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A car breakdown on the side of the road is never ideal, whether it’s an inconvenient flat tyre or a disastrous engine fault. That’s why we’ve compiled this short, simple guide to help you understand what you need to do when your car breaks down.

Important note: If there’s a roadside emergency (e.g. a traffic accident or car fire), you need to call 000 immediately and ask for emergency services.

How to prepare for a breakdown

There are several ways you can prepare for a breakdown before you even leave your home:

  • Each time you get your car serviced, ensure your car’s tyre pressure is checked, the car battery is fully operational and your oil and radiator tanks are above level. This is particularly important if you’re planning a road trip or other long drive in the future.¹
  • Store a high-visibility vest and torch in your vehicle in case you break down at night or in a dark location.
  • Make sure mobile phones are charged and that you have the Emergency+ app downloaded, which uses your phone’s GPS function to help emergency services locate you.1
  • Add emergency and roadside assistance numbers to your phone contacts.

What to do if your car breaks down

Turn on your hazard lights

When you first notice trouble with your car, turn on your hazard lights. They will act as warning lights and indicate to other motorists that there’s a problem and to be cautious.2

Pull your vehicle over

You must pull off the road as soon as it’s safe to do so.3 Whether it’s in an emergency lane along a busy highway or as far to the left as possible on other roads, keeping you and other motorists safe is crucial.

Be careful when exiting your car

Leave your vehicle from the passenger side (away from the road) and stay far away from the passing traffic. If there’s a road safety barrier, move behind it or retreat to a safe place away from danger.

If it’s unsafe to exit your car, stay inside and leave your seatbelt and those of any passengers fastened.

Phone for assistance

Call for roadside assistance from your car insurance provider. If you don’t have this service through your insurance, your state or territory’s transport department may have a breakdown number you can call for help.

Man looking at overheated engine bay

Some tips if your car breaks down

  • On a motorway. If possible, you should try to exit the highway as soon as you notice something wrong with your vehicle. If you can’t exit, pull over on the breakdown lane or the side of the road as far from traffic as you can. Exit the vehicle using the doors away from traffic and get behind crash barriers to wait for your incident response unit to arrive.
  • In a tunnel. In a breakdown situation, try to leave the tunnel as soon as you safely can.4 If you can’t, you should pull over into a breakdown bay or the side of the lane, away from the traffic. You should also turn on your hazard lights and exit the vehicle (away from oncoming traffic) only if you can wait at a safe distance. If there’s nowhere secure, remain in your vehicle (with a securely fastened seatbelt) while waiting for an incident response unit to reach you. You can also use the nearest tunnel emergency phone to call the tunnel’s control room.
  • With passengers. If it’s safe to leave the car, make sure everyone – the driver and any passengers – exits from the passenger side, away from the traffic.2 If there’s no safe option to exit the vehicle, remain inside and ensure you and all your passengers have their seat belts on.
  • Without access to a phone. If you can’t call for help (either from your phone or if it’s unsafe to walk to a roadside help phone), make sure you stay with your car.2 Wait for help, but don’t walk along highways or motorways if that’s where you’re stuck.
  • At night. As well as activating your hazard lights, you should put your parking lights on if your car breaks down at night.1 If you decide to get out of your vehicle, it’s doubly important to get out from the side away from traffic.

Ensure you’re covered when your car breaks down

While your car insurance may not actually cover a broken-down vehicle, there are situations where the right policy can be of great help when stranded on the side of the road.

If you find yourself in a vehicle breakdown situation where the car will not run for any reason, then having your car insured may cover towing from the scene to a workshop and through the repair process and back into your garage. Towing cover is provided with limitations such as distance between recovery and repair locations and can be an added benefit depending on the policy.  Your cover for towing your vehicle will be explained in your Product Disclosure Statement (PDS). You may also be covered for damage that happens while in the care of others. `

Some insurers will have roadside assistance as an optional extra on some car insurance policies.

Remember to always read the PDS of any insurance product before purchasing. The PDS will include the full details of the inclusions, exclusions, terms and conditions of your cover.

Want to see which providers offer these inclusions? Simply get a quote through our car insurance comparison service! Our service is fast, easy to use and helps you compare from a range of policies all in one place.


  1. © State of New South Wales (Transport for NSW) – NSW Breakdown Safety Strategy. Last updated October 2019. Accessed November 2019.
  2. Queensland Government: Department of Transport and Main Roads – Breakdown safety. Last updated March 2020. Accessed September 2022.
  3. Victoria State Government – Incident response service: If you break down or crash. Published on VicRoads. Last updated April 2019. Accessed November 2019.
  4. Queensland Government: Department of Transport and Main Roads – Tunnel safety. Last updated June 2022. Accessed September 2022.
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