How to cope with and avoid a motorway car break down

Members of FOXY Lady Drivers Club get free car fitness checks at their nearest participating FOXY Lady Approved garage
Members of FOXY Lady Drivers Club get free car fitness checks at their nearest participating FOXY Lady Approved garage

In a recent survey carried out by Good Housekeeping magazine, 44% of women admitted to feeling anxious about driving on motorways.

So the thought of breaking down on one is likely to be a further female fear factor, knowing the risks any motorist runs, parked up on any hard shoulder.

Here are some useful tips, stimulated by a recent IAM Press Release, to remind women to check their cars regularly and incorporating our added experience here.

We hope you’ll find them useful.

Tips re a motorway break down

1) Ensure the coolant and washer fluids are topped up, that the oil level is correct and your car tyres are safe and legal by checking your car’s condition regularly. These actions contribute to your car’s reliability whatever the journey and even more importantly on motorways when your car is travelling faster than it does on other roads.

This tip is a salutary reminder to me of the time (pre-FOXY) I didn’t check my VW Golf’s fluid levels in advance of a motorway journey BECAUSE I’d had my car serviced the day before. I didn’t think I needed to. I was travelling from Sussex to Cumbria, in February, and the roads were particularly filthy after an earlier now defrosted snowfall. I joined the M25, picked up speed and as the windscreen smeared in front of me, in the centre lane by now, I applied my windscreen washer switch to find the water tank was empty. My windscreen was virtually opaque by the time I was able to pull into the inside lane safely, when I limped to the next exit. I could have caused and/or been involved in a nasty accident here for something so simple to check. Amazingly the service checklist “Filled up windscreen washer tank” had been ticked and the dealership stuck to this story when I complained.

2) Keep a high visibility jacket, waterproof clothing and a fully charged mobile phone in your vehicle. Or a charger to keep it topped up. You never know when you will need these.

You may have a need for a camera too, so if your phone doesn’t take photos, keep a disposable one in the car as well.

3) If you suspect a mechanical problem looming (and we hope you’ll have time to react), leave the motorway at the next junction or stop at the nearest service station whichever is first. Only in a real emergency should you pull over onto the hard shoulder, parking as far left as possible to avoid slowing down traffic.

4) Once you have pulled over, switch on your hazard warning lights so other road users are aware that you have stopped.

5) Use the emergency roadside telephone where you need to call for help. The distance to the nearest phone will be marked on the white posts on the hard shoulder – the reason for this is important. The operator will then know precisely where you are if you use this phone, whereas they mightn’t know exactly where you are if you use your mobile.

6) Make sure you and any passengers leave your vehicle by the left-hand side as soon as possible. Stay behind a barrier or up the embankment. If you feel threatened, get back in, lock the doors and call 999 for the police. But remember your extreme vulnerability here. Too many cars are hit from behind by motorists we can only assume do not realise when cars ahead are stationary.

7) NEVER attempt a DIY repair or wheel change on the hard shoulder. Your breakdown service or the Police will tow you off the motorway where necessary to a suitable garage or safe repair location.

8) Make sure you know IF you have a spare wheel and keep this at the correct pressure as the other four tyres. If you don’t have one (and few newer cars do) make sure you know where your tyre repair spray can lives as well as your locking wheel nut so the garage/recovery service can make good or change a wheel if necessary. Remember in future that runflats warn you of punctures, giving you 50 miles in distance to drive at a maximum of 50mph to sort out a change of wheel. That is very reassuring ie no tyre blow outs on motorways. Please see this blog for more information about a new runflat-equivalent tyre called DriveGuard – well worth investing in, given the choice.

NB: You may not be able to stop on a Smart Motorway – this is what they call stretches of motorway where the hard shoulder is used to ease traffic flow at peak travel times.

Neil Greig from the IAM explains…

“On Smart Motorways the hard shoulder is used as an extra lane. If your car develops a problem on this type of motorway then leave at the next exit, or pull into a motorway service area.”

Always be prepared for a car breakdown

There is no simple way to minimise the fear of a motorway breakdown. Running a well maintained car is key (a high percentage of breakdowns are tyre related) but being prepared for unexpected breakdowns means you know what to do and in this way you can avoid the experience becoming too traumatic before you set off safely again.
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