Car breakdown advice

It's really important to keep up with car maintenance to help avoid a breakdown. But even well-maintained vehicles can sometimes fail and the reason for a breakdown is sometimes completely out of the driver's control.

The AA deals with around 10,000 breakdowns every single day, while the RAC attended to a staggering 1,662,412 stranded vehicles in 2014. The main reasons for a car breaking down, as cited by the AA and RAC, include:

  • A flat or faulty battery
  • Flat or damaged tyres and wheels
  • Fuel issues (empty tank or misfuelling)
  • Mechanical problems (alternator faults, for instance)
  • Clutch (cables snapping or the plate wearing away)
  • Ignition (faults with spark plugs or HT leads)
  • Heating issues (overheating and problems with air conditioning and ventilation)

The RAC's annual Report on Motoring says almost half of motorists believe the state of local UK roads have deteriorated in the past 12 months. Potholes in particular are becoming an increasing concern among drivers and for good reason: the RAC received 24% more pothole-related callouts in 2015 compared with the previous year.

What to do in the event of a breakdown

Preparing for a breakdown, and understanding what to do if you have one, will help get you back on the road (and moving) as quickly as possible.

Before setting off, you should:

  • Ensure your phone battery will last the duration of your journey. An adaptable phone charger is useful for keeping the battery topped up en route to your destination.
  • Make sure you have some spare change to use a payphone, just in case you break down in an area with no phone signal.
  • Write down the numbers of important contacts who you may need to call in the event of a breakdown.
  • Prepare an emergency bag to keep in your car boot at all times. This bag should include: a warning triangle, warm clothes, waterproofs, a high-visibility vest, snacks and some water.
  • Carry a physical map with you as this will help when explaining your location to the breakdown company.
  • Remember: regular maintenance won't prevent a breakdown altogether but it will significantly reduce the chance of one occurring. Tyres, fuel, lights, and oil and water levels should be checked every couple of weeks and before any long journeys.

How you deal with a breakdown will depend on where it happens. For instance, breaking down on the motorway requires a different approach than if you were to break down on a quiet country lane. Here are some practical tips on what you should do:

Breakdowns on small and quiet roads

If you break down on a small or quiet road, it might be safe for you to carry out simple repairs, such as replacing a punctured tyre. However, if there is lots of traffic, visibility's poor or your car's obstructing the road, then you should get help.

  • Pull over to the side of the road as soon as you notice that something is wrong with the vehicle. When the vehicle is stationary, put your hazard lights on to warn other drivers. If there is reduced visibility, keep your sidelights on.
  • Place your warning triangle at least 50 feet away from the back of your vehicle. Make sure you wear your high-visibility jacket if there is reduced visibility.
  • If you have decided that it is unsafe to carry out repairs yourself, phone for assistance and stay with the vehicle until help arrives.

Breakdowns on dual carriageways and motorways

Breaking down on a dual carriageway or motorway, with vehicles speeding past at 70mph, can be scary. The hard shoulder should only be used in emergency cases; if you are able to drive to a quieter, safer location, then do so. If you have no other choice but to use the hard shoulder, you should:

  • Start to pull over as soon as you notice something is wrong. Bear in mind that other vehicles may be stationary on the hard shoulder, so look ahead and only pull in when the route is clear.
  • Drive as far left of the lane as possible and turn the wheels so they are pointing left.
  • When the car is stationary, put on the hazard lights and leave your side lights on to warn other drivers.
  • Always exit the vehicle from the passenger door. If you have passengers in the car with you, make sure they exit from the left side, too. Passengers should stand behind the crash barrier, a few metres away if possible.
  • Never attempt to put out the warning triangle or tend to your car while it is parked on the hard shoulder as it is extremely dangerous.
  • Wearing your high-visibility jacket, walk to the nearest emergency telephone, which will be highlighted by roadside markers. The Highways Agency will know your exact location if you call via the emergency telephone. Alternatively, you can ring from your mobile phone and use the roadside markers to notify the breakdown company of your location.
  • When you have called for help, wait near your car a few metres behind the crash barrier.

Benefits of Hastings Direct optional breakdown cover

If your insurance policy doesn't include breakdown cover and you needed assistance, you could find yourself facing expensive call-out and towing fees. It really does pay to be prepared for breakdowns by taking out optional cover.

Here at Hastings Direct, we have a range of policies to suit all needs and requirements. Choose from four levels of optional breakdown cover, all of which feature benefits such as UK-wide coverage, roadside assistance, caravan and trailer service, and cover for misfuelling in the UK.

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