What is the procedure if my car breaks down on a French motorway?

Unlike in the UK you should not call your own breakdown cover provider

An SOS emergency telephone on a French motorway
Emegency orange telephones are found every 2,500 metres along French motorways.

Reader Question: If my car breaks down when driving on the motorway, do I need to follow any specific rules? My neighbour mentioned he has a smartphone application for this but I do not use ‘apps’ on my phone. What should I do?

There are specific rules which you must follow if you break down on a French motorway (autoroute) which differ from those for other roads. 

The most important of these are the safety steps, which are the following:

  • Immediately pull over to the hard shoulder (bande d’arrêt d’urgence) when you notice a problem

  • Put on your reflective jacket (gilet jaune), a mandatory item in your vehicle which should be within easy reach (i.e. you should not have to get out of the car to put it on)

  • Get out of the car alongside any other passengers – who should put on their reflective jackets if they have them – and stand behind the barrier of the hard shoulder

  • Place your warning triangle (triangle de presignalisation) 150m behind your car (still on the hard shoulder), to warn oncoming drivers that your car has broken down. 

Once these steps are followed, you will need to contact the authorised breakdown services; you should not attempt to fix your car yourself.

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Who do I contact – and how?

Note that unlike in the UK, you do not call your own breakdown cover provider should you have this. 

You need to call the motorway operator for the route you are on, who will send an emergency worker to assist you, or another emergency service (such as the pompiers) if necessary.

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Only authorised specialists are allowed to attend breakdowns on motorways, these are directly employed by the route operator.

They will either attempt to fix your vehicle on site, or if the breakdown is too complex take your car to a nearby garage.

In some scenarios you can ask them to take you to a specific garage, as long as it is less than 5km from the nearest motorway exit to the breakdown site.

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You can call motorway services on orange roadside phones that will directly connect you to the motorway operator. These are every 2,500 metres along the road, there is a sign every 500 metres pointing towards the closest one. 

Some operators have free smartphone apps to contact the motorway service agents. 

These include the SOS Autoroute (for APRR, AREA, and Sanef networks) and Ulys by Vinci. 

It is possible to contact some operators using your mobile phones, however most route operators recommend using their applications, the orange roadside phones, or calling the emergency services directly if in a non-breakdown emergency.

You can call +33 (0) 9 708 08 709 for breakdowns on Sanef and SAPN routes, for example

Read more: Money saver: Ways to reduce motorway toll fees in France

How much does this service cost? 

The prices for a motorway callout are fixed by the government, and updated approximately once a year. 

From July 2023 the prices are €144.52 for a vehicle weighing 1.8 tonnes or less, and €178.70 for vehicles between 1.8 and 3.5 tonnes. 

HGVs and other heavier vehicles face additional costs.

On weekends, bank holidays, and between 18:00 and 08:00, an additional 50% surcharge is levied. 

The costs often need to be paid upfront, but are usually covered by your insurance policy. Depending on how severe the breakdown is, and the time of the accident, your insurer may also cover the cost of a hotel / courtesy car.