Handling motorway breakdowns in the UK

author image-crispin
By Crispin Bateman
Updated on Tuesday 27 June 2023

Woman looking at engine with car bonnet up after breaking down

Experiencing a car breakdown on a motorway in the UK can be a daunting situation. It is crucial to know how to respond effectively to ensure your safety and the safety of others on the road. This guide provides detailed instructions on what to do if your car breaks down on a motorway in the UK. By following these steps, you can minimise risks, alert others, and efficiently handle the situation.

Stay safe and signal

1. Stay calm and assess

As soon as you realise your car is experiencing a problem on the motorway, remain calm and carefully assess the situation. Be aware of your surroundings and any potential hazards.

2. Move to the left lane

If possible, safely steer your vehicle to the leftmost lane. Try to reach an emergency refuge area or a motorway service area. These designated areas are equipped to handle breakdowns and provide assistance.

3. Turn on hazard lights

Activate your hazard lights to warn other drivers of your presence and to indicate that your vehicle is not in motion.

4. Consider traffic flow

If it is not possible to reach an emergency refuge area or service area, pull over to the hard shoulder, ensuring you are as far to the left as possible. Avoid stopping near bends or areas with limited visibility.

Alert authorities and seek assistance

Use emergency phones

On the motorway, you will find emergency phones at regular intervals. Use these phones to contact Highways England or the police. They will provide guidance, assistance and can help coordinate breakdown services.

Provide accurate information

When contacting the authorities, provide them with your location, the direction of travel, vehicle details and a brief description of the problem. This information helps them respond promptly and effectively.

Call for roadside assistance

If you have breakdown cover in place, contact your breakdown service provider using the contact information provided on your policy. They will arrange for roadside assistance and recovery services. If you do not have breakdown cover, call Assist-U for roadside assistance and recovery services.

Stay with your vehicle

In most cases, it is safer to remain inside your vehicle while waiting for assistance. However, if you feel unsafe, especially due to traffic, exit the vehicle on the passenger side and move to a safe location, preferably behind the barriers.

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Ensure visibility and safety

Use hazard warning triangle

If it is safe to do so, place a warning triangle at least 45 meters (147 feet) behind your vehicle on the hard shoulder. This alerts other drivers to your presence and helps prevent accidents.

Wear high-visibility clothing

If you have a high-visibility vest or jacket, wear it to increase your visibility to other motorists.

Keep passengers safe

Ensure all passengers, including children and pets, exit the vehicle safely and move to a safe location behind the barriers. Keep children close and under supervision at all times.

Await professional help

1. Stay patient and calm

While waiting for assistance, remain patient and avoid attempting repairs unless you are qualified to do so. It is safer to let professionals handle the situation.

2. Lock your vehicle

If you leave your vehicle unattended, ensure all windows are closed, and the doors are locked.

3. Stay alert

Be attentive to approaching breakdown or emergency vehicles. Follow any instructions given by the authorities over the phone or in person.

4. Keep informed

If there are any changes or updates to your situation, contact the authorities and breakdown recovery service to provide them with the latest information.


Experiencing a car breakdown on a motorway in the UK can be unsettling, but by following the steps outlined in this guide, you can effectively manage the situation. Remember to prioritise safety, communicate with the authorities and wait for professional help to arrive. Many drivers have breakdown cover in place to assist with unexpected vehicle breakdowns. If you have breakdown cover, contact your service provider. If you do not have cover, call Assist-U for reliable roadside assistance and recovery services. Stay calm, stay visible, and remain cautious throughout the process.

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