What to do if your car breaks down

Car broken down? Here's how to stay safe.

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What to do if you break down

If your car or vehicle breaks down it can be dangerous – particularly if you’re on a motorway. But remember that the hard shoulder is only for emergencies – not for making calls, going for a stretch or having a toilet stop.

If your car has broken down, here’s what to do to stay safe before you call us and while we're on our way.

1. Make sure you’re in a safe place
  • Move your vehicle off the road if possible (watch out for any soft verges).
  • If you're on a conventional motorway and can't turn off at the next exit, pull up onto the hard shoulder. Make sure you stop as far to the left as you can, with the wheels turned to the left.
  • If your vehicle breaks down on a smart motorway, try to make it to an emergency refuge area (ERA) or exit slip road. If you enter an ERA, try to position your vehicle within the marked area which is usually aligned with the emergency telephone. This will allow those assisting you to park behind or ahead of you as required.
  • Once your vehicle's fixed and before you leave the ERA, contact the Regional Control Centre on the emergency telephone so the lane can be closed for you.
  • The lane needs to be closed because there isn’t enough space to build up speed in an ERA before rejoining the motorway.
  • Never try to leave an ERA unless National Highways or your breakdown provider has said it’s safe to do so.
  • If your vehicle breaks down on a smart motorway and you can’t make it to an ERA or slip road, you should switch on your hazard lights and try to position your vehicle as far over to the left as is safely possible (making sure you leave room to open the left-hand door). Then call 999. If it’s dark or foggy, leave your side lights on in addition to your hazard lights.
  • If you feel sure it’s safe to leave the vehicle, do so through the left-hand door and stand well clear of the vehicle and moving traffic – preferably behind the barrier (if there is one) on the embankment or verge and upstream of oncoming traffic. Remember the grass verge may be soft or uneven underfoot.
  • Once National Highways has moved your vehicle to a safe place, contact your breakdown provider for assistance. Remember to advise them of your new or current location.
  • Leave any animals in the car.

2. Wear a reflective jacket
  • Put on a high-vis jacket if you have one.

3. Warning triangle distance
  • If you’re on a motorway, it’s not safe to use a warning triangle.
  • If you’re on a road and it’s safe, you can put a warning triangle at least 45m (50 yards) behind your vehicle.

4. Contact us via our app, online at the aa.com or by phone on 03330 046 046
  • Report via the AA app if you have breakdown cover with us and are not on a motorway. There's no need to give us directions – we'll come straight to your phone's location.
  • Report online via the aa.com if you don't have our app. You'll be able to track the Patrol right up to your vehicle.
  • Or call us on 03330 046 046.
  • If you're trying to report a breakdown on the AA app or online at the aa.com and can't find your location, it may be because your location services are switched off.
  • Don’t attempt even a simple repair if you’re on a motorway.
  • If you don’t have a mobile, walk to an emergency phone on your side of the carriageway. Follow the arrows on the white posts at the back of the hard shoulder – the phone is free and connects directly to the police.

Steps 1 to 3 are in line with the Highway Code Rule 274, which tells you what to do if you break down.

We provide 24/7 roadside assistance.

How to keep safe in vulnerable situations

If you have a disability

If you have a disability which would stop you from following our steps if your car's broken down, here's what to do:

  • Keep your seatbelt on.
  • Switch on your hazard warning lights.
  • Call us or dial 999 if you're in immediate danger.

If you feel at risk from another person
  • If you feel at risk, get back into your vehicle using a left-hand door and lock all doors.
  • Leave your vehicle again as soon as you feel this danger has passed.

If you can’t get to the hard shoulder
  • If you're in a live motorway lane, stay in your vehicle unless you can be absolutely sure it's safe to leave it.
  • Put your hazard lights on, keep your seatbelt on and call the emergency services.

Looking for breakdown cover? Read about how it works:

Help us find you faster

  • Our app is the best way for Members to contact us when not broken down on the motorway. You can send us your exact location using your phone’s GPS.
  • In the event you feel in immediate danger, do not use the app or online service. You should call us on 03330 046 046.
  • If you break down on the motorway, look for driver location signs. Call us on 03330 046 046 and we'll coordinate with the appropriate agencies to get you the right support and safety advice.
  • If you use the nearest emergency telephone on the motorway, we'll automatically get your location.

Using what3words

If you're broken down and need to get hold of our call centre for help, using what3words helps our agents pinpoint your exact location – meaning we can get a Patrol out to you as quickly as possible.

Download the app onto your mobile phone today so you have it in case of an emergency.

How to use what3words
  1. Open the app
  2. Wait for the blue dot to settle in one place
  3. Tap to locate yourself using your phone's GPS
  4. Read out the three words at the top of the screen to the call handler. This will help them verify your location and send help exactly where it's needed

What3words works offline, making it ideal for areas with unreliable data connection.


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Published: 24 August 2017 | Updated: 28 September 2022 | Author: The AA
Car park breakdown advice

If your car's broken down in a car park, you're not alone. Whether it’s a flat battery, keys locked in or a puncture, lots of people break down in car parks.

The good news is, they're one of the safest places to be if your car lets you down.

  • Call for assistance or use our app to let us know you need help.
  • You don't need to use hazard lights if you’re not causing an obstruction.
  • If you feel comfortable to do so, leave the car and wait by the car park entrance for us to arrive. Or you can arrange a clear meeting spot when our mechanic calls you. Otherwise, it'll be hard to find a broken-down car in a sea of other cars.
  • If you want to wait in the car, open the bonnet so we can spot you.
  • Check you've got enough time left on your ticket or notify the parking attendant if not.
Town or city breakdown advice

Breaking down in a busy town or city can be pretty stressful. You might be causing an obstruction and delaying other road users.

Here's what to do:

  • Try to get to a safe spot where your car isn’t in the way of others.
  • If you are causing an obstruction, put on your hazard lights straight away.
  • Call us or use our app to tell us your location and get help.
  • Call a family member or friend and let them know where you are.
  • Open your bonnet to show others that you’ve broken down (and not just stopped to make a phone call or pick someone up).
  • Wait a safe distance from your car, but close enough that you can keep an eye out for our van.
A-road or dual carriageway breakdown advice

Busy main roads are among the most dangerous places to be stranded.

Stay safe by following these steps:

  • Try to exit the carriageway or pull into a lay-by.
  • If you can't, get as far off the road as possible, being careful of ditches and soft verges.
  • Put on your lights and hazard lights. It’s important to be as visible as possible.
  • Call us or use our app to let us know you need help. Say that you're in a dangerous location.
  • Call a family member or friend – let others know where you are.
  • Put on a high-vis jacket if you have one.
  • If you're sure it’s safe to do so, put a warning triangle about 45m behind your car. If you're on a bend, put it where it's most visible (which might be further back around the bend).
  • Wait outside the car behind a barrier if there is one. If you can, move up the embankment but stay upstream of oncoming traffic.
  • If your car's in the road and is obscured by a bend or other road feature, stand in a safe place further back down the road so you can warn other road users of the hazard.
Remote area or country lane breakdown advice

Breaking down in a remote area can be quite scary. But in reality, it's among the safest places to be stranded.

Here's what to do:

  • Call us or use our app to let us know you need help and to send your location.
  • Call a family member or friend to see if someone can come and wait with you.
  • If you aren’t causing an obstruction, stay in the car and wait for assistance. You can lock the doors if you feel vulnerable.
  • Use your hazard lights only if you're causing an obstruction.