Nobody wants a car breakdown - especially on a motorway - but if your vehicle has broken down on a motorway, you need to be thinking safety first. Motorways are technically some of the safest stretches of road in the country, but they can be dangerous if you breakdown.

To prepare yourself for motorway breakdowns, read our guide* on how to keep yourself and your passengers safe.

what to do if you breakdown on a regular (non-smart) motorway

stop immediately

If you drive your car regularly, then you can usually tell when something goes wrong with it almost immediately. Whether it be a noise it makes or something that affects the drive, you'll want to investigate it as soon as possible.

If you find yourself in this situation, the first thing to do is to switch on your hazard lights and move as far to the left of the motorway as possible while continuously checking your mirrors and windows.

With the arrival of Smart Motorways, there may not always be a hard shoulder available so keep your hazard lights on and slow down gradually – this will alert fellow drivers that you are in trouble and are likely to stop. Once you are ready to stop, park your car with the front wheels turned to the left and switch off the ignition (but leave your hazard lights on). 

exit the vehicle

The next step is for all passengers to exit the vehicle safely and keep clear of moving traffic. You may be in a hurry to report the breakdown, but your safety – as well as that of other drivers – is paramount. If you have pets in the car, leave them inside. It may sound harsh, but they can cause a distraction for other drivers if they are loose outside of the car.

increase your visibility

It’s not often that we drive in particularly visibility-inclined clothing. For many of us, a high-vis jacket isn’t a daily part of our wardrobes. However, it’s always a good idea to have a couple on-hand in your car in the event of a breakdown.

We recommend putting high visibility clothing on before stepping out of the vehicle, and making your first port of call to be setting up an emergency triangle outside your car. Make sure you place the triangle at least 45 metres away from your vehicle, in a position where it will be visible to other drivers.

always face the traffic

In order to give yourself the best chance of reacting to an incident, you should always face the traffic head on when walking outside your car. Having your back turned may mean that you are unable to spot any emerging situations, leaving you prone to some serious injury.

call your recovery service

Don't try and fix anything yourself. Use your mobile phone to call your recovery service and explain your position and circumstances. Another option is to walk to an emergency phone, which are available free on all UK motorways.

In many cases, your breakdown service will be able to fix the issue with your car at the roadside. Always be careful when you are re-joining the carriageway. Be patient, as it may be minutes before a suitable gap in traffic appears. But when it does, build up speed on the hard shoulder before moving onto the main carriageway using your indicators.

what to do if you break down on a smart motorway

Unlike traditional motorways, smart motorways do not feature hard shoulder reservations. Most of the steps apply from above, but your process is going to be slightly altered if you break down on one.

move to the left-most lane

If you’re travelling in the middle or right-hand lanes, your first order of business is to navigate your car to the left-most lane available. This will give you a greater chance of safely merging into an emergency refuge area (ERA) without disrupting the flow of traffic.

To do so safely, turn on your hazard lights, merge slowly to the left (when safe) and slowly but surely ease your car to a stop.

find the emergency refuge area

Motorway SOS phone locations vary depending on the type you break down on. For smart motorways, the most optimal positioning for broken down drivers is the emergency refuge area (ERA). Such positions are designed as safe spaces for stranded vehicles, holding facilities like emergency contact phones, and a deeper reservation to avoid contact with traffic.

If you can, try to pull your car into these reserved spots while slowing down. If this isn’t possible, you should aim to stop as close to it as you can, and then walking the remaining distance to use the provided telephone.

call for help

When you’re safely stopped, now comes the time to ask for assistance. If you’re in an ERA, you must use the phone provided as this will give a direct connection to the Regional Contact Centre, alerting them of the situation. However, if you’re at an exit, or have broken down far from an ERA, you should call both the police and your recovery provider.

leave breakdown anxiety behind

Breakdowns are never fun. From the stress that comes with ensuring your car doesn’t break down in the first place, to dealing with the actual situation at hand, there’s not a lot to enjoy. If you’re worried about your car breaking down on a daily basis, it could be time for a change.

Get yourself an upgrade with We host thousands of used cars listed by trusted  dealerships across the nation. All of which come ready to tackle the motorway for your daily commute.

*Information is provided for guidance only.

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