Barmy breakdown stories and what to do when your car breaks down

Heard about the bloke who built a fire under his car engine after it seized up in the cold? It could only happen in the weird world of breakdowns…

Next time your car conks out, it could be a cat trapped in your fan belt or a pigeon dozing in your radiator. We're not kidding! Okay, thousands of mechanics across the globe are at the roadside changing plugs and points and fixing clutch cables. But sometimes there are stranger reasons for car trouble. The thousands of technicians working for Green Flag Motoring Assistance, Churchill's breakdown cover partner, have had their share of wacky work.

Take the case of driver George Cowie, from Wellsborough, Warwickshire. While driving on a weekend break in France, George thought he'd hit a bird. When back in the UK, he discovered it was a pigeon caught in the front of his Citroën C5. ‘I thought I saw a feather sticking out of the grille, but when I bent down to pull it out, I discovered it was a pigeon and that it was still alive,' remembers management consultant George. He called Green Flag and by luck, the attending breakdown technician Robin Coldicott had extensive experience with birds, as his wife Sue was an ex-veterinary nurse.

Animal rescue

Having dismantled the front of the car to carefully free the bird (by now nicknamed Pierre), Robin took it home and discovered from an identity tag that it was a racing pigeon that had hitched a ride across the Channel! Pierre had injured a leg and a wing, but was nursed back to health and later reunited with his French owner in Calais. Animals do have a habit of clogging up the works. There's the story of a mouse nestling behind a car's gearbox after it had nibbled a hole in its cardboard travelling box, dived into the footwell and disappeared under the dashboard. Then there's the cat that was rescued after becoming entangled in a fan belt while trying to keep warm near the engine.

But breakdown madness isn't restricted to Britain. In Bhatinda, India, cabbie Harpreet Devi had to drive 35 miles home backwards after his car got stuck in reverse – and decided he quite liked it. He and his wife Krishna claim to have since covered around 7,500 miles – and always in reverse! Or there's 52-year-old Zlatko Grden from Donja Stubica in Croatia who lit some newspapers under the engine of his Opel Kadett after it failed to start in freezing temperatures. Unfortunately, he used too much paper and ended up setting the entire car alight, destroying it! But we can all be a bit daft. An estimated 40% of us have locked our keys inside our car at one time or another. But locking keys in your car is one thing, locking far more important items in it is quite another…

Baby driver

‘We received a call from one woman outside the local supermarket who had locked her keys inside her car, together with her 10-month-old baby,' says Green Flag's Nigel Charlesworth. ‘Fortunately we were able to dispatch one of our recovery agents to her and open the car within four minutes, and mother and child were reunited.' But there are also those moments when even Green Flag's expert technicians are left stumped. Like the time an elderly man who had been unable to get his car started for three months finally called Green Flag and asked if they could also help get his wife out of the bath! The Green Flag man couldn't help with the latter, but he did fix the man's flat battery.

Then there was the shopper who returned to her car, started the engine and got into gear but couldn't move. The Green Flag technician saw that her car had been clamped! Green Flag teams may be fast, friendly and efficient, but some drivers don't think their cars need expert help, just a natter: 70% of people say they chat with their cars and 20% think talking to their motor will keep it going for longer, says a Green Flag survey. But have these drivers tried telling a pigeon not to hide in their radiator?

Your Guide to Motorway Survival

Cars are whizzing by like bullets as your car starts lurching into breakdown mode. A nightmare scenario? It needn't be if you follow our safety guide below…

  • Pull onto the hard shoulder, as far away from vehicles as possible.
  • Always leave through passenger doors.
  • Arrows on roadside marker poles will lead you to the nearest emergency phone.
  • Getting up on the embankment is probably the safest place you can be.
  • If you've got the children with you, make sure that they stay with you at all times.

You'll feel much more relaxed on the road if you're a member of a rescue service you can rely on, so Churchill has teamed up with Green Flag Motoring Assistance to give you Churchill breakdown cover. There's a big choice of service levels and a host of real pluses: average callout time is under 40 minutes and we have thousands of breakdown specialists operating across the UK so you're well covered. Our Rapid Response Pledge promises that we will be there with you within an hour or we will give you a tenner – and about 80% of breakdowns (excluding road traffic accidents and extreme mechanical failure) are fixed at the roadside. You can also save even more after your first year of membership with our No Callout Discount deal (assuming you don't break down).