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What to do if your car breaks down on the motorway

Kwik Fit | Wednesday 31st January 2018 2:54pm

traffic on a UK motorway

Looking after your car and getting it serviced on a regular basis can significantly reduce the risk of breakdowns and help ensure it runs smoothly. However, there's always a possibility that something will go wrong when you're behind the wheel and breakdowns can happen when you least expect them. This means itís crucial that you know what to do when disaster strikes - especially if you're on a motorway. 

So that youíre up to speed on how to react in this type of emergency, keep reading. Weíve got some useful tips to help you stay safe and calm if youíre caught out at the roadside.

Move your vehicle to a safe place

Firstly, itís important that you move your vehicle to a safe place. If you suspect something is wrong with your car, the Highway Code states that you should try to turn off at the next junction or pull into a service area. However, if you are unable to do this, you will need to pull over onto the hard shoulder. When you move over to this emergency lane, itís important that you park your vehicle as far to the left as possible, keeping your wheels positioned to the left too.

If you break down on a smart motorway, you will not have access to a hard shoulder as it will be being used for traffic. In this situation, you should try to get your vehicle to the next exit, whether you come off the motorway at the next junction or you pull into a service station. Alternatively, you could stop at an emergency refuge area (ERA). This is an area to the side of the road where motorists may pull into and stop. An ERA usually has a brightly coloured road surface.

Put your hazard lights on

Once youíve pulled over, you should turn on your hazard lights to alert other motorists that you have stopped. If visibility is poor, for example if itís foggy or dark, you should put your sidelights on too.

If you have any reflective clothing in your car, put it on. While itís crucial that other road users can see your car clearly, itís just as important that they can see you.

Get out of the car

When your vehicle breaks down, you may be tempted to sit in the comfort of your car, especially if itís cold and raining outside. However, staying inside a vehicle when there is fast-moving traffic passing close by is extremely dangerous. So, once youíve pulled over into a safe spot, itís crucial that you and your passengers exit the car.

Itís important to note that you should never leave the vehicle via the driverís door. Instead, exit the car on the left-hand side to make sure that youíre not walking into oncoming traffic.

If you are travelling with a pet, it is advised that you leave them in the car. This will prevent them from running off into the traffic, which can be dangerous for other road users. However, you can take your pet out of the car if they can be kept securely on a lead.

If you or one of your passengers is unable to leave the car for any reason, keep your seatbelts on. If you feel at risk because of the presence of another person nearby, make sure the doors are locked.

Donít use your reflective warning signs

While these brightly coloured triangles are designed to show other road users that your vehicle has broken down, you should not use your reflective warning signs on a motorway. Not only is it dangerous for you to position it on the hard shoulder, but the speed of the passing traffic could blow the sign into the carriageway, putting other driversí safety in danger.

Stay well away from the traffic

Ideally, you should stand as far away from your vehicle and the oncoming traffic as possible. If there is a safety barrier, you should wait behind this if itís safe to do so. If you have children with you, make sure you keep them close to you and donít let them wander off.

Call for assistance

As long as your vehicle is parked safely and you are standing in a safe spot, now is the right time to call for assistance. If youíre signed up to a breakdown service, you should ring them first. Itís likely they will need the details of your car, including your registration number, and your location so that they know where to find you. If youíre not sure of where you have stopped, the call operator may ask you for the number on the nearest location marker sign to help pinpoint your whereabouts on the motorway.

If you're not signed up for breakdown cover, you will need to call the Highways Agency instead. You can do this using your mobile or by using one of the free phones that are located on the hard shoulder. These are positioned at regular mile intervals along the motorway and can often be found inside a bright orange coloured box with a phone logo on the front.

When assistance arrives, make sure you remain away from your vehicle while the problem is being dealt with.

Donít fix your car yourself

Even if you suspect it to be a small or simple repair, you shouldnít attempt to fix your car yourself. This could put your safety in danger, so itís best to wait until assistance has arrived and let a professional take care of it for you.

Remain calm

Thereís no denying that breaking down on the motorway can be a stressful experience, but itís important that you try to remain as calm as possible. As long as you follow these steps, you shouldnít be left stranded at the side of the road for too long. 

In fact, recovery companies are often able to repair vehicles at the roadside. Even if they can only provide you with a temporary fix, youíll be able to get back into your car and off the motorway so you can assess the damage and get it repaired properly.


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