Vehicle Breakdown Engineer

The Job and What's Involved

Vehicle breakdown engineers go to the aid of stranded motorists at the roadside. They deal with a wide range of emergencies, from complex engine failure to a simple lack of fuel. It is the engineer's job to identify the problem and, if possible, get the vehicle back on the road again.

The job involves:

  • Responding to breakdowns or accidents notified to them by a control centre.
  • Driving to the motorist's location, which may be at the roadside, their home or workplace.
  • Examining the vehicle to identify the problem.
  • Reassuring the driver, explaining the problem and outlining what needs to be done.
  • If possible, carrying out a repair at the roadside, replacing parts as needed.
  • Where a vehicle cannot be repaired at the scene, loading it onto a breakdown vehicle or towing it to a garage.
  • Arranging transport for the driver and any passengers.
  • Ensuring safety at all times, especially at the roadside.
  • Keeping records of work carried out, on paper or electronically.

Breakdown engineers usually work alone. They drive a service van or truck, and sometimes cover hundreds of miles in a day.

Electronic diagnostic equipment is used, as well as a range of manual tools and components.

Breakdown engineers usually work 39 hours a week. They may also be on standby and be required to work additional hours.

They usually work a shift system, covering evenings, weekends and holidays. Some shifts may involve working early in the morning, or late at night.

Most of the time is spent on the road. A driving licence is essential, and some engineers need a HGV or LGV licence.

Engineers carry out diagnosis and repairs outdoors in all weather conditions. Some roadside situations may be potentially hazardous.

Most engineers wear a uniform or overalls.

Salaries may start at around £25,000 a year. With greater experience, earnings may rise to £35,000 a year.

Senior engineers working for larger employers may earn up to £40,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 7,000 vehicle breakdown engineers working in the UK, and opportunities exist throughout the country.

Employers include:

  • National organisations, such as the Automobile Association (AA) and Royal Automobile Club (RAC), which employ their own breakdown patrols.
  • Local garages, which often have contracts to provide a breakdown and recovery service, and organisations which possess a large fleet of vehicles.

Jobs may be advertised in the local press and the large organisations normally advertise on their own web sites.

Education and Training

Vehicle breakdown engineers must be qualified vehicle technicians. This requires NVQ Levels 1 and 2 in motor vehicle maintenance and repair, or an equivalent NVQ at Level 3. A minimum of three years' experience in motor-vehicle repair is also needed, or five years' experience in engineering.

In addition to holding a driving licence, candidates may need to pass an employer's driving assessment and aptitude test, and possibly undergo a medical check. Good eyesight and colour vision may be required.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships may be available in this area of work.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

The Diploma in engineering may also be relevant for this area of work.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Trainees study for vocationally related technical certificates. Apprenticeships and NVQ's are available in roadside assistance and recovery. These cover the full range of activities, from assessing the roadside situation, to recovering light and commercial vehicles after accidents.

The larger employing organisations have induction programmes offering new entrants training in customer service skills and an introduction to their products and systems. They provide further training on the job. They may also support study for relevant qualifications, such as NVQ's in customer service.

It is important for vehicle breakdown engineers to keep up to date with the latest developments associated with vehicles.

They may be expected to attend short courses or continuing professional development (CPD) events to maintain skill levels throughout their career.

Employers may arrange attendance on courses, but engineers are also responsible for ensuring they receive the necessary training.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A vehicle breakdown engineer must:

  • Have a thorough, practical knowledge of a wide range of vehicles.
  • Be quick thinking and good at solving problems.
  • Be good at manual work and using tools.
  • Be a good communicator.
  • Be able to get on with all kinds of people.
  • Have a professional and courteous approach.
  • Have a reassuring manner - customers may be distressed, impatient or embarrassed.
  • Be self-reliant.
  • Be able to explain technical issues in a straightforward way.

Your Long Term Prospects

After experience and further training, engineers may progress to supervisory roles. They may become field service managers, overseeing the performance of engineers in a region.

In larger organisations it may be possible to move into management or administration.

Get Further Information

The Automobile Association (AA),
Member Administration, Contact Centre,
Lambert House, Stockport Road,
Cheadle SK8 2DY
Tel: 0870 600 0371

The Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI),
Fanshaws, Brickendon,
Hertford SG13 8PQ
Tel: 01992 511 521
Website: and

Royal Automobile Club (RAC),
8 Surrey Street, Norwich NR1 3NG
Tel: 01922 727313

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