, use one of the SOS phones located along the motorway which will put you through to the Highways Agency or the police.

NOTE: If your car breaks down on the motorway, do not use a warning triangle as this can cause further disruption.

What is a hard shoulder?

The hard shoulder is a lane on the furthest left hand-side of the motorway which is usually reserved for emergency stoppages, such as breakdowns.

It is illegal to drive on the hard shoulder unless given permission to do so by the police or Highways Agency.

I’ve broken down on a road

While not as frightening as breaking down on the motorway, breaking down on a normal road can be annoying and can completely ruin you plans for the day.

If this happens to you, follow these steps:

  • Turn on your hazard lights: Your hazard lights help to warn other drivers that you are obstructing the road.
  • Pull over: Find somewhere safe to pull over, as far away from the traffic as you possibly can. Ideally, you’ll want to get your car off the road completely.
  • Get out your warning triangle: If you have a warning triangle handy, place it at least 45 metres behind your broken down car to warn other drivers. If you don’t have one, you can buy one for less than £5 here.
  • Contact your breakdown cover provider: If you’ve taken out breakdown cover on your vehicle, the company will come to your rescue. If you don’t have cover, most companies will recover you for a one-off fee if you call them.

What information do I need to tell my breakdown cover provider?

If you have breakdown cover, your provider will need the following details in order to recover you:

  • Your full name
  • Your membership number (found on emails, letters and the app if they have one)
  • Your mobile number
  • The potential cause of breakdown, if you know what it is

Most breakdown providers aim to have a mechanic by your side within the hour. This can, however, vary depending on the time of day and time of year among other factors.

If you are in a dangerous situation, you will be noted as a priority case and dealt with as soon as possible.

What happens now?

The fate of your next few hours will vary, depending on what level of breakdown cover you have.

All breakdown cover packages will provide you with roadside assistance, meaning a mechanic will be sent to your location. If they can’t fix your vehicle at roadside, you will be towed you to a local garage.

You can upgrade your breakdown cover to include extras like vehicle recover, onward travel, home start and European cover, all of which provide you with additional services to make your recovery smoother.

For more information on the different levels of breakdown cover available, read Bobatoo’s complete guide to breakdown cover.

What happens if I don’t have breakdown cover?

If you haven’t taken out a breakdown cover policy, make sure you check whether or not basic cover is included with your car insurance – this is usually an optional extra, though some people are unaware that they have it!

If you don’t have any form of breakdown cover, you can try contacting a local garage who might be willing to recover your vehicle for a fee.

If you’ve broken down on a motorway, you can use the SOS phones located on the side of the road to request a tow to the nearest garage, but this can be costly.

Most breakdown cover providers will recover non-customers if you call them, while some will let you take out cover after you’ve broken down at an extra cost.

Bobatoo has reviewed a wide range of the best breakdown cover providers to help find a policy which suits you - head over to our breakdown cover reviews page to have a look.

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