Existing Customer Portal

3rd October 2022

What to do if your car breaks down

These simple steps will ensure you know how to stay safe, should your vehicle breakdown.

Car Insurance from just £125 per year

Breaking down is the one situation no driver ever wants to be in, but if you are unfortunate enough to find yourself in that scenario, do you know exactly what you should do to keep yourself safe? 

There are many different scenarios you may find yourself in when breaking down, but luckily the experts of the Sterling Rescue team are here to explain how to keep yourself and your passengers safe, should your car conk out.    

How to stay safe when breaking down

Your first concern when breaking down must always be your safety, the safety of your passengers and those of other road users. If you feel your car starting to fail or it has come to a stand-still, the first thing you must do is turn on your hazard lights, as this will warn fellow drivers you are in a predicament. If it is dark or foggy, it’s also a good idea to turn your sidelights on too.

It is always best to make sure your car is off-road (if you can) when you breakdown, so if you are able to, ensure you can safely drive your vehicle off the road onto a soft verge.

Exit the car through the passenger doors; this will keep you out of danger from other cars. Once you have left your vehicle, the safest place to stand is behind the crash barrier. All passengers should exit with you, but you must leave animals inside the car.

Call a breakdown service from your mobile phone, or if you feel that you are in danger, call the police. Make sure you charge your phone before a long journey!

If your mobile phone has no signal or battery, follow the signs to an Emergency Phone (staying on your side of the road – do not try to cross a motorway or dual carriageway). Calls are free and you will be connected straight to the police. And if you have one, wear a reflective high-vis jacket. 

It is also a good idea to place a warning triangle if it’s safe to do so, you should put a warning triangle at least 45m behind your vehicle. Do not attempt to put a warning triangle sign if you are on a motorway or a dual carriageway. 

What do I do if I breakdown on a motorway? 

If you break down on a motorway, the best thing to do is to pull onto the hard shoulder, getting as far to the left as possible (and leaving your wheels pointing towards the left). This will prevent your car being pushed back onto the motorway if another car hits you from behind. Try to pull over near an emergency telephone.

The safest place to wait is outside your car on the other side of the barrier that runs alongside the hard shoulder. 

If you are unable to get to the hard shoulder, you should try to get your vehicle safely into the furthest lane on the left that you can. If you breakdown completely in a lane on the motorway, you should stay inside your vehicle unless you can be absolutely sure it’s safe to leave it. Put your hazard lights on, do not take off your seatbelt and call the emergency services. 

If you’re disabled and unable to follow advice about leaving the car, also stay in your car with your seatbelt and hazard lights on, then call 999.

What do I do if I breakdown in a town or city centre? 

If you breakdown in a busy town or city centre, this can be a very stressful experience, especially if you are blocking the road for other vehicles. However, it is important to remember this is not your fault, and can happen to anyone. 

If you can try and move your car out of the way so it is not blocking other road users. Put your hazard lights on if you feel the car breaking down, or if it has conked out and leave them on. 

And finally call your breakdown service or a local garage to provide you with assistance. Another small tip is to open your bonnet so other road users can detect that you are experiencing mechanical problems. 

When your vehicle breaks down, it can be difficult to know what to do, especially in the panic of the moment. To help relieve some of the stress, we’ve created a step-by-step guide on what to do in the event your vehicle breaks down – all in a handy mnemonic so you can remember it easily.

What to do if you breakdown

We’ve created the acronym WHEELS to help you remember what you should do in the event of a breakdown. Follow these directions to stay as safe as possible.

Warning triangle: this helps let other road users know that you’ve broken down. It should be placed at least 45 metres behind your vehicle, though you don’t need to use one if you’ve broken down on the motorway.

Hi-viz: wear hi-viz clothing so you’re visible to other road users.

Equipment: other items like a torch, water, phone, power bank, and warm waterproof clothing are good to keep with you while you wait. We recommend you keep these in your car in the event your breakdown.

Evacuate: it’s best not to stay in your vehicle, but you should leave pets in the car. Leave your vehicle using the doors furthest away from oncoming traffic.

Leave it to us: if you have Sterling Rescue, give us a call on our 24/7 hotline number, 0330 123 1146, and we’ll arrange one of our breakdown recovery specialists to help you get back on the road.

Safe place: wait for us a safe distance away from your vehicle. Move behind the crash barrier if there is one.

Keep these items in your car just in case you breakdown

There are a number of items that will make your life a lot easier if you have them on hand before you breakdown. Take a look at our checklist here:

  • First-aid kit
  • Empty fuel carrier
  • Hi-viz jacket
  • Phone
  • Power bank
  • Spare tyre and jack
  • Torch
  • Water
  • Warm waterproof clothing
  • Warning triangle

What can I do if I’ve had a breakdown but don’t have cover?

Don’t panic if your vehicle breaks down or isn’t starting. Prices for Sterling Rescue instant breakdown cover start from £173.60. Of course, it’s more economical and makes sense to plan ahead, but sometimes you don’t think about breakdown insurance until you need it. So call us on 0344 381 9959 so we can arrange immediate breakdown cover for you.

Related blog posts