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My car has broken down - what should I do?

Stephen Wright, 5 months ago

3 min read

  • Advice
  • Maintenance
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WhoCanFixMyCar looks at what you should do to keep you (and your passengers) as safe as possible in the event that your car breaks down

Let's be honest, there’s never a good time to break down in your car.

Once you’ve got over the initial shock, you quickly start to feel angry, frustrated and a little anxious, especially if you’ve broken down on the motorway and you’ve got cars whizzing past you at high speeds.

So, what can you do in the event of a breakdown? Follow these steps:

  • Move your vehicle off the road if you can and get to a safe place

  • Put your hazard lights on to warn other drivers

  • Stay away from moving traffic

  • Put on a high-vis jacket (if you have one handy)

  • Use a warning triangle as long as you're not on a motorway/hard shoulder

  • Call for help

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Now let’s take a look at those steps in more detail

Stay calm

It may seem counter intuitive, but the first thing to do in the event of a breakdown is stay as calm as possible.

Get off the road

If you are on a motorway and can’t turn off at the next edit, attempt to pull over onto the hard shoulder and make sure to put your car as far to the left as you can.

If possible, try to turn your wheels to the left as well. Next, put your hazard lights on to warn other drivers, and if it’s dark or foggy, keep your sidelights on for added visibility.

If you can’t get onto the hard shoulder

If you are unable to move your car onto the motorway hard shoulder for whatever reason (or even the inside lane), then stay in your vehicle unless you are 100% sure it is safe to leave.

Don’t forget to put on your hazard warning lights, keep your seatbelt on and call 999 immediately. Make sure to let them know exactly where you are and which direction you are heading.

Exit your car

If it’s safe to do so, leave the car at the earliest opportunity by the passenger door and wait on the verge well away from your car.

If you are on the motorway, get behind a barrier or alternatively move up the bank upstream of all oncoming traffic. Make sure to leave any animals in the car.

Warning triangle

If your car comes with a warning triangle and you're not on a motorway, then it's worth placing it at least 45 metres (147 feet) behind your car. This will help give approaching motorists advance warning of a breakdown.

Be patient

Patience is definitely a virtue, but once you're clear of your car, it’s just a case of being patient and waiting for one of the breakdown recovery providers to arrive. If you don’t have breakdown cover, there's no need to worry as most providers will allow you to join immediately if you find yourself stranded by the side of the road.

Breakdown 2

What is a breakdown kit and why should you have one?

The best way to deal with a breakdown, no matter where it happens, is to be prepared. Invest in a pre-made breakdown kit or design your own. You could include:

  • High-vis tops for everyone in the car

  • Mobile phone power bank

  • Red warning triangle

  • Torch

  • Puncture repair kit

  • Warm and waterproof clothing

  • A tow rope

  • Water

  • Jump leads

  • Spare liquids, including engine oil, screenwash, and coolant

  • First aid kit

  • Non perishable food

Breakdown Kit

My car has broken down at home

If you’ve broken down at home this is arguably a lucky situation; at least you aren’t stranded somewhere unfamiliar. 

The first thing to do is check for any obvious indications of why your car isn’t working -  for example, is the battery flat or do you have a flat tyre? Both of these things might be possible to fix at home relatively easily. 

On the other hand, if you think you need expert repairs you’ll need to check your breakdown cover policy to see if it includes home start. Otherwise, you’ll either have to pay for your car to be towed to a garage or find a mobile mechanic who will come to you.


Towing a broken down car law UK

There are a few rules you should be aware of if you need to tow your car:

  • If you passed your test after January 1st 1997 and you haven’t taken a specific car and trailer test, you can only tow trailers that weigh up to 3,500kg MAM (this means the weight of both the car and trailer combined)

  • However, if you passed your test prior to 1997 you can tow up to 8,250kg MAM

  • The car you are towing should have an “on tow” sign on the back

  • The broken down car must have its light on if it is dark

  • The broken down car should also be driven by a qualified driver

For more information, check the government website.

Can you tow a car with rope?

If you don’t have a tow bar you can use a rope or chain, but the distance between the two cars shouldn’t exceed 4.5 metres, and if it’s more than 1.5 metres then the rope or chain must be clearly visible to road users from both sides.

Can you tow a car on the motorway?

You can only tow another car on the motorway if it broke down on the motorway; otherwise this isn’t permitted.

What’s the maximum speed for towing a car?

Regardless of the speed limit, when you’re towing a car it’s crucial that you do everything slowly and steadily. For that reason, you shouldn’t exceed 15 miles per hour.

Can you tow a car without an MOT?

Towing a car without a valid MOT is not permitted, unless that vehicle is at least insured. Further, you can only tow it if you are taking it to a prearranged MOT test.


Top tips for avoiding a breakdown

Keep your engine oil topped up

Engine oil is absolutely vital for keeping your car working properly so make sure to check it and top it up on a regular basis (where needed).

Mechanic changing oil engine

Don’t miss a service

It's tempting to miss your service, especially if things are bit tight financially, but by doing so you are putting both yourself and your car in danger. Avoid that happening by using services such as WhoCanFixMyCar to compare prices for a full service, interim service and vehicle health check at garages in your local area.

Drive properly

Your driving habits have a direct impact on the health of your car. So, for instance, avoid revving your car engine when it’s cold because this will damage components and try to avoid hard stops and hard starts because your brake pads and rotors will wear down.

Lose the weight

This isn’t anything to do with dieting but rather the negative impact that weight has on your car and its performance. Take out the rubbish from the boot and your car will benefit, thus reducing the chances of a breakdown.


If your car is showing signs that it could be about to breakdown, it’s always best to get it checked by a trained professional – even if it's for something as simple as a loose connection.

WhoCanFixMyCar can help you arrange for that work to be done through its comprehensive network of garages and mobile mechanics.


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