We all love older cars, but we’d also have to admit that they can be a little temperamental occasionally. Even a freshly-restored classic can have teething troubles, and no one can predict when an ancient pipe, old hose or antique fuel gauge could give up the ghost.
It’s why we would always recommend carrying a few crucial tools, but no one is going to want to tinker under the bonnet by the side of a busy road or around a blind corner. Making sure other traffic is warned about your stranded car could be a literal lifesaver.
The tried and tested method is to use a reflective warning triangle, which is actually a legal requirement in most other European countries. But there are products which claim to go one better by being even more visible.
To test them, we placed all the devices at a distance of 500m away from our car headlights on a dark, clear night and in bright sunshine. We used a car with normal halogen headlamp bulbs on dipped and main beam to see how well any reflective materials showed up at the same distance.
Products with built-in lights were left switched on for 18 hours in a fridge to ensure they would last for plenty of time while you waited in cold weather, and we also doused them liberally with water to simulate heavy rain and spray.
Which of the seven tested would we want in our emergency tool kit?
Nightsearcher Pulsar AAA – Winner
This pork-pie sized device is not at all like a traditional triangle, but could be used in combination with one or is perfectly effective on its own. You can place it on the road behind your car, safe in the knowledge that it will survive being run over. You can also use a hook to attach it higher up on a sign or branch, perhaps. The last option is to use the magnetic base to mount it on your car itself.
It has a selection of flashing modes and a worklight torch too. It didn’t have the brightest lights in the test, but was easily visible from 500m. The price – which includes batteries – and compact size mean that we could have three or four Pulsars and still spend less than on some rivals here.
Powerlantz Car Emergency Light Breakdown Kit – Runner Up
The Powerlantz works in the same way as our winning Nightsearcher, with a magnet or hook to attach to your car. In addition there’s a tilting mount so it can be angled to give maximum visibility to approaching traffic.
There’s also a work light at the top of the unit which is bright enough to illuminate a wheel change or under bonnet repair in the dead of night. Its strobing warning LEDs were super bright too, but it doesn’t feel as tough as the Pulsar and – once you’ve factored in the cost of batteries, is twice the price. That’s enough to keep it off the top spot.
Nightsearcher HazStar Rechargeable Hazard Work Light
The price of the Hazstar will cause a sharp intake of breath and might seem excessive for something you will hopefully never need. But it has plenty of other uses which go some way to justifying the cost.
Firstly, it has a USB-rechargeable battery which means it can double up as a power bank for your phone or sat nav. Even after a full charge of an iPhone, it still had enough energy left to flash its lights for several hours.
There’s also an exceptionally bright worklight which could be useful for regular maintenance and not just for emergencies.
If you do find yourself stranded, the flashing red LEDs can either be left on the unit as a triangle or individually removed and mounted magnetically on your car. It’s clever, but we’d prefer it if the triangle was reflective too, and the stand didn’t angle the lights so they’re pointing at the road rather than the traffic.
Fiesta Centre Emergency Warning Triangle
At less than a tenner including delivery, these triangles are cheap enough to buy for all the family just in case of a problem.
It’s small – 19.2cm wide – but is still big enough to get noticed, with bright LEDs and a reflective backing. The stand is sturdy enough to withstand winds, or there are suction pads and a short cord to attach it to the car or street furniture. It’s also the perfect size to fill in the centre of a traditional warning triangle, so both can be used together.
It is powered by a pair of AA batteries (which are not included) which lasted for more than 24 hours in the fridge. There is no apparent waterproofing but the triangle was still flashing happily even after a thorough dousing from our hose.
If you like the idea of a warning triangle and want something which is going pass the legal requirement test abroad, the BriteAngle could be the answer. This huge (450mm) triangle can quickly be deployed, using its own case as a base which means it’s unlikely to get blown over, even in the strongest gale. If you prefer to mount it on your vehicle, there’s a suction pad too, which might be more use than magnets for anyone with a fibreglass or aluminium bodied classic.
Press a button and 28 bright LEDs flash to alert approaching traffic. It works well and does its job effectively, but at this price level we’d really want some other functions or a rechargeable battery. Talking of price, the device is a whopping £59.95 on BriteAngle’s own website; we found it for less than half that elsewhere online.
Be Seen Screen
We really like the idea of the Be Seen Screen. Rather than relying on batteries or LEDs, this is a 750 x 800mm folding plastic panel which is made of a material which is both hi-vis and reflective. It’s the same stuff you’ll find stuck to the back of motorway maintenance vans and emergency vehicles and is remarkably effective.
If you break down, the idea is that you unfurl the panel, attach four suction pads and then stick them to the back of your car. The words “BROKEN DOWN” leave passing traffic in no doubt that you haven’t just stopped to take in the view
But there are issues. Even folded, the screen is large enough to be an annoyance in a small boot and is too big to be kept in the passenger compartment. There’s also the price – even if it was half the cost it would seem poor value compared to devices which light up and do other clever things.
Wolfteeth LED Warning Triangle
Looking at the pictures of the Wolfteeth Triangle online, it would be easy to assume it is a budget alternative to the Nightsearcher HazStar. But in this case the reality is disappointing, and you get what you pay for.
It has the basics, with a worklight with two brightness settings and red LEDs in a triangle which can be set to flash or be still. It can accept a rechargeable battery too, although there are none included and it’s not listed as an extra on the Amazon page either.
But the Wolfteeth is just 16cm high and only has a simple stand. There is no suction or magnetic mount option, which means it is difficult to spot from a distance on anything but a level road. It also means the triangle will be liable to get sprayed in wet conditions, which will be an issue as it failed instantly in our test when doused with water.
We really rated the Nightsearcher Pulsar’s toughness, compact dimensions, adaptability and value. At less than £12 including batteries, you could afford to buy more than one. It doesn’t have the brightest lights but they were still visible at our 500m point.
The Powerlantz is brighter as a warning light, but isn’t tough and costs almost twice as much. It is our runner up.
The Nightsearcher HazStar is even more expensive, but could work for you if you also need a phone-charging powerbank and inspection lamp.