Broken down car on a grey day

Can I Leave a Broken Down Car?

Besides a crash, there’s probably nothing worse from a driver’s perspective than a breakdown. The impact this can have on you varies based on several factors, like how far from your destination or your home that the car dies to the severity of the malfunction going on under the bonnet.

We’ve also heard more in recent years about the dangers of breaking down on dual carriageways and, of course, motorways. Every situation presents different challenges for yourself and whoever is tasked with recovering and/or repairing the car.

A warning triangle positioned in front of a broken down car

Why Would I Need To Leave My Broken Down Car?

There are a few reasons why you may need to exit your vehicle after a breakdown, and they generally depend on where the unfortunate event has taken place. You might simply want to get some fresh air and clear your head, which is understandable wherever you are, but you must be wary of your surroundings. Alternatively, you may want to attempt to repair the fault yourself, or move to somewhere that you feel safer. That last point brings us to our next…

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Can I leave my broken down car on the motorway?

This has become a huge talking point over the last few years as the number of deaths caused by fast-moving vehicles colliding with broken down cars has come to light. The introduction of Smart Motorways also hasn’t helped, with this new brand of roadway claiming the lives of 38 people from 2015 to 2019, leading to the government halting the project on health and safety grounds.

In fact, the problem has become so significant that a new road safety campaign (‘Go Left’, involving singing flies) has been launched by Highways England advising motorway users to exit their car, and the safest way to do so, if it breaks down on one of the UK’s busiest and fastest roads. Their advice is as follows:

  • Put your left indicators on.
  • Move into the slow/left lane.
  • Enter the next available emergency area or hard shoulder.
  • Activate your hazard lights.
  • Exit the car through the left side doors.
  • Get behind a safety barrier or away from the road.
  • Call National Highways on 0300 123 5000, followed by a breakdown recovery provider.
  • Do not attempt any repairs yourself, no matter how minor, and don’t try to put out a warning triangle.

Staying inside the vehicle puts you in danger. You should leave the vehicle even if you make it out of one of the active lanes, but your car is more likely to be hit at speed if you can’t reach the hard shoulder or an emergency area before it grinds to a halt.

If you can’t make it to a part of the motorway where it is safe to exit the vehicle because you’re surrounded by fast-moving traffic, like for example, if your car stops in one of the lanes further to the right, then Highways England advise you to stay in your vehicle with your seatbelt and hazard lights on and to call 999 immediately.

Dual carriageways carry similar risks due to their matching speed with motorways, while single carriageways and country lanes pose their own threats thanks to blind bends and less room to manoeuvre your car out of the active lanes. It would still be recommended to exit the vehicle, but make sure it’s safe to do so and that you have somewhere safe to wait for the recovery team to pick you up.

Can I leave my broken down car on quieter, slower roads?

Now that we’ve gotten the more dangerous sections of the UK’s road network out of the way, let’s slow things down a bit. Lower speeds do not make cars immune to mechanical faults, so you may still find yourself without engine power even on a 30mph stretch of tarmac.

If this happens, you may want to leave your broken down car to poke around in the engine bay with a raised eyebrow, pretending you know what you’re looking at. That’s ok, but there are some precautions you should take before you start getting your hands dirty.

First of all, remember that your car still might be in the path of another driver. If you think there’s any danger of another vehicle careening into yours, leave well alone and get to a safe area. Either way, you should put your hazard lights on to do everything you can to prevent this from happening.

Next, put out your warning triangle if you’re in a more rural area (we’ll wait while you rush to order one online) at a distance ideally 45 metres away. If you’re near to a bend, you should make sure it’s positioned before the turn, not immediately afterwards.

At this point, only if you’re in an area that is absolutely safe like a town centre or residential area with unhindered visibility and lower traffic speeds, should you attempt to repair the car yourself. If there is any doubt in your mind about the safety of the position of your car, don’t risk it. Wait for the professionals to turn up so that they can make the road safe and get you out of harm’s way.

How Long Can I Leave My Broken Down Car For?

Once again, this depends on the location. As we’ve already explained, cars on the motorway or other areas that would be deemed unsafe should be moved as soon as possible (you can learn more about how to tow your broken down car here), regardless of whether or not they can be repaired.

On the other hand, if your car has broken down on a regular, old residential road, there’s technically nothing stopping you from leaving it there forever as long as you’re keeping it taxed and insured.

If you leave it alone for a really long time, the locals might report it as abandoned, but the tax and insurance will prevent anybody from legally being able to remove it immediately. You might make a few enemies who could campaign for it to be moved, but as long as it’s not a hazard or an obstruction, their cries will be in vain.

If your car breaks down at home or on other private property that you have permission to use for car storage, you could declare the vehicle as SORN, meaning that you can stop paying tax and insurance fees without running into legal trouble.

If your broken down car is going to cost an arm and a leg to fix, you might be better off selling it as scrap or salvage with Scrap Car Comparison. We’ll find you the best offers based on the constantly-changing market value and can connect you with scrap dealers who will collect your car at no extra cost, wherever you are. Take a look at our scrap value calculator and find out much your broken down car could be worth today.

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