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What to Do if You Break Down on The Motorway

Breaking down anywhere on the roads can often be a stressful situation to be in but breaking down on the motorway can be tricky. However, if you understand the exact process to follow, and what to do if something goes wrong, you will be back up and running in no time!

Quick Links:

What happens if you break down on the motorway?
What steps should you take when you break down in the UK?
Breaking down on the motorway with no cover: what to do?
What to do if you break down in Europe?
How can you reduce chances of a break down?

Motorway at Night in the UK

What happens if you break down on the motorway?

There are different things that could happen if you think you have broken down on the motorway. Some common causes of breakdowns are:

  • Flat or faulty battery
  • Damaged tyres or wheels
  • Alternator fault
  • Fuel problems
  • Starter motor
  • Clutch cables
  • Spark plugs
  • High-tension leads

Often your car may feel heavy, the engine may stutter or, worse case scenario, the car stops in its tracks all together. You may even hear an unusual sound that you haven’t heard before and you feel it is necessary to get it checked out rather than carry on with your journey. It can be stressful when you break down on the motorway, and no situation is the same, so it is difficult to pin-point exactly what happens when you break down. However, it is important to understand the steps that you should take if you have come to a stop, or need to, on the motorway.

What steps should you take when you break down in the UK?

Once you have realised you have or are about to break down, there are a few steps to take to ensure that you and your passengers are safe and to get your car back up and running to continue your journey. See the top tips below that explain exactly what to do if you find yourself in this sticky situation:

When you realise that your car is about to break down or is causing problems and you think you have to stop, indicate to go into the left-hand lane, slow down and pull onto the hard shoulder.

If there is no hard shoulder, don’t panic. Instead, turn off at the next exit and safely pull over as soon as you can.

If you can’t pull over at the next exit, stop as far to the left as you possibly can. If there is no other option but for you to stay in the left-hand lane, make sure you pull across to the left as far as you possibly can. This is to ensure that oncoming vehicles can safely pass you by or drive in the middle lane.

Before you leave the vehicle, remember to switch on your hazard lights if you haven’t done already. This is to ensure that other motorists can see you have broken down; if it is dark outside then switch on your side wall lights and if it is foggy then switch on your fog lights.

When you feel as though your vehicle is parked in a safe position and your exterior lights are on, then you should leave the vehicle. Always leave the vehicle through the left-hand passenger side on motorways or busy roads, unless completely impossible to do so. This way you will not be in danger from the oncoming traffic on the right-hand side.

If you feel as though it is an emergency situation and you cannot leave your vehicle, then call the police. The police will be able to advise you on what to do next and will be able to bring you to safety and control the traffic.

Ensure that all passenger leave the car from the left-hand side, but make sure to leave any luggage and pets inside the car. Pets may become distressed on the side of the road with so many cars driving by at speed and cause a hazard for other motorists. If you feel as though it is too dangerous to leave your pets in the car, then follow the Highway Code’s advice and bring your pet out of the car, but ensure they are kept under control at all times.

Once you have safely left your vehicle then call for breakdown assistance. Whether you have breakdown cover or not, most genuine motor assist companies will be able to deal with your broken-down car at a cost. Read more below what to do if you when you break down with no cover.

If you don’t have a mobile phone or it has inconveniently run out of battery, then there try not to panic! Emergency telephones are situated in one-mile intervals along hard shoulders. These are in bright orange boxes so are difficult to miss.

When walking to an emergency phone, stay on the hard shoulder and face the oncoming traffic! This means you need to turn around and walk in the direction that you came from so that you can see any dangers coming towards you in the traffic. These phones connect you straight to the Highways Agency or the police. It’s important to note that they will want as much detail as possible, so know your exact location, the road you are on, your registration plate and your nearest exit.

1. Pull over to a safe place

When you realise that your car is about to break down or is causing problems and you think you have to stop, indicate to go into the left-hand lane, slow down and pull onto the hard shoulder. If there is no hard shoulder, don’t panic. Instead, turn off at the next exit and safely pull over as soon as you can. If you can’t pull over at the next exit, stop as far to the left as you possibly can. If there is no other option but for you to stay in the left-hand lane, make sure you pull across to the left as far as you possibly can. This is to ensure that oncoming vehicles can safely pass you by or drive in the middle lane.

2. Switch on your hazards

Before you leave the vehicle, remember to switch on your hazard lights if you haven’t done already. This is to ensure that other motorists can see you have broken down; if it is dark outside then switch on your side wall lights and if it is foggy then switch on your fog lights.

3. Exit the vehicle on the left

When you feel as though your vehicle is parked in a safe position and your exterior lights are on, then you should leave the vehicle. Always leave the vehicle through the left-hand passenger side on motorways or busy roads, unless completely impossible to do so. This way you will not be in danger from the oncoming traffic on the right-hand side. If you feel as though it is an emergency situation and you cannot leave your vehicle, then call the police. The police will be able to advise you on what to do next and will be able to bring you to safety and control the traffic.

4. Leave your pets and luggage in the car

Ensure that all passenger leave the car from the left-hand side, but make sure to leave any luggage and pets inside the car. Pets may become distressed on the side of the road with so many cars driving by at speed and cause a hazard for other motorists. If you feel as though it is too dangerous to leave your pets in the car, then follow the Highway Code’s advice and bring your pet out of the car, but ensure they are kept under control at all times.

5. Call for breakdown help

Once you have safely left your vehicle then call for breakdown assistance. Whether you have breakdown cover or not, most genuine motor assist companies will be able to deal with your broken-down car at a cost. Read more below what to do if you when you break down with no cover.

6. No mobile phone? No need to worry!

If you don’t have a mobile phone or it has inconveniently run out of battery, then there try not to panic! Emergency telephones are situated in one-mile intervals along hard shoulders. These are in bright orange boxes so are difficult to miss.The easiest and quickest way to locate an emergency phone is to follow the arrows on the posts at the back of the hard shoulder.

When walking to an emergency phone, stay on the hard shoulder and face the oncoming traffic! This means you need to turn around and walk in the direction that you came from so that you can see any dangers coming towards you in the traffic. These phones connect you straight to the Highways Agency or the police. It’s important to note that they will want as much detail as possible, so know your exact location, the road you are on, your registration plate and your nearest exit.

Breaking down on the motorway with no cover: what to do?

If you have a working mobile phone with you, once you have pulled over safely, you can compare breakdown providers online, find an instant cover suitable for you and ring the provider. This allows you to purchase a policy and get road assistance immediately, but this can be costly. The following providers can help you if you break down without cover:

  • AA: 0800 887 766
  • RAC: 0333 2000 999
  • Green Flag: 0800 051 0636

Motorway at Dusk in Europe

What to do if you break down in Europe?

Are you thinking about taking a European road trip but unsure whether you feel confident on the EU roads? Firstly, it is important to know that breaking down on the motorway in Europe does not differ too much from breaking down in the UK.

  1. You must still pull over onto the hard shoulder or as far away from traffic as you can. If you have not driven on a European road or been on the European motorway before, you may not realise that the maximum speed limit tends to be higher than that in the UK, so it is important to stay safely away from the traffic.
  2. Once you have pulled over in the safest place you can, switch on the hazard lights and side or fog lights if necessary, just as you would here in the UK.
  3. Leave the vehicle from the passenger side or the side without furthest away from the traffic. Put on a high visibility vest and ensure all passengers are safe.
  4. In some European countries it is the law to carry a warning triangle with you in your car whilst driving, so if this is the case, display the warning triangle if it is safe to do so.
  5. If you have breakdown cover, then ring your provider and arrange a pick-up and repair service.
  6. If you do not have breakdown cover, research the contact of a local mechanic or anybody you know in the area who may be able to help you. If your language skills are not up to scratch, you could face difficulties if the mechanic cannot speak English. You may be better off finding the number of a European breakdown cover and applying for an instant cover service, just as you would in the UK.
  7. If you are unfamiliar with the problem or are unexperienced, do not attempt to repair the car yourself if you are; sit back and wait for road assistance to arrive.

The moral of this is to always make sure you have breakdown cover, no matter where you are in the country.

Mechanic Tools

How can you reduce the chances of a breakdown?

Before taking long trips, it would be a good idea to check your car thoroughly to reduce your chances of breaking down as best you can.

  • Tyres and wheels: if you’re tyres aren’t safe then there is a high probability that your journey won’t be either. It is vital to check that your tyres have a tread depth of 1.6mm and that the tyre pressure is correct. For more detail about tyre pressure, check out our intensive guide that tells you everything you need to know about tyre pressure.
  • Lights: check that all of your lights are in working order. Work your way around the car and then make sure you take spare bulbs with you just in case; this could save you a lot of time, money and stress in the long run.
  • Service: if you are going on an extensive road trip or driving out of the country, it could be a good idea to get your car serviced. Again, this could help you in the long run when it comes to cost and chances of a break down.
  • Clean your car: it’s also a good idea to give your car a proper clean before you take a trip. Wash the mirrors and windows properly and clean the wheels so that you can check for any damages. You could do an extensive car clean both inside and out to benefit from both a comfortable and safe trip.
  • Fluids: all fluids should be filled properly to avoid breaking down; this includes engine oil, brake fluid, coolant, screen wash, power steering fluid and of course, fuel.

So whether you’re driving a short way on the motorway, off on a UK road trip or heading to Europe and beyond, you will now know how to reduce chances of a breakdown and how to handle the tricky situation on the motorway!