Vehicle checks

How to check your vehicle

Most breakdowns are avoidable, and simple vehicle checks can help you have a safer journey. Check your tyres, lights, fuel, oil and water.

Every year our traffic officers deal with more than 85,000 breakdowns. Over 40 per cent of these are caused by vehicles running out of fuel, poor tyre maintenance, power loss and engine trouble. Simple checks could have prevented some of these breakdowns.


Tyre pressure
Screen wash
Tyre tread

Tyre tread

The legal minimum tread depth for car tyres in the UK is 1.6mm. Driving without the legally required amount of tread can adversely affect your grip, braking distance and steering. If you’re stopped by the police and found with illegal tyres, you could receive a £2,500 fine and 3 penalty points per tyre.


Between June 2019 and May 2020, there were almost 6,500 breakdown incidents due to vehicles running out of fuel. Always keep your tank at least one quarter full to avoid running out on your journey. You can be issued a Fixed Penalty Notice in some locations if your breakdown was foreseeable, which includes running out of fuel.


Maintaining the correct oil level is essential as the oil lubricates, cleans, cools and protects the moving parts of your engine, preventing your engine from seizing up and breaking down.

Tyre pressure

Driving with under-inflated or over-inflated tyres can adversely affect your braking distance, steering, fuel efficiency and the lifetime of your tyres.

Screen wash level

To ensure you have good visibility, always keep your screen wash topped up so you can clear any debris or dirt off your windscreen.


Your lights are not only essential for you; they’re also essential for other drivers to understand how you’re driving your vehicle and how you intend to manoeuvre.

Our vehicle safety check guide

Carrying out a few quick and easy checks will help to ensure you and your vehicle are safely equipped to drive. Having a roadworthy vehicle can also save you time and money in the future.


Download our vehicle safety check guide

You and your journey

Always make sure you’re well-rested and aren’t under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If you’re going on a long journey, plan your route and identify opportunities to take a break.


Know what to do in a breakdown

Knowing what to do in an emergency or a breakdown is the key to keeping yourself and others safe.

If your vehicle appears to have problems or is damaged and you’re on a motorway, always try to exit at a service station or the next junction.

If that’s not possible, you should follow these steps:

  • Pull into an emergency area. These are regularly spaced along the motorway and are marked with blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol.
  • If you can’t get to the SOS telephone in an emergency area but have a mobile phone with you, call our customer contact centre on 0300 123 5000. Why not save this number in your phone, so it’s available when you need it?
  • If you can’t get to the hard shoulder or an emergency area but your vehicle can be driven, move it as close as possible to the nearside (left-hand) verge or other nearside boundary or slip road and put on your hazard lights.
  • If you feel you can exit safely with any occupants, consider exiting your vehicle via the nearside (left-hand) door and get away from the road. Keep clear of your vehicle and moving traffic at all times. For example, if your vehicle gets hit, you’re out of the way.
  • Switch on your hazard warning lights and any other lights such as rear fog lights or side lights, to increase your visibility, especially if it’s dark or foggy. Do not put out a warning triangle.
  • Contact your breakdown recovery service. All motorists should be able to make their own recovery arrangements in the event of a breakdown. We advise you to carry details of your provider with you.


Disabled Motoring UK Chairman Alan Norton talks about why smart motorways are a good thing for disabled drivers and shares his advice on what to do in a breakdown situation.

If it’s not possible to exit your vehicle safely, there’s no safe place to wait, or you feel your life is in danger, put your hazard warning lights on and stay in your vehicle with your seat belt on. If you have a mobile phone, dial ‘999’ immediately.


Read more about hard shoulder use and emergency areas