Car breakdowns with kids – 11 top tips

I’ve recently, and annoyingly, become quite experienced at breaking down on motorways with an impatient one-year-old in the back of my car. Here’s what I’ve learned…

Keep warm clothes in the boot

I’ve broken down twice in the past week with the whole family in the car (don’t ask), and fortunately both times have been in fine sunny weather. But since the general advice from breakdown companies is to get out of your car and away keep from the hard shoulder if you’re stuck on the motorway, you’re going to need some warm clothes as back-up. This is England, after all!

Always pack snacks

I get cranky when I’m hungry, but our ravenous 15-month-old Sonny (aka The Human Dustbin) takes it to a whole new level. We averaged around 3 hours between breaking down and getting home last week, so the emergency stash of food we’d brought for Sonny turned out to be crucial for avoiding a full-blown toddler tantrum.

Keep your phone charged

If, like me, you never seem to have full charge on your phone you’ll have trouble both calling and staying in touch with your breakdown company for a few hours. I’ve now learned the lesson to always charge my phone before a long car journey.

Always pack nappies

Imagine being stuck on the side of the road or in the back of a cramped car for hours with a toddler/crappy nappy combo for company? Not even worth thinking about.

Learn how to change a tyre

I remember my dad teaching me how to do this when I first passed my driving test, but needless to say I’d forgotten everything about it by the time I had my first blowout 17 years later. If I’d been able to do it myself, we’d have been on our way again again in less than 5 minutes.

Check your wheels for locking nuts

I didn’t even know my car wheels had locking nuts until I tried to change the tyre. It then took me five minutes to find the locking nut key inside the car, and when I did find the key I discovered it was damaged. So even once I’d finally figured out how to change the tyre – I still couldn’t do it!!!

Keep a stash of toys in the car

Needless to say, if you’re messing about and having as much trouble getting moving again as we were, your kid’s going to get bored. Fortunately we never go anywhere without a treasure trove of toys, books, cuddly toys and iPads that keep the little monster occupied even when we’re bored out of our minds. Paw Patrol on Netflix and Little Bum Baby Bum nursery rhymes on YouTube are absolute lifesavers.

Don’t cheap out on breakdown cover

Before Sonny was born the only breakdown cover I’ve ever had is roadside assistance, which basically means that if you break down and they can’t fix the problem on the side of the road, you’re screwed. So grudgingly this year (I’m a classic tight-fisted Yorkshireman) I shelled out a few extra quid to make sure we’d get towed home if the problem was unfixable – and it’s already proved to be a good call. Green Flag Recovery has saved me a small fortune in the past week.

Find a mechanic you can trust

If you need to get towed to a garage, make sure the mechanic is someone you know to avoid getting absolutely fleeced when they get round to repairing your car. And since there’s a good chance your car will arrive at their garage after hours, it’s useful to be able to contact them even when they aren’t open for a bit of advice. Breakdown companies will offer to fix some simple problems on the side of the road, but that could end up costing hundreds of pounds more than the job is actually worth.

Remember what fuel your car takes

OK, I’ll admit it. Recent breakdown No.1 was because I pumped a tank full of unleaded petrol into my diesel car. No excuses – I’m just an idiot. It’s an easy way to cause yourself loads of hassle and waste a couple of hundred quid.

Have a good sense of humour

I won’t lie to you, car breakdowns really piss me off. Especially when they’re my fault, and especially when we’ve got the car fully loaded with all our gear, plus toddler and dog, and it derails our plans for a nice weekend away. Not to mention how much money it all ends up costing! But at the end of the day, so long as you all get home safe, you’ll look back on it and laugh. It might take a few days to see the funny side though…

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