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Essential breakdown tips

Breaking down is never a welcome experience, whether a deadline is involved, such as catching a flight, or you're just out and about in your car. Still, it can be more bearable with a little bit of advance preparation. We're talking things like what essential items you should store in your car for this possible eventuality. Read on for our top tips...

A map will help you establish where you’ve broken down and identify if any properties, businesses or other amenities are within reasonable walking distance. Old-fashioned paper maps and road atlases have the advantage of not being subject to battery life, but the downside is they become outdated and can’t be interacted with using ‘pinch and zoom’ or search facilities like the map on a mobile or tablet.

Keeping breakdown documentation in your glovebox is ideal. Alternatively, make a note of your reference code and the telephone number to call, so you can report your breakdown quickly and get any assistance you may need.

Carrying an empty fuel can in the boot is handy if you break down due to running out of petrol or diesel. Walking a short distance to a nearby fuel forecourt can be much preferable to waiting for a breakdown van to arrive.

Using a warning triangle is recommended at any time of the year, but particularly in the winter months or if you break down at night. It increases your car’s visibility and keeps you safer as a result.

A jumper, coat, fleece and/or blanket may take up a bit of room in the boot but will help to keep you warm if your journey comes to a halt, leaving you stranded for potentially several hours. Let’s face it, in the UK it can be chilly even on a summer evening.

Storing a first aid kit in your car might come in handy if you or a passenger attempt to fix something and accidentally cut yourself.

High-vis vests or jackets aren’t mandatory for UK motorists like they are in much of Europe, but it’s still a good idea to keep one in your car to maximise your visibility in case you break down.

Non-perishable food such as biscuits, crisps, chocolate, and suitable tinned food with ring pulls could help keep hunger at bay if you break down somewhere remote, and could help prevent fainting or illness. By the same token, it’s a good idea to keep one or more bottles of water in the boot to help keep you hydrated in breakdown situations.

Mobile smartphones are commonplace nowadays and can not only help you phone for assistance and identify your location, but may also prove helpful in terms of searching online for possible DIY car repairs. It’s not much use if your phone’s battery goes flat, though. This can be avoided by keeping a spare, charged phone battery inside the car, as a 12V/USB charger need the engine to be running to work.

A torch is very handy to keep in your car, and compact LED torches don’t take up much space or weight and have an impressively long battery life.

Portable battery chargers which take power via a car’s 12V socket are widely available for all engine sizes and can prove invaluable for people who drive cars with recurrent battery problems.

Jump leads are the next best thing if you've broken down because of a flat battery.

Tyre inflators and repair kits are also sold by numerous shops and online retailers, even supermarkets, helping motorists who have suffered a puncture to get to the nearest tyre fitter, so a permanent fix can be provided.

Breaking down in the winter can be even more problematic, and drivers are advised to take sturdy footwear, an ice scraper, a shovel and a blanket with them.

Small change isn’t always something people think to carry with them in today’s world of contactless card payments, but a few coins could make all the difference, such as using a payphone if your mobile phone is flat or has been damaged.

Engine oil, antifreeze/coolant and water may seem over the top and likely to take up unnecessary space in the boot but for cars with larger luggage space, it makes sense to carry them just in case.

Changing a flat tyre might be something you’re happy to carry out yourself without calling and waiting for the breakdown services, but remember that this task shouldn’t be attempted on a motorway’s hard shoulder or by the side of any another road. Once all passengers have exited the vehicle, jack it up according to the handbook, doing so on firm level ground, before using a wrench to remove the wheel in order to put the correctly-inflated spare on.

Each car breakdown is different in terms of location, the nature of the problem, the time of day, the weather, and how many people are in the vehicle at the time. However, by following these tips and carrying many if not all of these breakdown essentials with you, the situation can be made much more bearable.