Classic Breakdown And Recovery

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Classic Car Breakdown & Recovery

Last week my breakdown insurance came through and probably like many others, I called them and haggled. Well the cost reduced from £120 to £69 on the basis that I hadn’t had a claim for 20 years…. or at least although I’d called them out a few times, I’d always managed to fix the problem and cancelled the callout. Whilst my cars are well looked after, there are always gremlins, particularly, as with the Elan I’d only just bought it.

That got me thinking about the number of times I’d actually broken down since the last time they actually arrived and spirited me and the car back home. To be clear, I don’t want to tempt fate, but it is a rather sorry list of breakdowns!

The last (and only so far) recovery occurred in 1999, when I’d taken my Lotus Élan out for a run and my daughter, who was with me in the car, spotted smoke coming from the boot – odd. I stopped and opened the boot to find the wiring was alight. Clearly I turned off the ignition and put out the fire. On phoning the RAC, they asked what I was driving, when I replied, they said “its unlikely we can get it moving so we’ll send a transporter to recover you”. The RAC man said that he never even tried to deal with an older car as he’d been taught to only use his laptop to determine the fault. Clearly I needed to plan on having sufficient tools in the car to fix most breakdowns or simply be recovered.

austin healey

My second breakdown (this time in a Healey) saw the car suddenly stop, thankfully under a bridge on a dual carriageway. I called the breakdown people, then had a look for myself. I lifted the bonnet, tried to keep calm and went thorough the usual things: was it petrol, no, ignition, clearly no spark at the plugs. Eventually, I reckoned the problem lay in the distributor, which after playing around the car started and we cancelled the callout. As things turned out it was a dodgy low-tension lead, soon sorted.

Next callout was on a trip down to Goodwood Revival, stuck in traffic outside Farnham, the car started to show signs of overheating. I managed to get it into Farnham Station car park, call the breakdown company then “set to” to ascertain if it was fixable. As it was the Elan, it has no engine driven fan but the otter switch had failed. So I wired the fan away from the switch so it ran constantlt, problem temporarily solved! Again breakdown outfit “sttod down”.

Probably the scariest breakdown was in the tunnels under Manchester airport when the Healey cut out with no ignition light. The tunnels were down to one lane and a large traffic jam built up behind me. Thankfully a croud of Guys from neighboring cars pushed me a couple of hundred yards out of the tunnel, by which time the breakdown ewas causing sufficient problems to be reported on Manchester Radio. At the side of the road I called breakdown assistance to be told it could be some time as there were traffic problems in my area. This time a I was lucky as after 5 minutes the ignition light mysteriously reappeared and I was able to limp home, only a mile or so and cancel the breakdown service. The fault was eventually traced to the electric fan having been wired directly into the ignition when fitted prior to my ownership.

So what have I learnt from this?

  • Like many owners, I now carry sufficient tools to fix most straightforward breakdowns.
  • Most modern breakdown technicians will have little experience of cars such as ours, so I guess they are likely to recover rather than fix.
  • I now have a warning triangle, flashing beacon (no hazard warning lights on these cars) and a couple of high viz vests.
  • I avoid “smart motorways” at all costs!
  • I carry spares, including mixed fasteners, cable ties, tape and wire to ensure I can usually make a temporary fix at the roadside.

Case Studies