What to do if your car breaks down

03 January


From deliveries being delayed to prolonging already lengthy journeys, breaking down can be a major inconvenience

However, it can also put you at serious risk depending on your location, like the hard shoulder of a busy motorway. Although breakdowns can occur at any time, experiencing one in winter presents a new level of danger.

As the conditions take a turn for the worse, so do your chances of being involved in an incident while on the roads. With colder temperatures and low visibility, it’s vital that you take the necessary precautions to keep yourself and others safe. If you’re a fleet manager, having breakdown cover on both motorways and A roads  provides your drivers with the peace of mind they need to make a journey safely and efficiently.

Whatever breakdown situation you or your drivers find themselves in, whether down a winding country road or at the the local supermarket car park, make sure you and your drivers know the right steps to take to stay as safe as possible, as well as taking note of the benefits of breakdown cover. 

Breakdown tips before setting off

Having a breakdown plan in place, especially if you’re a fleet manager, is essential for the smooth running of your fleet and the safety of your drivers. A robust and comprehensive breakdown from a reputable company will complement the rest of your breakdown strategy.

With Allstar, you can get AA Breakdown as a pay-as-you-go service if one of your vehicles breaks down,or AA’s Fuel Assist if you misfuel one of your vehicles. You don’t need an AA membership in order to access these benefits; these perks come as standard with all of our Allstar fuel cards. 

You should also prepare your drivers for a breakdown situation, by equipping them with:

  • A good old-fashioned road map, in case technology fails them

  • A portable phone chargers so they can contact the breakdown or emergency services

  • A manual with the appropriate telephone numbers and contact details your drivers may need

  • A warning triangle and reflective coat or vest

  • A care package, which can include:

          o   Blankets and extra coats, in case of a breakdown during the winter

          o   A spare pair of shoes and sock, as wet weather and flooding can often be the reason for a breakdown

          o   Bottled water and an array of snacks, in case the breakdown response team are busy and take a while to get to your driver

Breaking down on the motorway

If your vehicle breaks down while you’re on the motorway, it’s vital that you take the appropriate precautions to keep yourself clear and safe of danger. The motorway presents several risks to yourself and other drivers due to the high speeds that vehicles travel on them – a problem that becomes worse during poor weather conditions.

Below we have created an easy-to-follow list of what you should do if you break down on the motorway. First off, let’s look at what to do if you find yourself on a normal motorway, with the hard shoulder available:

  • Put your hazard lights on as soon as possible as this will give other drivers warning that you may be slowing down and are likely to be coming to a stop

  • Use the hard shoulder appropriately, unless you can turn off at the next exit. For more information about hard shoulder safety, take a look at our dedicated article. You should only use the hard shoulder if:

                o   Your car has broken down and you could be a danger to yourself or those around you

                o   You cannot continue to drive, whether due to medical reasons or continuous issues with your vehicle

                o   You have been told to pull over by the police and only if it is safe to do so

  • Keep your vehicle as far to the left as possible so that you are well away from any moving traffic. Using the passenger doors on the left to exit the vehicle is the safest way to exit your vehicle.

  • Whatever the issue with your vehicle, do not attempt to fix this yourself, regardless of how easy or simple you believe the task to be. Motorways are dangerous, high speed places to breakdown, and even if the reason for your breakdown is not complicated, you are in a vulnerable position.

  • Make sure you take your mobile phone or communication device with you, so that you can call your breakdown supplier as soon as possible – your safety is the highest point on the agenda, so only call once you are safely away from the vehicle

  • If you’re equipped with a high-vis jacket or care package (see ‘breakdown preparation tips’ above), make sure you take these with you before you leave the vehicle, as returning to the breakdown site increases your risk of being injured

  • Stand away from your vehicle and wait behind the crash barrier until help has arrived and you are told to move. If you feel safer, you can move further up the motorway verge

Although these are simple steps to follow, there will always be times where some of these points will be difficult to complete. If you do not have access to a mobile phone for instance, take advantage of emergency phones on the motorway. These are bright orange telephones, which allow you to inform the Highways Agency or the police of your location and the assistance you require.

If you absolutely cannot exit your vehicle for whatever reason, make sure you keep your seatbelt on, keep your hazard lights flashing, and call the emergency services as soon as possible to inform them of your situation.

If you are travelling on a smart motorway, which will become more and more common in the coming years, there are other precautions to take note of:

  •  Make sure you use emergency refuge areas, motorway services, or junction exits if you can

  • If you are unable do this, ensure that your vehicle comes off the main carriageway and you stop in the furthest lane on the left. However, if you are unable to move to the furthest lane on the left, you  should remain seated, with your seatbelt on and immediately call 999. There is no safe way to exit the vehicle in this instance

  • Regardless whether you move over, get off the motorway or are stuck in a middle or right-hand lane, put your hazard lights on immediately as there will be moving traffic approaching you

  • Use the left-hand passenger doors to exit the vehicle, as you would on a normal motorway

Breaking down on quiet roads

Although it may seem more disconcerting to breakdown on busy motorway, the availability of emergency phones at least allows you to contact your breakdown provider. On smaller roads or remote locations, be wary that you may not have mobile phone reception, so you might be required to walk to the nearest public phone or ask for help.

Be mindful on other roads, as risks are still around. Ensure that you:

  • Find a safe location to pull over that is out of the way of other motorists
  • Put your hazard lights on immediately to make yourself known to other people around you
  • If possible, stay as far away from moving traffic as you can, especially if the road is busy, but only if safe to do so

Breaking down in remote locations can sometimes mean a long wait for breakdown services to arrive. Make sure you’ve provided your drivers with the means to keep warm and dry, visible, and fed.

Other breakdown risk factors

If you’re a fleet manager, being aware of any employees who are more at risk when breaking down, such as those with a disability, is of paramount importance. By providing your drivers with fuel cards, you are enabling them to consistently top up their vehicles as and when needed, without fear that they don’t have enough money to do so. This can limit the amount of fuel related breakdowns in the future, because drivers feel confident to utilise the cards.

Breaking down is never ideal, especially if it happens during winter. These colder months can be a dangerous time for this situation to occur, so follow our winter health check advice, to ensure that you minimise the risk of breaking down this season.

With an Allstar fuel card, you can get access to a wealth of benefits including AA Breakdown and Fuel Assist as standard. For more information, get in touch with us today on 0345 266 5101 or request a callback by filling out our form at the top of this page.

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