What do if your car breaks down

Moving Well | Nicholas Muscat | Posted on 16 August 2019

From quiet country roads to busy freeways, there’s never a good time to break down.

Breaking down is always an inconvenience, especially on your way to work, catching a flight or on a road trip, but it can also put your life in danger. 

An average of three Australians a year were killed in emergency lanes in the 10.5 years to November 2010, most often by heavy trucks. Busy highways and country roads with narrow shoulders and tight corners are also some of the most dangerous places to break down.

A man standing by his broken down car


Breaking down on a country road

On a regional road, high speed limits, sharp bends, poor phone service and narrow shoulders work against you if your car breaks down. 

  • It is crucial to avoid stopping directly after a bend, which could cause a hazard for drivers approaching from behind. If the car begins to sputter near a bend, either stop before the turn or use the vehicle’s momentum to move ahead of the corner, allowing traffic behind you more time to slow down safely and avoid a crash. 

  • Park as far to the left of the road as you can, and turn on your hazard lights.

  • If the car is in a dangerous position close to traffic, get out through the left-side doors and stand as far from the road as possible. Never try to cross a major road on foot. 

  • Call your roadside assistance service. Note any landmarks or features to help the patrol find you. 

  • If the car is a safe distance from traffic, keep your seatbelt buckled while waiting for help.

  • If you’re out of mobile phone range, stay with your vehicle and try to safely flag down another motorist to help you. Ask for their ID, write down their details and leave it in your vehicle along with where they’re taking you. 

Breaking down on a freeway 

  • If you break down on a freeway, immediately signal and move as far to the road’s left as possible if it’s safe to do so.

  • Once stopped in the emergency lane, turn on your hazard lights to make yourself visible to other motorists. 

  • Call roadside assistance, noting any signs or markers to help the patrol find you. If you cannot get your vehicle off the road, ring VicRoads’ Incident Response Service on 131 170. 

  • If the car is in a dangerous position close to traffic, get out through the left-side doors and stand as far from the road as possible. Never try to cross a freeway on foot.

  • If the car is a safe distance from traffic, keep your seatbelt buckled while waiting for help.

Avoiding and preparing for a breakdown

  • Cars don’t generally conk out suddenly. Be aware of strange noises, a change in the way the vehicle feels, a lack of power and warning lights. If something doesn’t feel right, pull into a service station if you can, or park well off the road.

  • Regularly servicing your vehicle and having roadside assistance are the best measures to prevent and deal with breakdowns.

  • A torch, fully charged mobile, paper and pen are helpful items in a breakdown.

  • You might not know that a breakdown is imminent, but you can prepare for the possibility. Being aware of your destination and surroundings is key. If you travel to remote locations regularly, a mobile phone may not always receive service to make emergency calls. You could invest in a satellite phone or HF radio for long-distance communication. 

RACV is there for you 24/7 whenever you're in need of help out on the road. We're always just a phone call away.