What to do when your car breaks down – and who to call

RACV roadside assistance man walking towards broken down car with woman and child


Posted July 03, 2024

From quiet country roads to busy freeways, there’s never a good time for your car to break down - but it doesn't have to ruin your day. Here's what to do if your car breaks down, so you can get back on the road ASAP.

A car breakdown is always an inconvenience, especially when you're on your way to work, driving to the airport, or travelling on a road trip. It can also be dangerous: several Australians lose their lives each year after being hit by vehicles when stopped in emergency lanes. For your safety and peace of mind, it's important to learn how best to deal with your car breaking down unexpectedly.

How to help prevent a car breakdown

Cars don’t generally break down for no reason. Regularly servicing your vehicle can fix potential problems before they affect your car's performance. Tyre maintenance is also important. Wear and tear, and improper tyre inflation are common causes of flat tyres, as well as punctures. When driving, be aware of any strange noises, a change in the way the vehicle feels, a lack of power, or warning lights on your dash. 

If something doesn’t look, sound or feel right, pull into a service station or park well off the road and call a reputable roadside assistance provider such as RACV Emergency Roadside Assistance on 13 11 11.

You should also store some emergency essentials in your car in case of a breakdown. A torch, first aid kit, fully charged mobile, phone charger, and a bottle of water are all helpful items in the event of a car breakdown. If you regularly travel to remote locations where mobile service may not be available, it's worth investing in a satellite phone or personal location beacon (PLB), so you can call for emergency services if needed.


emergency stopping bay on a main road

If you break down, look for the safest place to park at the side of the road and ring for assistance. Image: Getty

What to do when your car breaks down

Assess the area and stop the car appropriately

If you need to stop driving because of a car breakdown, put your hazard lights on and find a safe place to stop your vehicle.

When driving on freeways, motorways and highways, move as far to the left of the road as possible to leave the road clear for other motorists.

When driving on country or regional roads, it's crucial to avoid stopping your car directly after a bend, where high speed limits, poor visibility and narrow road shoulders can create a dangerous environment.

If your car begins to sputter near a bend, 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.


RACV roadside assistance van helping a broken down ute

Stop your car in a safe area and keep yourself far away from moving traffic.

Get yourself to a safe position

Once you've parked your vehicle, switch off your ignition and keep your hazard lights on.

If your car is a safe distance from traffic, stay inside the vehicle and keep your seatbelt buckled, while waiting for help.

If your car is in a dangerous position close to traffic, exit through the passenger door to keep the car between yourself and moving traffic. Stand as far from the road as possible.

If your car breaks down in the middle of traffic and you can't get your vehicle off the road, ring VicRoads’ Incident Response Service on 131 170 for immediate help.


RACV roadside assistance van helping a broken down car

RACV Emergency Roadside Assistance customers in metro Melbourne receive an SMS notifying them when a van is due to arrive.

Call your roadside assistance service provider

Once you're safe, it's time to call your roadside assistance service provider immediately, such as RACV Emergency Roadside Assistance on 13 11 11, which is available to subscribers 24/7 Australia wide.

Let the RACV Emergency Roadside Assistance operator know your name, your vehicle registration, where your car has broken down, and what you believe to be wrong with your vehicle. Note any landmarks or road signs that can help the RACV Emergency Roadside Assistance expert find you. 

One of RACV's signature yellow Emergency Roadside Assistance vans will then be dispatched to your car breakdown location to help. If you're in metro Melbourne, you'll also receive an SMS to track the patrol van's arrival, giving you peace of mind.

Outside of mobile phone range with no satellite phone? Stay with your vehicle and safely flag down another motorist to help you. Before they give you a ride to a service station or into mobile range, write down their ID details and leave that information in your vehicle for extra security.


RACV Emergency Roadside Assistance mechanic helping a woman with her car

When the RACV Emergency Roadside Assistance van arrives, a roadside specialist will find out what's wrong with your vehicle.

Wait for roadside assistance to arrive and help

Once the RACV Emergency Roadside Assistance van arrives, a roadside specialist will find out what's wrong with your vehicle by asking you questions, and potentially run a diagnostic test on your vehicle.

Nine out of ten RACV Emergency Roadside Assistance callouts are fixed on the spot, with common issues including flat batteries, empty fuel tanks, locked keys and tyre punctures. If your vehicle can't be immediately repaired, RACV Emergency Roadside Assistance will arrange for your vehicle to be towed to a car repairer.