Car breakdowns: what to do and how to stay safe

There's never a good time to break down - here's how to mitigate that

A warning triangle on the road

by Cat Dow |

When your car breaks down, it’s not only really disruptive to your day, it can be really hazardous. As we speak, MPs are debating whether to delay the introduction of all-lane smart motorways, the pilot of which has claimed the lives of 38 people between 2014-2019.

In the UK, the advice in a vehicle breakdown is to stick your car’s hazards on, call for assistance and—if the environment is safe enough—get everyone out of and away from the vehicle, using the doors away from any moving traffic.

Related: Best emergency kits

It’s not fun to clamber over the passenger side at the best of time. But clamber over the crash barrier and standing on a grass verge is an unnerving prospect in the cold, dark and wet of winter on a motorway or country road, especially if you're with children.

So here’s a comprehensive list of things to consider to prepare your car for each journey you make in the winter months, in case of emergency.

Utonomes Emergency Light, V16 Warning Signal and Flashlight

Utonomes Emergency Light, V16 Warning Signal and Flashlight
Amazon

View offer

Road traffic accidents account for 13% of all deaths in the UK and 60% of those occur on country roadsu2014terrifying statistics for anyone who has car trouble and needs to pull into the side of the road, but perhaps not so shocking, in an age of distracted driving, when weu2019ve all seen the car or truck in front swerve too close to the nearside white lines. Help increase visibility of your broken down car, alerting other drivers more obviously while roadside recovery is on its way.

AA Vehicle Breakdown Safety Kit Plus

AA Vehicle Breakdown Safety Kit Plus
Amazon

View offer

These handy little kits often contained bits and pieces of other items mentioned on this list, such as visibility devices and jump leads. They tend to come in compact little zipper bags that store neatly so you donu2019t even remember theyu2019re in the car until a crisis hits.

Cocoon Travel Blanket CoolMax

Cocoon Travel Blanket CoolMax
Amazon

View offer

In the wind, rain, fog and dark, the roadside can be very intimidating. Having a blanket or spare wind-proof, waterproof jacket in the car can feel like a high-five from Heaven. Whatu2019s more, if anyoneu2019s been injured as a result of the breakdown, or collision, they may start to go into shock, meaning theyu2019ll need some help to keep their body warm and avoid any further complications while you wait for help. Thereu2019s plenty of choice, from last seasonu2019s sofa snuggle, to those single-use foil blankets that take up next to no boot space, whatever you pick, youu2019ll be grateful to yourself for such smart prep.

Pack of 4 Pocket Torches

Pack of 4 Pocket Torches
Amazon

View offer

Going to rely on your mobile phone torch, are you? Really, when your battery has 3% juice and youu2019re trying to make sure the roadside recovery can find you? It might be old-fashioned, but weu2019re not suggesting keeping candles and matches to hand. A small torch will help navigate any tricky terrain while you stay safe. Also, sometimes, those country roads are a total dead zone for mobile signal. If you need to leave the vehicle and go for help, itu2019d be wise to have you have a light to guide you.

Anker Power Bank, PowerCore Slim 10000 Portable Charger

Anker Power Bank, PowerCore Slim 10000 Portable Charger
Amazon

View offer

To avoid that dreaded 3%, itu2019s worth keeping a charged power bank in your car for emergencies. Thankfully, there are some really practical innovations on the market, where a jump-starter pack will also double up as a laptop/phone charger. That means all you have to do is ensure itu2019s charged in case of emergency. Easier said than done, so we advised putting together a handy collection of spare charging cables too. Better safe than sorry, right?

Maynards Bassetts Mint Favourites Sweets

Maynards Bassetts Mint Favourites Sweets
Amazon

View offer

Breaking down is totally rubbish, but fictitious studies have shown looking forward to your dinner, only to break down after a long day at the office is enough to make the most reasonable motorist super hangry! Having a humbug, toffee chew or packet of crisps to munch on while you wait is typical fayre for the roadside-stranded motorist. Whatu2019s more, if the sweets are old enough, you can make a game of get-the-wrapper-off-the-sweetie-without-getting-sticky-fingers to entertain the kids while you wait.

Toamen Water Bottle, 2.2L

Toamen Water Bottle, 2.2L
Amazon

View offer

Hydration is a must for you and your motor so it never hurts to keep a spare bottle of water in the car. Whether its the radiator that needs a bit of support, the screenwash is a bit desperate or the kids have ended up with sticky fingers after all, water is especially handy. If youu2019re feeling a bit parched, water can ward off any tiredness too.

AA Ultimate First Aid Kit

AA Ultimate First Aid Kit
Amazon

View offer

Though weu2019re not expecting any serious injuries in a breakdown, mild cuts and abrasions can happen, since the roadside verge isnu2019t the most pleasant or clean of places to hang out, so you need a first aid kit. Debris, such as glass and sharp metal, gets inadvertently (and sometimes very deliberately) discarded and chucked around by tyres every day. Much of it ends up in the gutter and isnu2019t immediately identifiable in the dark or wet conditions. Having the basics to hand will minimise the stress in an already stressful situation.

Salomon Speedcross 4 GTX Men's Waterproof Trail Running Shoes

Salomon Speedcross 4 GTX Men's Waterproof Trail Running Shoes
Amazon

View offer

Being stranded in your best Jimmy Choos or box-fresh Yeezyu2019s is no laughing matter. Not least because mud, gravel, grass and rain arenu2019t going to do those babies any favours. Itu2019s worth keeping a spare pair of old trainers you donu2019t care so much about, just in case you need to make a quick switch. On our advice, itu2019s time to treat yourself to a new pair, just so you can downgrade your current ones to u2018sparesu2019!

Yakers Dog Chew Medium 2 pack

Yakers Dog Chew Medium 2 pack
Amazon

View offer

Like kids, dogs need food, water and entertainment. WIth more of us owning dogs than ever before, itu2019s possible pooch will be with you when the car decides to give up. By the roadside, some dogs can get more agitated without something to distract their attention away from the cacophony of the passing cars or silence of an isolated country road. A few treats or one of those long-lasting chew bones will help you focus on what you need to do, while making pooch comfortable and secure in an unfamiliar environment.

Read next:

Power banks you can keep in your glovebox

Torches to help you see in the dark

Best portable car battery chargers

Sign up to the Parkers Newsletter to keep up to date with more of the latest reviews, news, and recommendations from the Parkers team.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us