Motorway breakdowns are more hazardous than any other location, the volume of traffic and it's speed can turn inattention into fatality.

For any breakdown scenario, whether it be on a quiet country lane, or a busy motorway,  there is one golden rule... join a rescue organisation.

Membership of the AA, RAC or one of the other rescue services is the cheapest and most effective form of insurance that you can buy and will be worth it's cost the first time that you need it!

For the unprepared, the fees charged by a local garage for towing a broken down car off a motorway can require a second mortgage to pay up!

If you have broken down you have hopefully reached the hard shoulder.

  • Turn on the hazard flashers
  • Move yourself - and any passengers - out of danger. Get out of the car on the verge side ONLY and get off the hard shoulder onto the verge or embankment.
  • Once you are in a safe place you can consider your next move

If you break down on the carriageway and cannot move the car you are in great danger

  • turn on the hazard flashers
  • move yourself - and any passengers- IMMEDIATELY - to a safe place. Only try to reach the hard shoulder if the road is completely clear. If you are in the fast lane and there are 2 rows of barriers next to you, climb between them and stay there until help arrives.
  • Attempt to move the car only if it is safe to do so, getting it as far off the road as possible.
  • NEVER try to push a car on the motorway.
  • If the engine is dead, the car can usually be moved on the starter for a short distance. Engage second gear and keep the ignition key turned all the way on to keep the car moving. It's slow but it works.
  • If you have a flat tyre moving the car a short distance will do no worse damage to the tyre.
  • If you can't move the car, turn the steering wheel into the kerb then, if it should be hit, it will be pushed off the road and not towards the oncoming traffic.
  • Only if it safe to do so attempt to establish the cause of the problem, it may be simply solved.

That basic car maintenance course at the local evening college now seems a better idea doesn't it?

For example, if there is a flat tyre on the nearside of the car and it is parked on the hard shoulder then change the wheel, but DO NOT attempt it if the puncture is on the offside as this puts you too close to the fast moving traffic.

First, ease the wheel nuts off a couple of turns before raising the car, jack the car up and, if possible, place a support under it before removing the wheel. A good tip is to place the removed wheel on it's side partly under the car until the spare wheel is on, this will prevent further damage to the car if it falls off the jack but, most importantly, may prevent injury to anyone partly under the car.

If you lack leverage to loosen the wheel nuts then carry a more substantial wheel brace or an extension tube. Those wheel braces supplied with the car are rarely strong enough or long enough for sufficient leverage. The type known as a spider - which fits a variety of wheel nut sizes -  is the best.

When tightening wheel nuts it is best to stand partly on the lever to ensure that they are tight enough.

Just stopped and won't restart? Check under the bonnet for loose wires and replace any that are obviously detached.

Check all of the fuses and replace any broken ones with spares - if you have them - or steal a fuse from the stereo or some other inessential part of the electrical system.

Check that you have not simply run out of fuel. If so, and you are a member, the rescue organisations will bring out a gallon at your request.

If you can do nothing to quickly solve the problem walk to the nearest emergency phone. It's location will be shown by an arrow on the marker posts which are set at 100 metre intervals. Each telephone is coded to identify it's position to the operator who will also require the car type, colour, registration number and, if you are in a rescue organisation, your membership number. If you are not a member of a rescue service they will arrange a local garage to come out to your aid.

But, leaving the car can be a worrying move for a lone woman and the best advice is probably to stay with the car and lock yourself in. Many car accessory shops now sell " Help-Call Police " signs which I would strongly recommend to women who often travel alone. A dearer alternative is the one way only emergency car phones which the AA now offer to members. Should someone stop to help you and you suspect their motives, stay locked in the car and just lower the window to tell them that help is already on it's way. When help does arrive ask for proof of identity before getting out of the car.

All, I hope, helpful advice that you will never need.


Article © Graham Benge 2007

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