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What to do when your car breaks down on the motorway: five simple tips


Unfortunately, motor vehicles are not invincible objects. They can break down in the most awkward of places, and one of the most dangerous locations where a failure can happen is on the motorway.

By following these five simple tips you will ensure that you and your passengers remain safe following a breakdown on the motorway:

Move to the hard shoulder

It’s vital that when you feel an issue with your car that you safely move across to the hard shoulder. Drive as far to the left of the emergency lane as possible and position your wheels to face the grass verge - not to the main carriageway. Then, activate your hazard warning lights, and if it’s dark, turn on your car’s sidelights.

If you are unable to get to the hard shoulder then you should turn on your hazard warning lights as soon as you can in order to alert vehicles behind you. Then call the emergency services for assistance.

Get everyone out

Sitting in a car when there is very fast-moving traffic coming by at close proximity is very dangerous. If you are able to do so you should get yourself and any passengers out of the car. Never leave by the driver’s door in this situation – instead get everybody out of the left-hand side to ensure you are not going to walk into oncoming traffic.

The only exception is for pets - these should be left in the car unless they can be kept securely on a lead to prevent them from running off and causing danger to other road users.

Call for assistance

If you are a member of a breakdown service, this is the time to call them. They will ask you for details of the car, the situation and will also want to know your location. Most will ask you for the number on the nearest location marker to help pinpoint you and alert recovery vehicles in the area. Many breakdown recovery companies give priority to motorway call-outs due to the extra danger the passengers face in this exposed environment, meaning you shouldn’t need to wait too long for somebody to reach you.

If you don’t have breakdown cover then you will need to call the Highways Agency for assistance. You can either do this on your mobile or by using one of the free phones located every mile along the hard shoulder. It’s likely that they will contact a local garage to come and recover your vehicle, which may come at a hefty cost!

Make sure you definitely don’t have breakdown cover – many insurance providers offer this as an add-on to your car insurance policy, so give them a call if you are unsure.

Wait somewhere safe

Wait well-back from the carriageway, preferably up the grass verge on the side of the motorway. You should always wait for assistance to arrive and never attempt to fix your vehicle’s problem yourself, even if you think you know what it is.

If you feel like you are in any danger – perhaps you are a female travelling alone and it is dark, or you have a disability that impairs your movement, contact the emergency services for further advice.

Back on the road

Many vehicles can be fixed at the roadside - whether this be permanently or temporarily to at least get you back home or to your onward destination. If this is the case you need to merge back onto the motorway safely. The best way to do this is to use the hard-shoulder to build up speed to match that of the carriageway traffic, signal your intentions early, check your blind spots and then move back into the main lanes when you have plenty of space to do so.

The Co-operative Insurance offers customers car breakdown cover as an optional add-on to their car insurance policies. Visit the website for more information.

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