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What to do in a breakdown

It’s easy for panic to set in when our vehicles break down, especially when they do so in an unfamiliar location or in adverse weather conditions. However, it’s always better to be prepared, and knowing what to do in the event of a breakdown can ensure that you can resume your journey as quickly as possible, or at the very least get to somewhere safe, warm and dry.

Here we’ll look at what to do in the event of a breakdown and how to ensure that you stay safe, no matter where or when you break down.

Knowing the signs

Very often your vehicle will give you some warning signs that a breakdown is imminent. Rarely does a car simply roll to a gentle stop. Listen out for unusual noises like bumping, grinding or squeaking as well as any fluctuations in performance such as a sudden loss of momentum or difficulty steering. You may also see some warning signs appear on your dashboard.

The faster you spot the signs, the easier it is to pull your car over somewhere safe.

Once you have pulled to a stop, apply your handbrake, turn off your engine and activate your hazard warning lights immediately. If its dark leave your sidelights on as well.

Staying safe when you breakdown

If you are in immediate danger, for example in a live lane of a motorway or dual carriageway, call 999. As soon as possible you should contact your roadside recovery service provider. They will send a technician to you as quickly as they can. They will be able to perform a roadside repair, or at the very least tow your vehicle to a place of safety.

If you do not already have breakdown cover, remedy this before you find yourself in this situation. Whilst you don’t need breakdown cover to get someone to administer roadside assistance, you’ll find it far more expensive if you need help but don’t have breakdown cover in place.

While you wait for your roadside technician it’s simply a matter of staying safe until they arrive. Leave your vehicle from the left-hand side and encourage any other passengers to do the same, as long as it is safe to do so. Make sure that you and your passengers keep as warm and dry as possible. Lock your vehicle and keep your car doors locked until your technician arrives, ensuring that pets are kept safe inside with adequate ventilation.

Stay as far away from the road as you can while making yourself as visible as possible. If you can, alert other drivers to your presence with high visibility clothing and, unless you are on a dual carriageway or motorway, place a hazard warning triangle at least 45 metres (approximately 10 car lengths) away from your vehicle on the same side of the road to alert oncoming traffic.

If there is nowhere for you to wait in safety, call the emergency services without delay.

Breaking down on a motorcycle

If you break down on a motorcycle the procedure is much the same as when driving a car, although motorcyclists can feel much more vulnerable and exposed. Pull your bike over safely to the side of the road and activate your hazard warning lights. Switch off your headlamp as this can place a significant drain on your battery. If your bike doesn’t have hazard warning lights, use your indicators or parking lights.

As tempting as it may be to attempt to fix your bike on the roadside, this is not recommended. The more you’re focused on your bike, the more vulnerable you are to passing traffic. Call your breakdown provider and wait by your vehicle for them to arrive. Again, wearing a high visibility vest is recommended for your safety. Stay as far away from the road as you can while making yourself as visible as possible.

Motorway breakdown advice

Breaking down on the motorway can be particularly nerve-wracking. You’re surrounded by fast moving vehicles and you may not have mobile phone reception.

Try to leave at the nearest exit or pull into a service area, if this is not possible indicate left and pull onto the hard shoulder. On motorways without a hard shoulder, put your left indicator on and move left into an emergency area (spaced regularly on motorways without hard shoulders and marked with blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol). Switch on your hazard warning lights and side lights if its dark. Exit the vehicle from the left-hand side of the vehicle, encouraging passengers to do likewise, as long as it is safe to do so.

Keep well away from your vehicle and moving traffic, even if it’s raining cold or dark. Stand behind the barrier as far away from the flowing traffic as possible and wear high visibility clothing so that other road users can see you. Do not attempt to leave your vehicle in a live lane of a motorway, instead put your hazard lights on, leave your seatbelt on and call 999 immediately.

Even if you have mobile phone coverage, it is preferable to make your way to the nearest emergency telephone. These are located in emergency areas for motorways without hard shoulders or, for motorways with hard shoulders, at intervals along the motorway (follow the arrows on the posts at the back of the hard shoulder). The telephone is free of charge and connects you directly to assistance. They will be able to identify your location from the telephone you are using. Do not attempt to put down a hazard warning triangle on a motorway.

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