Having a broken-down vehicle can turn a simple journey into a nightmare. You may be driving happily along, when you hear the engine falter and perhaps cut out, or you suddenly become aware that a tyre has burst or gone flat. It’s not an experience that any motorist welcomes for many reasons. You can find yourself in a dangerous situation - breaking down on a busy road or a motorway leaves you in physical danger from passing vehicles. If you are on your own in a stranded vehicle, this adds to the feeling of vulnerability. Last, but not least, is the total inconvenience of not being able to get to wherever you were trying to go.
Hopefully, you can manage to get your vehicle safely to the side of the road or onto a hard shoulder, so what do you do next? If you don’t have breakdown cover, you will need to arrange for someone to come out to you. In this type of emergency, you don’t have the time to ring around searching for a good deal, you need someone you can trust to come along and either repair your vehicle or transport it safely to the nearest garage to get a repair done. The AutoMend network of vehicle repair specialists is there for just such emergencies. We are a UK-wide network with access to over 9,000 garages and mobile mechanics, so there is always someone within reach when you need them. Our trusted professionals will be there for you as quickly as possible to offer help and reassurance. For car or van breakdown and recovery services, you can’t do better than contact a member of the AutoMend network.
On a motorway, or a dual carriageway
Firstly, keep calm – it can be frightening when your car breaks down anywhere, but a busy motorway or dual-carriageway can be especially alarming.
1. Get your vehicle onto the hard shoulder (if there is one). Keep as far to the left as you can and stop with your front wheels turned into the verge. If you can’t make it to the hard shoulder, put on your lights (see below) and immediately call the emergency services.
2. Switch on the hazard warning lights, plus sidelights.
3. Ask everyone to get out of the car through the passenger side doors. Never use the driver’s side doors, as passing traffic could collide with them as they open.
4. Get everyone well back behind the safety barriers, and preferably up an embankment if there is one.
5. If you have pets with you, and they can be kept well under control, take them with you, otherwise they will be safer left in the car.
6. Ensure you are wearing something brightly coloured and highly visible – a high-visibility or reflective coat is ideal. It is recommended you keep one of these in a ‘breakdown safety kit’.
Note – don’t put out a warning triangle if you break down on a fast road. You will put yourself at risk from traffic and cause a potential collision hazard for passing cars.
7. Get help. If you have breakdown cover, call the provider and ask for assistance. If you don’t have breakdown cover, find your nearest AutoMend garage or mobile mechanic - https://www.automend.co.uk/get-a-quote/.
Note – to find our exactly where your broken-down vehicle is located on a motorway, look for the roadside markers which are spaced 100 metres apart. There will also be indicators pointing to the emergency roadside phones.
8. Once your vehicle has been repaired, you will need to get back into the traffic stream. Drive along the hard shoulder to build up speed to match the main traffic. Keep an eye open for other vehicles broken-down on the hard shoulder, or for any obstructions. Wait for a gap in the traffic big enough to allow you to safely re-join the flow.
On other types of road
There is never a good place to break down, and even a quiet minor road can pose problems. Always think ahead to try to anticipate hazards before they become a danger to you or your vehicle. Here is the recommended procedure for a breakdown on an ordinary road.
1. Pull over as far to the left as you can, onto a verge if there is one, into a layby, or at least aim for a place where the road is at its widest.
2. Switch on the hazard warning lights and sidelights.
3. Use your warning triangle if you have one (this should be part of your ‘breakdown safety kit’). Place it on the same side of the road as your car, and at least 45 metres behind it.
4. Get help. If you have breakdown cover, call your provider. If not, contact the nearest AutoMend garage or mobile mechanic.
5. Wait for help. If your car is in a prominent place where it is unlikely that another vehicle will collide with it, you can wait in your car. If it is in a precarious position, it is wisest to stay out of the vehicle and position yourself somewhere safe from traffic.
A little bit of preparation goes a long way, and it’s a good idea to put together a breakdown safety kit to keep in your vehicle. In severe weather it can take a while for a rescuer to get to your broken-down vehicle, so even if you have breakdown cover, you may have a long wait. A few essentials will make the wait safer and more comfortable. There are also certain items that are required by law if you intend to drive overseas, so check the requirements for any country you plan to visit as there are variations.
A first-aid kit is not necessarily needed for a breakdown, but it’s something you should have in your car for emergencies anyway. You can buy a ready-made kit from car accessory or chemist shops, or you can fairly easily make one up yourself.
A fuel can (empty of course, you don’t want to be carrying petrol or diesel around with you) is really useful if your breakdown is caused by running out of fuel. A walk to a local garage to buy a small amount can mean you don’t need to call out a mobile mechanic or get a tow to the garage. It’s not a good idea to push your vehicle to get it onto the garage forecourt, it’s safer to being the fuel to the vehicle.
A high-visibility jacket or vest could be a life-saver if you break down in the dark. Did you know that by law you have to carry one of these if you plan to drive in certain European countries? Get one now, and you can keep it rolled up in one of the car’s side pockets.
A warning triangle is another ‘must-have’ – use it to warn other motorists that your vehicle may be causing an obstruction. It could prevent someone running into your car, and it could save you from injury. Again, certain continental countries insist that you must carry one of these so be prepared.
A means of illumination is an essential – most smartphones have a torch function, but it can drain your battery quickly, so a real torch is a better idea. If it’s a battery torch, keep a spare set of batteries with it. You can also get rechargeable torches with a crank handle or a lever that you squeeze to charge up, which means you never need to be without light.
A car charger for your phone – before travelling, it’s always best to ensure your phone is charged up, but a car charger is also useful in case of heavy phone usage. You may be planning to use your phone as a sat nav and a torch, so you need to have enough charge left to phone for help as well.
Food and drink can literally make a long wait more palatable. A bottle of water and some long-life snacks should form part of your kit. Chocolate bars, cereal bars and crisps are favourites.
In the winter months, there are some additional items that can help to ensure your safety should you break down.
A snow shovel, which is usually a wide plastic blade with a long handle, is really helpful, and there are foldable versions available. An ordinary shovel or spade is also OK, whatever it takes to shift any snow that may be hampering your progress.
A bottle of screen wash (ready-mixed) can be really helpful. You should always ensure your screen wash bottle is topped up with the correct strength of screen wash before travelling, but it can be used up quickly when driving in winter conditions.
An ice scraper and a de-icer spray are another sensible addition. By law, you must clear your windscreen of ice and snow before driving, so a scraper is a must, and de-icer makes the whole job easier.
An emergency blanket is another potential life-saver. A fleece blanket can be very comforting, or you can buy a foil blanket that reflects back your body heat – they fit into a very small space, and you never know when you will need one.
Spare clothes such as a coat or a jumper can also be a comfort. You may get wet while trying to restart your car, and there is no joy in sitting about in wet clothes.
Prevention is always better than cure, so to minimise the chance of breakdowns, ensure your vehicle is fully serviced and operating at its optimum. The AutoMend network of garages and mobile mechanics offer servicing for all makes and models of car and van, so contact them for details of prices to ensure your vehicle is always ready for the road.
There are a few other things you can do before setting off to minimise the risk of breakdowns.
Check that your tyres are inflated and have plenty of tread. Check your oil and coolant levels are correct and that your vehicle has sufficient fuel for the journey. If not, include a stop at a petrol station in your itinerary, and ensure that you leave sufficient time for the pit stop.
Plan your route to avoid delays if you possibly can – being stuck in traffic can cause problems for even the best-maintained vehicle and is pretty wearing on the driver as well.
There are several different ways that vehicle recovery can be accomplished, and some of them are better and safer than others. The ‘soft tow’ which uses a rope, a webbing strap or a chain to attach a broken-down vehicle to the tow ball of a functioning vehicle is the method that is most often used when someone calls in a friend to help them out in a breakdown situation. It is not a particularly safe towing method and if used at all, should only be used to cover really short distances. It only works if the vehicle being towed has a working steering and braking system, as the towed vehicle needs to be steered and the brakes are used to slow it down and keep it a safe distance from the towing vehicle. Both drivers also need to be fully competent for the method to succeed.
The biggest problem for the do-it-yourself tow, is that if your engine isn’t working, the chances are that your steering and brakes will not be working fully either, so the best advice is; don’t attempt this method, call on the experts for help. A breakdown recovery vehicle from a professional garage will usually use a much safer recovery method, such as a rigid bar, or a vehicle lift that can pick up your vehicle and take it safely to be repaired. A professional recovery vehicle will also have seating for the driver and passengers, to travel in safety and comfort, rather than leave them sitting in the broken-down car under tow.
The AutoMend network has access to more than 9,000 mobile mechanics and garages, and they are spread far and wide across the UK, so how do you find the one that can help you? We’ve made it quick and simple because we understand that when you’ve broken down, you don’t have time to waste. Simply start typing the location of your vehicle in our search box and choose the correct place from the list you will see. We will provide details of all the breakdown and towing services in that area, along with their distance from you and their phone numbers.
All our members hold industry approvals, and many of them are able to offer a mobile repair service or can recover your vehicle for you. Simply pick the one you want to deal with and give them a call, it couldn’t be easier or quicker. You can be confident that when you deal with an AutoMend member, you will get the best possible breakdown and recovery services, at an affordable price.