Breaking down abroad

A car breakdown overseas is most drivers’ worst nightmare, and if you are heading on holiday this summer a car breakdown could potentially ruin your travel plans.

Organising for your car to be towed away and repaired may be a simple process in the UK, but if you are unfamiliar with the language of the country you are in it can be difficult to organise the logistics of getting back on the road again.

Many insurers will offer breakdown policies that cover you for driving in the whole of the EU. Putting this in place before you head abroad could potentially save you time and money in the long run, and ensures that you are covered for every eventuality.

Pre-trip planning

Visiting your local garage to get your car serviced and checking that everything is in working order from your engine to your tyres is something many people like to do before taking any long journey. Ask the garage that is servicing your car to check your brakes, lights and tyres as well as checking water, oil and tyre tread and pressure levels.

Having the following items in your car will ensure that you comply with the breakdown rules of most EU countries, and they can act as a safety net while you wait for assistance: a warning triangle, a complete set of bulbs, first aid and a fire extinguisher. You will need to ensure that you have a headlight beam reflector for when driving on the opposite side of the road, as well as a rear GB sticker.

For vehicles made after March 2001, they should already have a number plate with a GB Euro sticker on it, and in this case you shouldn’t need a GB sticker.

Map out your route

Using an online route planner to ensure you have a clear itinerary before you leave may also help to anticipate any potential hazards or problem areas. Tourist offices should be able to provide maps and guides and if you have a sat nav you can also download a map of the country you are visiting.

Understand the road rules in the country you are visiting

Each country has its individual road rules, traffic regulations and driving style and you may find that it is easier to familiarise yourself with these before you take your trip abroad. The Foreign Office website offers safety tips for driving abroad and embassies may also be able to provide you with the information you need.

You may need to take extra caution when you are approaching junctions and roundabouts as everything will be the reverse of rules in the UK.

As an example of differing road rules, if you break down on an auto route in France it is illegal to call with your mobile phone and you need to use the SOS boxes to call for assistance.

Understanding key road signs in another language can also be helpful so that you understand that parking in a 'zona de grua' in Spain, for example, will mean that you will be towed away.

Ensure all your paperwork is in place

Before you take your trip you will need to ensure that you have your full driving licence (plus its paper counterpart if you have a photocard licence), and the full details of your insurance policy.

It may also be helpful to bring along your vehicle registration document (you can apply for a replacement using Form V62, which you can get from a Post Office or direct from the DVLA), and take copies of all your documents, as you might with your passport, in the event that you should lose them or they are stolen.

Green cards

The Green Card system is overseen by the Economic Commission for Europe. It is not an insurance policy but it is proof that the minimum legal requirements for third party liability insurance, in any country for which the Green Card is valid, are covered by the insured individual’s own motor policy. You will need to ask your insurer if they will provide you with a green card.

A green card is needed in the following countries: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, Moldova, Morocco, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine.

Breakdown cover

As with a breakdown scenario in the UK, when you breakdown abroad the first step is to call your policy provider who will arrange for your vehicle to be towed to the nearest garage if it can’t be repaired at the roadside. Your breakdown provider may also help you with alternative transport or accommodation, as well as providing repatriation to the UK for you and your passengers if this is required.

If you are hiring a car abroad then the rental company will probably be responsible for any repairs or assistance you will need in relation to your hire car.

Check that you have breakdown cover that covers the EU. You may be able to ask your insurer to upgrade you policy to encompass European cover if this is not already in place.

Having breakdown cover in place will mean that you are able to call English-speaking representatives at all times of the day to get assistance.

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