What To Do When Your Car Breaks Down

If you experience a vehicle breakdown, your first and most important priority is making sure you and any passengers stay safe. Driving a vehicle that breaks down can be a dangerous situation, especially if you’re travelling on a busy road, such as a motorway, at the time.

Let’s take a look at some of the steps you can take to stay safe in a breakdown.

  1. Stop in a safe place
  2. Exit the vehicle from the passenger side
  3. Find a safe and secure spot for passengers outside of the vehicle
  4. Keep pets inside the vehicle
  5. Call RAC Breakdown Cover for help on 0330 2000 999.

Already broken down? 

If you've currently broken down contact us on 0330 2000 999.
This can be used by both RAC Members and non-members.

Stop in a safe place

If you believe your car is on the verge of breaking down for whatever reason - unusual noises, strange vibrations, smoke coming from the engine - slow down and find somewhere safe to park.

If you’re driving on a motorway and cannot get to an exit or services, you might need to pull over on the hard shoulder. You should try to park as far to the left as you can, with your wheels turned to the left. Put your hazard warning lights on too, so that other motorists are aware of the situation.

Exit the vehicle from the passenger side

If you have pulled over onto the hard shoulder, don’t get out of the driver side door - you will put yourself at risk with passing traffic that is moving at fast speed. Instead, step out of the passenger side, away from the traffic.

Find a safe and secure spot for passengers

If you have passengers in the car, advise them to exit the vehicle in the same way - from the passenger side. Then, they should stay as clear from the vehicle - and the road - as possible. If you’re on the motorway or a major A road, passengers should gather behind the nearest safety barrier or as far up the grass verge as they can. The further away from the road, the better.

Keep pets inside

If you’re driving with pets in the car, under most circumstances it is safer to leave animals in the vehicle than take them out. Do ensure windows are open wide enough to provide ventilation, especially on a hot day - and that drinking water is available.

Call for breakdown cover help

Now everyone in the car is out of the vehicle and is safe, call for breakdown assistance. Don’t worry, even if you’re not an existing member of the RAC you can still call for support. Call us on 0333 2000 999. This number is available for members and non-members of the RAC.

No mobile phone?

If you don’t have a mobile phone with you, and are not travelling with anyone who has a mobile, you should use an SOS phone. These are phones are located every mile along the motorway. They are easy to identify as they are in orange boxes. Make a call directly to the police or Highways Agency, who can help you.

Call the emergency services

If there is nowhere safe outside the vehicle for driver and passengers to wait, and a strong chance your vehicle could be struck, then call the police and the emergency services immediately. Put your hazard lights on, keep your seatbelt on, and tell the police your location.

Be prepared for a vehicle breakdown

Vehicle breakdowns can and do occur with little or no warning, so it pays to be prepared. There is every chance your car might break down when it’s cold, or dark - or both - so having important items with you can really help. If you’re planning a long journey in winter, for example, make sure you have the following items with you:

Warm clothing
Gloves and hat
Jump leads
Reflective clothing
Torch and spare batteries

Maintain your vehicle’s condition

Finally, although breakdowns can happen at any time, and for a range of reasons, there are some pre-emptive measures you can deploy to reduce the risk.

Regular maintenance of your vehicle can help to avoid some common causes of a breakdown, including checking the condition and pressure of your tyres, and topping up oil and water levels.

Make sure your vehicle is serviced at regular intervals, and don’t ignore any warnings lights on the dashboard. And, if your car’s performance seems to be affected at all, don’t neglect this. Take it to a garage and get a professional mechanic to check it over.


Please note that this information is for guidance only and not to be relied upon as advice.

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