What to do if you break down on the road

Caroline Cassidy
Road breakdowns
Road breakdowns

Pic: Corbis

The majority of Britons rely on their car or van for getting around, but even well cared for vehicles can breakdown. Stopping roadside is always a potentially hazardous business, and in winter, when dark evenings, poor visibility and bad weather are the norm, it can be even more dangerous.

Follow our step-by-step guide to what to do in a breakdown emergency, and stay safe.

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On the motorway
Where possible, you should always try to make it to a slip road or safe place if you have car trouble on the motorway. But when you are forced to stop on the hard shoulder because of an emergency, safety is of paramount importance.

Pull as far onto left onto the hard shoulder as possible, and turn your wheels turned to the left. Switch on the hazard lights and leave sidelights on, before ensuring that both driver and passengers exit via the left-hand door. Do not attempt to put our a warning triangle, and if you have reflective jackets (always a good idea for winter driving) wear them. If you have pets in the car, it is best to leave them there, but if you must remove them, do so on the left-hand side, and ensure they are kept completely under control. All parties should move as far away from the vehicle (ie. onto a bank or verge) as possible. Never attempt repairs on the hard shoulder, even if it's just changing a tyre.

Once both you and your passengers are safely away from the traffic, use a mobile phone to call for help. The blue driver location signs will enable breakdown services to find you. Alternatively walk to one of the free emergency telephones on your side of the carriageway, which connect directly to the police or relevant Highways Agency, and give full details, including if you are a vulnerable motorist.

In a situation where you are unable to make it to the hard shoulder, switch on your hazard lights, and only attempt to leave your car when you can safely clear the carriageway.

On standard roads
Just as you would on a motorway, the first priority if you break down or have car trouble is to get off the road, if possible, and as far as possible. Immediately switch on your hazard lights to alert other drivers, and leave sidelights on if it is dark or visibility is poor.
Once again, any reflective clothing will help you to stay safe, and again, get all passengers safely out and away from the car, particularly if you have been forced to stop in a dangerous spot or your vehicle is causing an obstruction.

A warning triangle placed at least 45 metres from your car, on the same side of the road, will ensure other motorists are aware of a potential hazard, but do be careful when doing this.

Lastly, think carefully about whether it is safe for you to make any repairs, such as changing a tyre. If you are in any doubt, call for help.