If you break down, roadside and breakdown assistance can be a real life saver. But it is important to make sure you and your passengers are safe before calling for help.
Breaking down on the motorway
If you break down on the motorway there are certain procedures you should follow. If your car is still moving, it may be safer to exit the motorway if possible before calling for assistance. If you break down while still on the motorway, the Highways Agency says you should:
- Pull onto the hard shoulder as far to the left as possible.
- Switch on your hazard warning lights.
- Exit the car from the left hand door. Make sure all passengers do the same.
- Leave animals in the car or ensure they are properly controlled on the verge.
- Contact the Highways Agency and wait for help to arrive, staying well away from the hard shoulder and carriageway. Do not re-enter the car.
Remember, the hard shoulder is for emergencies only. It shouldn't be used for toilet stops, to make a non-emergency call on a mobile phone, or to check a map or directions. If you cannot get across to the hard shoulder, you should switch on your hazard warning lights and leave your vehicle only when you can get clear of the carriageway.
Breaking down on other roads
If you break down on another road, it’s best to try and get your car off the road if possible. Switch on your hazard warning lights, especially if you are causing an obstruction.
If you fear your car may be struck by other vehicles, leave the car and get well away from the traffic before calling for assistance. If you have a warning triangle, place this at least 45 metres behind your car on the same side of the road, but only if it is safe to do so.
Calling for assistance
If you break down on the motorway, there are emergency telephones that connect directly to the police or Highways Agency. These are free to use. The operative will be able to take your details and pass them on to the relevant breakdown service. If you do not have cover in place, they may also be able to suggest an alternative, such as a breakdown cover service that will come out and charge for assistance, or a local garage that may be able to tow your car and fix it away from the motorway.
There are posts at the back of the hard shoulder with arrows showing the direction of the nearest emergency phone to your position. You should never cross the motorway to use an emergency phone.
Even if you have your own mobile phone, the Highways Agency suggests that you contact them first using an emergency telephone. If you feel in danger, or have children or other vulnerable passengers, it may be better to use your mobile phone. But you should still get out and away from the vehicle first.
If you break down on another type of road, a mobile phone might be the best way to call for assistance. There are also smartphone apps available that may be able to help pinpoint your location using GPS, as well as connecting to a breakdown service provider.
Give as much information as possible
It will help the breakdown service if you provide them with as many details as possible. These can include your vehicle registration number and the make and colour of your car. The location will also be important.
If calling from an emergency phone on the motorway, the police or Highways Agency will be able to ascertain your location from the phone you are calling from. If you are using a mobile from the hard shoulder of a motorway or on an A-road, there may be blue driver location signs that will help pinpoint your location. These are usually situated at 500 metre intervals, and display the road name (such as M25 or A6), the direction of travel (represented by an 'A' or a 'B') and the distance in kilometres from the start of the motorway.
On other roads it may help if you can see a house number or an easily identifiable landmark, such as a pub or other business. It may also help pinpoint your location if you can see a junction with another road. If you have to walk to find a phone, it may help to write down as many details as you can before you set off. If you have breakdown assistance cover, it will also help to take your card or membership details with you.
The person who answers the phone will probably want to know as much information as possible about the problem to pass on to the mechanics. Even if you know nothing about cars and have no idea what the fault is, describe the symptoms as best as you can. They may also ask if you have children or feel vulnerable, and may prioritise you if this is the case. You will generally be given an estimated response time and be advised to wait in or near your vehicle. If you feel your vehicle may be causing a hazard to other road users you should also mention this fact.Back to top