Claire in drivers seat of stationary van
Travel tips & gear

Driving with confidence with Smart Breakdown

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If you’ve followed me for any length of time you’ll know that the Tin Box family rarely sits still for long. We’re fidgets! But, living in rural Devon, we wouldn’t get far without a fully functioning van to take us on our adventures. 

Having said that, I’m useless with car maintenance and mechanics. Car fault warning lights bamboozle me and I’m always worried about breaking down. The thought of being stranded on a long journey with hungry kids in the back seat makes me shudder. It would be even worse if I was on a solo road trip with the girls, which I have done plenty of times in the UK and Europe.

Well, Smart Breakdown from the AA is a handy device for people like me. They asked me to road test it on one of our recent adventures in Devon.

Van woes

Our camper van has form for breaking down. The first time we took it on a long drive from South Devon to East Dorset, it broke down when we reached our campsite. Luckily we were only a few miles from the dealer where we bought it, so they were able to handle the repair for us.

Then, at the very end of a long journey from Gatwick Airport to home in South Devon, the van went into limp mode a few hundred meters from our front door.

VW T5 transporter van parked in beach car pack in Devon

None of this has given me the greatest of confidence in our 11-year-old camping vehicle and it has made me wobble over going anywhere in it on my own.

Driving confidence with Smart Breakdown

Thankfully we now have a Smart Breakdown device fitted in the van.

This tiny box of magic plugs into your car and if it spots a fault it’ll send a notification to your smartphone. 

AA Smart Breakdown device in box

It works in most cars produced in the last 15 years that use on-board systems to check for any issues and it can read 5,000 different fault codes.

Smart Breakdown interprets this information, which might pop up on your dashboard as one of several ambiguous warning lights, so you have better information about faults right at your fingertips.

If you were to break down the app sends information directly to an AA mechanic so that they know what’s wrong before they arrive. 

Our beach day in Devon with Smart Breakdown

When it comes to beaches, Devon has a dizzying choice. There are beaches with amusements and piers, sandy bays that stretch on for miles, and tiny, secluded coves that look like they have been transplanted from somewhere in the Mediterranean.

We decided to head to one of South Devon’s best beaches for surfing; Bantham.

Family walking through dunes to Bantham Beach in Devon

Read about more of South Devon’s best beaches for families.

Before setting off on our journey I was able to open the AA app and see that our battery was charged and there were no faults. If there had been I’d have also received a push notification to my phone.

AA Smart Breakdown app screen on iPhone

It gave us the kind of peace of mind that makes driving down stick thin country roads much less stressful.

The last section of our road trip from Dartmouth to Bantham is all like this. It wasn’t too busy when we drove down this road at the beginning of March, but tackle the same stretch in August and there’s very little wiggle room. Break down here and you’re in trouble! 

Narrow, single track Devon country lane

Bantham did not disappoint. We arrived at lunch time and whipped out our barbecue to cook up sausages for hot dogs before hitting the sand. There’s a large grass car park behind the dunes at Bantham – don’t forget to bring some cash to pay the parking attendant.

Barbecuing beside silver VW T5 van with side door open

Kids eating hot dogs at table in camper van

If you haven’t brought your own food then the Gastro Bus is often here serving hot and cold sandwiches and drinks.

It felt like ages since we’d had the chance to enjoy the sea air as a family thanks to such a wet and stormy winter. And, despite it being a less than balmy day, the lure of the water was too much for the girls.

Walking in waves at Bantham Beach in DevonKid on Bantham Beach in Devon looking towards Burgh Island

While the kids and Mr Tin Box warmed up with hot chocolate and tea back at our van I checked the AA app and got a pair of reassuringly green icons to tell me that our battery was charged and no faults had been detected.

We were good to start our journey home with a healthy van to get us there.

Fitting the Smart Breakdown

I usually leave anything relating to our vehicles to Mr Tin Box. He has been tinkering with cars since he was a kid. So, I have been a bit lazy about things like oil checks, tyre pressure and warning lights.

The AA get people like me. They have made Smart Breakdown super simple. Whether you are new to the AA or an existing AA member you can add it to your cover from £5 a month or £49 for the year. 

Your Smart Breakdown device will be sent in the post.

AA Smart Breakdown box

If you haven’t already got it, download the AA app to your smartphone, activate Smart Breakdown and sync your device by scanning the QR code on its side.

Your app shows you in pictures where to fit your device based on your vehicle. Ours went into a socket in the drivers side footwell, just to the right of the peddles. It was a two second job. You’ll know your device is connected as it has a red activation light. 

AA Smart Breakdown device in footwell of van with drivers' peddles

Just make sure you have the device lined up with the socket. The AA logo may not always be facing upwards.

I’m relieved to say we didn’t have a breakdown during our road test of Smart Breakdown, but we were able to monitor our van’s health during our days out in Devon as long as we had a mobile signal.

I used the Smart Breakdown while driving to work meetings in the week and with the whole family, including Tin Box Dog, during our trip to the beach.

Reassurance for road trips

Having Smart Breakdown has given me the reassurance that if our van has developed a fault we will know before we start a long journey. And if something does happen on the road, we will be able to give the AA a head start to working out the solution.

Find out more about Smart Breakdown on the AA website.

Disclosure: this is a paid campaign with the AA.