What to do if your car breaks down: a step-by-step guide

28th July 2022

If your car comes to a sputtering halt on the road, it can leave you in a state of panic. The good news is that if you’ve got car breakdown cover, help will be on its way but it’s important to stay calm. With a reminder on what to do, here’s advice from comparison site mustard.co.uk, where you can also compare a range of quotes to ensure you get the cheapest car insurance in the UK.

1)   Park somewhere safe

If you can, you should try and get the car to the nearest exit or service station. If that’s not possible, you should park somewhere away from the road and as far left as possible on the hard shoulder.

If you’re on a smart motorway (without a hard shoulder) and can’t move your car to an emergency area, try to keep as far left as possible and call 999.

2)   Be seen

It’s vital to ensure you and your car can be seen. Put your hazard lights on as well as side lights if it’s dark or foggy. If you have a hi-vis vest, you should put this on too.

A warning triangle should also be placed 45 metres (about 147 feet) from your car to warn other drivers. The only exception is if you’re on the motorway where you should never attempt to place a warning triangle.

3)   Get out of the car (but only if it’s safe to do so)

To stay safe, you should try to get out of the car and onto the verge as far from traffic as possible. It’s recommended that you try and leave the car through the passenger side to avoid opening doors that face oncoming traffic.

You should also leave pets in the car unless you feel they can be properly controlled and won’t be a safety risk.

4)   Call for help

If you have car breakdown cover, you should now call your provider. Most will have a dedicated helpline for breakdowns so it’s handy to keep this number within reach (ideally in your glove box).

Your provider will make all the necessary arrangements on your behalf according to your policy’s terms. For example, if you have roadside assistance and national recovery, they’ll arrange a mechanic to come to you. Your provider will also make sure your car is taken to a garage convenient for you if it can’t be fixed there and then.

What happens if I break down without car breakdown cover?

If you don’t have breakdown cover, you can do one of three things:

  • Call for help using the emergency phones which are placed one mile apart along the hard shoulder. These connect to the Highways Agency or to the police who will ask you for your location and details of what’s happened. They’ll then be able to send appropriate help.
  • Call a local garage if you know where you are.
  • Buy emergency car breakdown cover from one of the larger providers including the AA, RAC, and Green Flag. Bear in mind that an emergency policy will cost considerably more than buying a policy at any other time.

What does car breakdown cover include?

What’s covered will depend on the policy you choose. Broadly, there are four types of policy that deal with breakdowns in the UK, which are:

  • Roadside assistance — your provider arranges for help to come to you with the aim of fixing your car at the side of the road. If it can’t be repaired, it will be taken to the nearest garage.
  • National recovery — if your car can’t be repaired straight away, it will be taken to a garage anywhere in the UK that’s convenient for you.
  • Onward travel — your provider will organise alternative transport to help you reach your destination. This could be a taxi or hire car and could also include overnight accommodation if necessary.
  • At home assistance (home start) — if your car won’t start (or breaks down very close to home) a mechanic will help get it started.

If you take your car over to Europe, you can also buy European breakdown cover which will ensure you get help should you need it.

Where can I find cheap car insurance with breakdown cover?

Some of the larger providers offer roadside assistance from £50 while more comprehensive packages that include onward travel cost upwards of £150. That said, you can find the same policies for significantly less at some of the smaller but equally well-established providers.

To ensure you get the best value for money car insurance with breakdown cover, head over to comparison site mustard.co.uk. Not only can you compare quotes from dozens of leading UK insurers, their Cheapest Price Guarantee* is a promise to beat any other online quote.

* T&Cs apply. See mustard.co.uk for details.