Broken down without cover – here’s what you can do

Broken down without cover – here’s what you can do
If your car breaks down and you don't have any breakdown cover, you can call a trusted provider to get instant emergency cover. Most providers will charge a fee if you call without having breakdown cover taken out, but it means a mechanic will come out and repair your vehicle or tow it to a local garage.

If you find yourself in a more serious situation – like breaking down on the motorway – reach out to the emergency services by calling 999.

Throughout our lifetime, almost all of us will have car troubles – but when the worst should happen and you suffer a breakdown, having cover can give you peace of mind. However, if you do not have breakdown cover, what do you do?

This guide will give you all the information you need to keep safe and get your car back on the road as soon as possible.

What you can do if you’re broken down right now?

If you’re currently broken down without cover, make sure you’re in a safe place away from moving traffic. After, there are a few things you can do to help get you out of your current situation.

Make sure you remain calm, be aware of other road users and then attempt to pull over so you’re off the road or on the hard shoulder of the motorway.

Once in a safe place, turn on your hazard warning lights. If you can do so safely, exit the vehicle on the side furthest from moving traffic. If you’ve broken down on the motorway, try to stand behind a safety barrier.  

Then put on a hi-vis item and place a warning triangle behind the vehicle.

If you have not taken out breakdown cover on your vehicle, don’t worry. You can still get emergency breakdown help. When in this situation, it’s best to contact a trusted breakdown provider, call an emergency recovery service, or find a local garage that can assist.   

You can also try and repair the car yourself if it’s a minor issue, such as a flat tyre. If you can do this will depend on your skillset and severity of the problem that caused you to breakdown.

Read more about what to do if your vehicle suffers a breakdown, or if you notice other car warning lights on your dashboard.

Call a breakdown provider

If there’s an issue with your vehicle, don’t buy a breakdown cover policy if you’ve already broken down. Most breakdown cover policies start 24 hours after purchase and providers may not be able to help if you buy cover while your vehicle is broken down.

It’s best to call a breakdown cover provider directly. They can help arrange instant breakdown cover, arranging someone to repair or tow your vehicle. Emergency breakdown usually comes with a fee.    

The RAC can send trusted patrols to fix your car, motorcycle, van, or other vehicle, even if you don’t have breakdown cover. Simply call our non-member helpline on 03301598743.

You'll have a pay-as-you-go membership, which also includes access to member discounts on travel, days out and car maintenance. Plus, accident care and a free legal helpline.

It’s important that you don’t buy RAC breakdown cover online if you have already broken down. If you purchase online, then RAC patrols won’t be able to come out and repair your vehicle.

For more information on breaking down as an RAC member or non-member, visit our broken down page.

Emergency recovery

If you are broken down on the motorway, a busy A road, or a dangerous spot – then you should contact an emergency recovery service.

If your vehicle breaks down on a smart motorway, pull into the emergency refuge area. If you’re on a traditional motorway, pull onto the hard shoulder if it’s safe to do so.

Then use one of the emergency phones on the side of the road to call for an emergency recovery.

After emergency recovery arrives, your vehicle will be towed to a recover site (by a local garage or by Highways England for a charge) where you will be able to call a breakdown provider. It’s likely you’ll have to pay for any repairs or travel needed to get your vehicle sorted.

New to driving on smart motorways? Find out more about how to use emergency refuge areas instead of hard shoulders.

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

RAC Breakdown cover from just £7 a month*. Plus FREE Battery Replace!^  

*New, single vehicle-based cover. £7 a month for Basic cover. ^For 1 nominated vehicle when added to Extra or Complete cover. New customers only. Ends 26/02/24, 7am.

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

Find a local garage

If you have broken down without cover you can find a local garage to help you.

They’ll either send someone out to try and fix the issue, or arrange for a tow truck to take you back to their garage.

However, this can end up costing a lot of money – as emergency call outs are expensive, even before they have a mechanic look at the vehicle. Also, almost all garages are not open 24/7 and so you may need to look for accommodation or arrange transport to your chosen destination.

Another consideration is that if you are stuck in a remote area, it could be difficult to find a local garage to help.

With RAC Approved Garages, we have hundreds of high-quality garages and mechanics across the UK that you can trust to get the job done right.

When should I call emergency services?

Regardless if you have breakdown cover or not, if you or other road users are in a dangerous situation, call the emergency services on 999.

Make sure you have pulled over in a safe space and are in a position where you can contact the emergency services.

If it is safe, leave the vehicle and stand in a place where you are away from any danger. If you have any high-vis jackets or vests, please wear them to make sure that other road users and emergency service workers can see you.

Never attempt to make any extensive repairs yourself and if you can, place a warning triangle to warn other drivers that your vehicle may be an obstruction ahead.

You can also report a breakdown with the RAC. If you are in this situation, you do not need to be a member to submit a report.

Can you get breakdown cover and use it straight away?

If you have already broken down, you can call most breakdown providers for instant breakdown cover. However, you’ll likely be charged an additional fee if you don’t already have cover with them. If you’re buying a normal breakdown policy, you’ll usually have to wait 24 hours before you can use your cover.

The RAC offers instant breakdown cover for non-members who have broken down. Once you are in a safe place, call 0330 159 8743 and our team will help arrange a recovery service for you.

If your car is not broken down and you are just looking at getting instant cover before you set off on your next journey, then you can do this through the website. Sign up for RAC Breakdown Cover today.

Roadside Assistance and At Home cover begin on your start date. You can select this when you complete your purchase.

Can I buy breakdown cover after I’ve broken down?

While you can buy immediate breakdown cover online, this is not a suitable option when you’ve already broken down. It’s best to call your chosen provider and discuss your options if you are broken down without cover, as you may have limited choices if you purchase online after an incident.

Call the RAC non-member number on 0330 159 8743 to arrange breakdown cover after breaking down.

Following this, the RAC will send someone out to help solve the issue or tow your car to a garage.

Can I fix the vehicle myself?

If you are not in a serious or dangerous situation after breaking down, you may be able to fix the issue yourself.

However, if it is a technical issue, it is best to leave it to the experts at a local garage or the mechanic on the call out to your vehicle.

There are many reasons why your vehicle might have broken down, but there are a few scenarios where you can get yourself going again, before visiting a professional to check over the vehicle.

You may have a flat tyre. Through these 10 simple steps to change a tyre, you can get your car back on the road – but should the issue be mor serious, drive straight to a garage.

If your vehicle is still juddering, jerking, or stuttering, then it could indicate a more serious issue.

In colder weather, your car is more likely to not start. This could mean you have to jump start the vehicle.

Jump starting a vehicle will require a second engine and jump leads. The video below demonstrates how it works.

This guide of winter tips for cars provides other preventative measures and advice on solutions for why your vehicle isn’t starting.

If your car is overheating and steam is pouring out of the vehicle, you may be able to carry out a temporary fix before you go see a garage.

Open the bonnet from inside the cabin if possible, and leave the engine to sit for at least 30 minutes in order to cool down.

Never remove the radiator cap or expansion tank cap of an overheated engine as it is pressurised and could lead to severe steam burns.

If you do open the cap once the engine has cooled, open it slowly and cover your hand for protection.

Once the engine has properly cooled, check the coolant tank near the radiator. If it’s empty it could mean you’ve run out or have a leak, so check under the car for signs of leakage like a puddle. 

If you need to top up the tank do so with coolant or warm water mixed with coolant.

Should your car overheat again, then it means there is a more significant issue.

Your car dashboard warning lights should tell you if you have any problems, and you should know if it is something that should be seen by an expert.

Broken down in Europe without cover

Throughout the year, hundreds of thousands of Brits drive in other European countries – with many making the crossing into France, either by ferry or Eurotunnel.

Before you set off, make sure you make sure you have read up on our driving in Europe checklist. Also, please refer to the driving advice for every country in Europe page to ensure you are prepared for your journey.

If you are taking your own vehicle, then make sure you have car insurance. However, you should also look at taking out some European Breakdown Cover.

If you do break down in Europe, then help is at hand when you need it most.

The RAC’s 24/7 English-speaking helpline makes it easy to get help quickly. And we’re the only European breakdown cover provider to include unlimited roadside assistance, and a contribution towards garage labour costs, as standard.

However, if you are currently in Europe, with no cover, and your vehicle has suffered from a breakdown – then these are the steps you need to take.

If you breakdown without European cover, you’ll need to find a recovery company to tow you, and an RAC Approved Garage or RAC Mobile Mechanic you can trust to fix your car. You’ll also have to cover all recovery and repair costs. You’ll also need to cover the cost of getting you and your vehicle back home.

Should the worst happen, and your vehicle breaks down in Europe, then this is what you need to do.

Look to pull over safely and get out of your vehicle – while keeping a safe distance from moving traffic. Following this, you should look to call for assistance.

Contact 0332000999 and tell us your location, and we’ll talk you through what happens next.

Hopefully you are now prepared for a European road trip and ensure that you know what to do should you break down without any cover.

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

RAC Breakdown cover from just £7 a month*. Plus FREE Battery Replace!^  

*New, single vehicle-based cover. £7 a month for Basic cover. ^For 1 nominated vehicle when added to Extra or Complete cover. New customers only. Ends 26/02/24, 7am.

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings