January 16th, 2020 at 11:35 am
There is never a good moment for a car to break down but don’t assume it won’t ever happen to you. Being prepared will help take the stress and strain out of the situation.
Safety is your priority
Staying safe for both the driver and any passengers is the main priority and a lot of this will depend on where you are when you break down.
If you are on the motorway and can reach the hard shoulder then move across swiftly and stop as far to the left of the hard shoulder as you can with the front wheels pointing towards the verge.
Make sure everyone leaves the vehicle quickly and leave the car with its hazard lights on and sidelights if it is dark, not headlights. The occupants of the car should leave the vehicle via the passenger doors as using the driver’s side will mean they are stepping out into the flow of traffic. Everyone should stand well behind the crash barrier and wear hi-vis clothing if you have it. Call the police and call recovery. Many motorways have cameras and you may be picked up fairly quickly on the Highways road cameras. Animals are best left within the vehicle if possible. Do not use a red warning triangle. The hard shoulder is a dangerous place and vehicles in the slow lane routinely drift in and out of it. It is not safe to walk back and place the triangle so just stay behind the crash barrier and wait for help to arrive.
Sometimes trying to work out where you are is tricky. You might remember the last junction number you passed but there are also roadside markers every 100m to help pinpoint your location and there may be other distinguishing features such a bridge or motorway signage which you can use to help identify your exact location. The roadside markers will also tell you where the nearest emergency phone is if you do not have use of a mobile for any reason.
Breaking down on country roads
Unlit country roads at night can be a very dangerous location to break down in. The same rules apply as if you were on the motorway but it can be harder to find somewhere safe to stand out of the road. Trying to get the car into a layby is always helpful but you may not have the option and it may simply not be safe to try and push it.
Bear in mind that rural roads do not always have great mobile phone coverage depending on the location and the topography so you should think about Plan B if your mobile doesn’t work. Sometimes it can be easier to text a friend or family member or even use an app to report your problem or highlight your location. If a phone is not in a location where you can make a call, sometimes these other services will still work so try everything.
If it is safe to do so, place a red warning triangle at least 45 metres away from the back of the car but if it is not safe to do so then remain outside of the vehicle and on the side of the road.
No breakdown cover?
If you don’t have breakdown cover and you are local then you can phone a friend or a local garage recovery service. If you are further afield then you will need to call the Highways Agency or you can try one of the main breakdown companies who will let you join on the spot but there is often a large additional fee, anything up to £150 to do this. Towing a car to a local garage will cost a similar amount.
If you are travelling on a long journey then it is always worth being prepared.
- Check your car’s oil and windscreen washer
- Make sure all the lights are working properly
- Keep an emergency breakdown kit in the boot of the car
This usefully could contain some hi-vis vests, they don’t take up much room at all. It is always worth having at least one hi-vis jacket to keep you warm and dry in bad weather. Add in some bottled water and high energy snacks like cereal bars and chocolate. A large flashlamp or torch is very helpful and also space blankets which are made of foil and can keep you warm in the event of a long wait. It is tempting to sit in the vehicle to stay warm and dry but it is much safer to remain outside on the roadside in case anyone were to collide with your car. Hi-vis wear is a legal requirement in Europe. Keep a couple of spare jumpers and jackets in the boot.
A red warning triangle is always useful although only use it if it is safe to do so.
Always start a journey with a full charge on your phone – in tricky situations, you could be on your phone for a long time. Include an in-car phone charger in your emergency kit box which will allow you to revive a flagging handset.
Consider a basic First Aid kit containing plasters, paracetamol and basic bandages and sterile dressings. You can buy fully stocked emergency kits from auto retailers and First Aid kits from high street chemists but it is just as easy to make your own.
There are some additional items which you can add to the boot of your car during the winter months (see here for winter driving tips) and which could see you out of a tricky situation. A plastic shovel to help clear snow is always useful, ice-scrapers a de-icer spray plus a pair of shoes or boots which will cope with thick snow or ice.
Always respect adverse weather reports and only drive if it is really necessary. Use travel updates on your infotainment to check for bad weather and accidents and avoid them if possible without heading onto more minor routes which may be impassable and are probably not gritted. Traffic may snarl-up on main roads but they are better lit and probably safer if you do get stuck or break down.