Summer getaway 2023

Quarter of a million cars heading for a summer holiday breakdown

  • 16 million cars expected on holiday trips in the UK this summer
  • Cars used primarily in cities may throw up faults on longer runs
  • Checking your owner’s manual could help avoid a warning light callout
  • Knowing the condition of your spare tyre could save vital time

20 July 2023

A quarter of a million cars used for holidays in the UK this summer will suffer a breakdown, predicts the AA, with those coming from cities or owned by people most likely to have a family facing the greatest risk.

From the experience of 3,742 AA members who went on motoring holidays during the first two May bank holidays*, 61 (1.6%) had their trips grind to a halt because of breakdowns.

Motorway queue

That 16 in every 1000 failure rate among the 41% of drivers who told the AA they are holidaying in the UK this year and plan to drive** indicates that hundreds of thousands of summer getaway cars will become stranded over the holiday period.

Their numbers will swell significantly as a further 32% of drivers surveyed said they were considering a UK holiday trip of some sort this summer. With industrial action threatened on the railways and at airports, more travellers may opt to go on holiday by car in the UK.

With 33 million registered cars in the UK, those definitely planning a staycation by car this summer is likely to exceed 13.5 million**. And with another third considering a holiday trip in the UK, the number of cars on the roads this summer is estimated to exceed 16 million.

The breakdown rate among the May bank holiday drivers points to a potential 250,000 cars suffering some kind of mechanical defects on the roads this summer.

City drivers and those most likely to have a family on board are particularly vulnerable to breakdowns, the AA research suggests:

  • Londoners (3.5%) are more than twice as likely to suffer a breakdown on a holiday trip, with East Midlanders not far off (3.0%).
  • Drivers that are likely to have a young family (25 to 34 years) are most likely to encounter a roadside breakdown. At 3.9%, they are nearly two and a half times more at risk than the average.
  • Among lower-income car owners, 22 in every 1000 will endure a breakdown while holidaying by car, versus 13 among the most well-off.
“Faced with so many other things on their minds and demands on their finances, car care may take a back seat”
Nick Powell, AA patrol of the year

Nick Powell, AA patrol of the year, said: “The low mileages that city cars tend to do, particularly in London, makes it more difficult for their owners to pick up on things that may be going wrong with their vehicles. Go on a journey of hundreds of miles, with the summer holiday challenges of heat and traffic jams, and hidden faults such as tyre and coolant problems can easily spring up and ruin a holiday.

“The breakdown threat to families is quite worrying but perhaps understandable. Faced with so many other things on their minds and demands on their finances, car care may take a back seat – until the parents and kids find themselves waiting on the verge for help to arrive.”

The AA offers a number of tips to reduce the possibility of a summer holiday turning into a breakdown ordeal:

  • Check your oil and coolant levels and your tyres (including the spare).
  • Use the AA Route Planner to plan your route and to check for the cheapest fuel in your area. Make sure you have enough fuel or electric charge for your journey, including any unexpected delays or diversions.
  • Familiarise yourself with your dashboard warning lights. Many drivers suffer the inconvenience of reporting a breakdown for this reason when it would have been perfectly safe for them to carry on driving.
  • If you prefer the peace of mind that having your car checked by professionals can bring, you can book a car check with SmartCare.

Motorway breakdowns

Millions of drivers will head onto Britain’s motorway network this summer and although motorways are known to be amongst our safest roads, breaking down on one can be an unsettling experience, especially if you’re not used to driving on them.

In addition to providing peace of mind, having adequate breakdown cover in place before you travel makes sound financial sense. In April this year, National Highways increased its minimum removal charge to £192 from £150. This charge only covers moving you and your broken-down vehicle to a place of safety and does not include any repairs or further recoveries.

Reporting a breakdown

If your car breaks down when temperatures are high, it’s even more important than usual to get help to you as quickly as possible. The quickest way for AA members to report a breakdown is online or through the AA breakdown app – Along with other benefits like the AA Route Planner and discounts when visiting the UK’s top attractions, reporting a breakdown through the app will help to get a five-star patrol to you sooner. Importantly, given the current cost of living, the AA app will help to find the cheapest fuel nearest to you. If you’ve previously stored the AA’s number in your phone, make sure you have the latest prefix stored as this has changed from 08 to 03 – the current number to report a breakdown is 03330 046 046.

Using what3words

If you're broken down and need to get hold of our call centre for help, using what3words helps our agents pinpoint your exact location – meaning we can get a patrol out to you as quickly as possible.

Download the app onto your mobile phone today so you have it in case of an emergency.

How to use what3words

  1. Open the app
  2. Wait for the blue dot to settle in one place
  3. Tap to locate yourself using your phone's GPS
  4. Read out the three words at the top of the screen to the call handler. This will help them verify your location and send help exactly where it's needed

What3words works offline, making it ideal for areas with unreliable data connections.

Check your spare tyre

Last year, the AA attended more than 460,000 breakdowns where the casualty vehicle didn't have a spare wheel. Moreover, in a large proportion of cases, drivers only found out that they weren't carrying a spare when the patrol arrived on scene.

Knowing the condition of your spare tyre or reporting the fact that you don’t have one can save you time if the worst should happen. The AA has several different solutions when it comes to dealing with punctured tyres, so it’s vital to give the clearest picture possible when reporting your breakdown.

Protect children and pets

On a sunny 27°C day, the inside temperature of a car could reach an oven-like 60°C so it’s important to keep your keys in your pocket if you are placing children or pets into your car. In June alone, the AA has attended an average of more than three cases per day where children or pets had been accidentally locked in cars – along with the keys.

Ports and airports

Those travelling further afield should expect delays around many of the UK’s ports and airports this summer. Operation Brock has been deployed in Kent ahead of the summer getaway period and port authorities have advised that all arriving passengers should have all their documents open on ID pages when arriving at border controls. They are also advising anyone travelling to allow extra time for their journey and to check with the travel operator before setting out. Carrying plenty of food and drink will help keep passengers hydrated if there are any unexpected delays.

*Yonder received 12,225 responses from AA members to its online poll between the 16th – 23rd May 2023. Yonder is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

**Yonder received 15,739 responses from AA members to its online poll between the 16th – 24th January 2023. Yonder is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.