The 7 most common breakdown causes

You never know when your car is going to develop a problem, but there are some common issues that lead to breaking down on the road. Here’s how to minimise the risks…

You never know when your car is going to develop a problem, but there are some common issues that lead to breaking down on the road. Here’s how to minimise the risks…

Daniel Hutson
From the Motor team
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Posted 7 OCTOBER 2019

1. A flat or faulty battery

Battery trouble is often the main cause of breakdown issues.

You may well have a flat or worn-out battery if your car:

  • Struggles to turn the engine over
  • Takes longer than usual to start
  • Doesn’t start when you turn the key
  • Displays the red battery warning light while you’re driving.

Regular driving is important for keeping your battery charged, but short journeys often don’t provide enough power. Charging the battery overnight every so often might help extend its life.

Remember though, batteries don’t last forever – they usually need to be replaced every few years.

2. Alternator trouble

Without an alternator, the battery can’t be charged up by the engine. While your battery’s stored power is enough to keep the electrics running for a while, if your alternator stops working your battery will eventually go flat.

There’s no specific way to maintain your alternator, but if you notice power isn’t what it should be – dimmed headlights, slow wipers, flickering dash etc. – or your ignition warning light comes on, stop and get assistance.


3. Damaged tyres or wheel

A flat tyre caused by a puncture is a very common cause of breaking down. If an unseen pothole or debris on a road surface damages your tyres or wheels, there’s not much you can do except stop and check for damage.

However, poorly maintained tyres are more likely to have issues. Check your tyres regularly, making sure they have a tread depth of at least 1.6mm and they’re inflated to the right pressure. While you’re about it, look for patterns of wear. An uneven wearing of the tyres could indicate that your wheels aren’t aligned properly.

New cars don’t always come with spare wheels, but if you have one, make sure it’s in the same good condition as the other four, and that your jack and any locking wheel nut keys are stored with it ready to use in an emergency.

4. Electrical problem

Your car’s electrical system includes a range of circuits controlling everything from the headlights to the stereo. Problems can crop up thanks to burned-out bulbs, faulty wiring, blown fuses or wear and tear.

Although it’s possible to track down where the fault is by using a multimeter and a little detective work, if it’s not an obvious issue like a blown bulb, you may want to ask an expert for help. A trained mechanic can run a full analysis of the electrical system and advise you on what to do.


5. Keys and alarms

Though it’s harder to lock our keys in the car than it once was thanks to central locking, it’s not impossible. With alarms and immobilisers getting more sophisticated than ever, many people have to call for help when they can’t get into their own cars.

These days, car keys often include a microchip which is designed to stop your car being stolen – another good reason to keep a spare somewhere safe in case you lose it.

6. Misfuelling

According to figures from the AA, around 133,000 drivers a year put the wrong fuel in their car. If you’ve accidentally put petrol in your diesel car (or diesel in your petrol car), the quicker you act, the better. If you don’t start the engine, you’ll probably just need to have the fuel pumped out and replaced.

If you’ve started the engine or driven any distance after misfuelling, things become a little more complicated. In some cases, the fuel being pumped out and the system flushed might do the trick, but in others mechanical damage can be done.

7. Clutch cables on manual vehicles

If you’re driving a manual car, the clutch cable comes under pressure every time you change gear. If you notice any difference in the way the clutch feels under your foot, don’t ignore it. Get your car to a garage and have it checked. If the cable breaks while you’re driving, pull over in a safe place and call assistance.

Add some peace of mind to your travel plans.

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