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What Should You Do If You Break Down?

Those readers who are longer in years will remember the days when the sight of a stricken car at the roadside, often with steam emitting from under the bonnet, was a common occurrence. Not so much now though: Cars are built to tighter tolerances and are generally more reliable. The trouble is, they are also more complex, so when they go wrong, the likelihood is that it won’t be a home fix and it could be expensive. What hasn’t changed is the fact that breaking down can be stressful. We’ve always got places to go and people to see, so staying calm and knowing what to do in the event of a breakdown will help you and your passengers to stay safe until help arrives.


Of course, it should go without saying that ensuring the car is regularly serviced by a well-equipped and professional garage will at least minimise the chance of a breakdown. The annual MOT test has helped with that and car technicians are trained to spot that which might otherwise go unnoticed.


Well, What Should I Do Then?


As soon as you notice a mechanical problem - knocking noises, a vibrating steering wheel, lights coming on in the dashboard array and the like - with your vehicle, pull over to the side of the road provided it is safe to do so. If in doubt, manoeuvre the car into a safe position before you lose drive. Obviously, if broken down in a motorway, use the emergency road side phones or your smartphone and await rescue. On motorways, make sure the car is evacuated and the passengers are away from the hard shoulder. Move up the bank to a position behind the vehicle. It seems like an appalling thing to say, but the rule is to leave any pets in the vehicle; a loose dog may present an extra hazard near a busy road.


There’s a decision to make here because occupants should not exit a vehicle if it is unsafe to do so, so take extra care alighting. If for safety's sake there’s a reason to stay in the vehicle, at least ensure that seatbelts are worn and the doors locked.


On so-called ‘smart’ motorways try to use an emergency refuge area if there is one. An emergency refuge area is the safest place on a smart motorway. Each is marked with a blue sign with an orange SOS phone icon. An SOS phone will be located here. Otherwise, try to park away from busy roads and avoiding bends in the road. If still mobile leave a motorway at the first off-ramp or services. Avoid stopping where you will be difficult to spot by oncoming traffic. Try to stay calm and encourage others in your vehicle to do the same. Panicking is not conducive to making sensible decisions.


Turn On The Warning Lights


Whilst it is true that some drivers use their hazard warning lights for matters other than danger (“I’ll only be a couple of minutes”) the true purpose is to warn other road users. In a breakdown situation turn on hazard lights and if it is dark or foggy, turn on your sidelights (and/or fog light) too. It’s a good idea to keep at least one hi-viz jacket or vest to hand in the car; a torch will be useful too.


If possible, carry a warning triangle to give other motorists extra warning. Deploy it at least forty-five metres behind the stricken car.

Do not attempt to use one on motorway though; this is not a place to be wandering about. In any instance whereby you do leave your vehicle, stand away from the car in a safe area behind it to ensure that if it does get clipped by another vehicle travelling in the same direction, you aren’t in the danger zone. Clearly you should not stand directly behind, beside or in front of your vehicle.


Call For Help


Because of the complexities of cars these days many motorists belong to a motoring organisation for roadside assistance. This makes sense. Make sure the policy covers all your needs, like getting you and yours plus the vehicle safely back home. The next step is to contact your local car servicing garage and have them attend to the problem. A well maintained car is a safe car that hopefully won’t let you down.

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