Man looking under bonnet of car at the side of the road

My Car Has Broken Down, What Do I Do?

Breaking down is one of the biggest fears of any driver, particularly breaking down in remote locations or when travelling along on the motorway and you can’t make it to a hard shoulder, if there is one at all. Luckily, Scrap Car Comparison are experts in this field, and we have all the answers you’ll need if you’re currently sitting at the side of the road wondering what to do.

A man with his hands on his head staring into the open engine bay of his broken down car

What to do if your car breaks down

We’ve put together a checklist of actions you should take if your car breaks down:

  • Keep calm and get to a safe place: You won’t be making rational decisions if you’re wound up in a panic. Take a deep breath and get your car, if you can, across to the side of the road and off the main carriageway, and turn your hazard lights on. Exit via the passenger-side door.
  • Be visible: Wearing a hi-vis vest if you have one.
  • Alert other drivers: Use your warning triangle and set it up 45 metres behind your vehicle, which is just under 150 feet or about 60 paces. Do not do this on a motorway, however, as it is much more dangerous to do so. If you’ve broken down at night, or the visibility is poor through adverse weather conditions, then make sure you keep your sidelights and hazard lights on.
  • Stand clear of your car: This is not just to keep you save, but also so you do not stand in a position that would block other drivers from seeing your lights.
  • Call for help: Once you’re safely out of the vehicle, call your breakdown recovery service so they can assist you.

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What do I do if I break down on the motorway?

If you’ve been unlucky enough to break down while on a motorway, then hopefully you will be close enough to a service station or exit slip road to get off the motorway as soon as possible. If you cannot get off the motorway itself, then try to pull over to the hard shoulder and get as far to the left as possible, with your wheels turning left as well. Much like the previous point, turn your hazards and sidelights (if visibility is poor) on and this time hop over the safety barriers meaning you have some protection from the passing traffic.

What if there isn’t a hard shoulder?

The ironically titled “Smart Motorways” now mean there are 44 stretches of motorway in the UK, making up around 345 miles, that do not always have a hard shoulder in operation. This can be quite alarming for a driver who has broken down on one, and again, you’re going to want to try and leave the motorway either through an emergency refuge area, a service station or at the next junction. If you cannot make it to any of these, then turn your hazard lights on and move into the left-most lane and get as far to the side as possible. From there, and again, only if it’s safe to do so, exit from the left-hand side of the car and wait behind safety barriers.

If you have been able to make it to the emergency refuge area, leave the car from the left-hand side of the car – never exiting the car into a live lane – and climb over the barriers to make yourself as safe as possible. Once in there, you must use the emergency telephone and give the operator as much detail as you can.

What to do if you’ve broken down on a country road

Breaking down on a high speed but uncomfortably narrow road can, under some circumstances, be even more dangerous than having your car die on you on a motorway. There are certain precautions that you should take if this happens to ensure both the safety of yourself, your vehicle, and other road users who might happen upon your breakdown.

First of all, try to get the vehicle as far over to the side of the road as possible before it totally conks out. We’re not saying push it (in fact, we’d actively suggest not doing this) so use the last bit of momentum it has to position it leftwards. This will keep it out of the path of any other cars that might either hit it, or have to go around it into the oncoming lane.

Like on a motorway, you should exit the vehicle promptly and stand well clear of it, preferably off the road entirely. Before you do this though, turn on your hazard lights and even your sidelights if visibility is particularly poor. If you have hi-vis clothing, put it on, even if it’s the middle of the day. Then, if you have one stored in the car, you should attempt to place down a warning triangle approximately 45 metres behind your vehicle, or further if you’re stopped precariously just around a blind bend.

Of course, your next course of action should be to call your breakdown recovery service to get you out of there.

What to do if your car has broken down at home

Most roadside assistance policies only cover you if you’ve broken down more than a quarter mile away from your home. However, almost all will offer a “home start” cover, which covers you in that final ¼ of a mile. You are usually able to add the home cover at any point, but bear in mind that if you are looking to add-on the service with your car already broken down, it will likely cost you more than if you added it from the start.

What do I do if my car breaks down in a car park?

The most common location for breaking down is in a car park, so if you’ve found yourself stranded in a car park, you’re not alone. They’re also one of the safest places to break down, too, as they’re one of the very few places on the road where you’re expecting to find stationary cars. While you don’t need to worry about your hazard lights or making other road users aware this time, you do need to be aware of how much longer you have on your parking ticket. If there is an attendant nearby you can inform them, although if the car park uses Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology, you’ll need to extend your stay until you have been recovered.

Can I leave my broken down car on the side of the road?

On slower roads, like in residential areas, you can leave your vehicle until it’s able to be repaired, provided it’s not causing an obstruction which would endanger other road users or pedestrians. If you’re unfortunate enough to break down on a motorway or 60mph-plus carriageway then your car will have to be moved an a matter of urgency. However, as we’ve already stressed, you should not attempt to move or repair the vehicle yourself in these scenarios. You can learn more about leaving your car after a break down here.

Breakdown FAQs

There are many more questions that may need answering with regards to car breakdowns. Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked:

Do you have to stay with a broken down car?

If you’ve broken down in a convenient spot on a slow, residential road and your vehicle isn’t causing any obstruction – in other words, it simply looks like it’s been parked there – then no, you don’t have to stay with your car. However, you must stay with (but not inside) your car if it’s broken down on a motorway or other similar road. Unless, of course, you are told to leave for your own safety by the authorities in charge of managing the situation.

Should you call the police if your car breaks down?

You should only call the police if you break down in a live lane. For example, if you break down on the motorway and are unable to get over to the hard shoulder, you will find yourself in an incredibly dangerous scenario and should call the police so that they can close of the section of the motorway and move you to safety. For other situations, you should call your breakdown recovery provider.

What can I do if I don’t have breakdown cover?

If you break down and don’t have a breakdown provider covering your car, you won’t be able to get someone to come and tow you to safety – at least not without spending a small fortune. A local repair garage might be able to send someone out to get you and your vehicle, or a breakdown service may even offer you the option to pay for cover on the spot, but it will be very expensive.

The exception to this rule can sometime be if it’s an emergency situation. If the police become involved, you could end up getting a free tow to safety.

What do I do if my car is broken beyond repair?

If your car has broken down, or is sounding like it’s about to, then why not cash in before it makes a small problem bigger? By selling your car as scrap or salvage with Scrap Car Comparison, you can guarantee the best price for your car thanks to our nationwide network of specialist buyers, all of whom are desperate to get their hands on your car. This network also allows us to provide you with a collection service, at no extra cost to you, meaning all you have to do is worry about what you’re going to spend your money on. Find out how much your car could be worth today by using our quick and easy online scrap quote generator, and get your price in as little as 30 seconds.

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