10 most common breakdown causes

Compare cheap breakdown cover

Local, nationwide and European cover options
Compare prices and choose the right policy for you
✔ Cover for cars, vans and motorbikes and scooters

Start a quote
10 Most Common Causes Of Breaking Down

Car breakdowns can occur due to several common factors that may leave you stranded on the side of the road. Let’s explore the top 10 reasons for breakdowns and some measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of experiencing them.

Learn how you can prevent your vehicle from breaking down with our breakdown checklist.

A flat or faulty battery

A flat or faulty battery is one of the most common causes of vehicle breakdowns. If your car is struggling to start, takes longer than usual to start, or doesn’t start at all, it’s possible that you have a flat or worn-out battery.

Another tell-tale sign of battery trouble is the red battery warning light appearing on your dashboard while driving.

It’s important to note that regular driving is crucial for keeping your battery charged. However, frequent short journeys may not provide enough power to maintain the battery’s charge.

To extend your battery’s life, it’s recommended that you charge it overnight every so often using a trickle charger. This type of charger slowly recharges your battery, providing it with the necessary charge to function optimally.

While charging your battery can help extend its lifespan, it’s important to remember that batteries don’t last forever. Typically, they last around five years before needing to be replaced. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have your battery checked regularly by a professional to ensure that it’s in good condition and won’t let you down when you need it most.

Flat Car Battery Breakdown

Alternator faults

The alternator is a vital component of your car’s electrical system. It works by generating power that charges the battery while the engine is running. Without the alternator, the battery won’t receive the necessary charge to power the car’s electrics. While the battery can provide stored power for a short period of time, if the alternator fails, the battery will eventually go flat, leaving you stranded.

There’s no specific way to maintain your alternator, but regular vehicle servicing and inspections can help identify any potential issues before they turn into major problems. It’s essential to pay attention to any signs that your alternator may be failing.

For instance, if you notice dimmed headlights, slow wipers, or flickering dashboard lights, it could indicate that your alternator is struggling to provide enough power. If your ignition warning light comes on, this is a clear sign that there is an issue with your car’s electrical system, and you should stop and seek assistance immediately.

Ignoring the signs of an alternator failure can lead to a complete loss of power, leaving you stranded on the side of the road. Therefore, it’s essential to have your alternator checked by a professional at the first sign of trouble.

They can diagnose the issue and make the necessary repairs or replacements to get your car running smoothly again.

Alternator Faults Can Cause A Breakdown

Damaged tyres or wheel

A flat tyre caused by a puncture is one of the most common causes of vehicle breakdowns. However, tyres or wheels can also become damaged by potholes or debris on the road surface.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to prevent such incidents, except to be aware of your surroundings and drive cautiously. In the event of a suspected tyre or wheel issue, stop and check for damage before continuing your journey.

Regular tyre maintenance can help prevent issues from arising. It’s essential to check your tyres regularly, making sure they have a tyre depth of at least 1.6mm and are inflated to the correct tyre pressure. Additionally, inspect your tyres for patterns of wear. An uneven wear pattern could indicate that your wheels aren’t aligned correctly, which could cause further issues down the line.

It’s worth noting that modern cars don’t always come equipped with spare wheels.

However, if you do have a spare tyre, it’s important to ensure that it’s in good condition and has the same specifications as the other four tyres. Additionally, make sure that your car’s jack and any locking wheel nut keys are stored with the spare tyre, so they’re readily available in case of an emergency.

In conclusion, while some tyre or wheel issues are unavoidable, regular maintenance can help prevent breakdowns caused by poorly maintained tyres. And, in the event of a tyre or wheel issue, it’s essential to stop and assess the damage before continuing your journey.

Compare cheap breakdown cover

Get a quote

Electrical problem

The electrical system in your car is responsible for powering everything from the headlights to the stereo. As such, it’s a complex network of circuits that can be prone to problems caused by issues like burned-out bulbs, faulty wiring, blown fuses, or general wear and tear.

Identifying the source of an electrical problem can be a challenging task, especially if it’s not an obvious issue like a blown bulb. In such cases, it’s best to seek the help of a trained mechanic who can diagnose the problem and provide a solution. They have the expertise and equipment to conduct a thorough analysis of the electrical system and identify any faults.

Attempting to fix an electrical issue without the necessary knowledge and experience can be dangerous and may cause further damage to your car. Additionally, some electrical components may require specialised tools to be removed or replaced, which can be costly and time-consuming.

Therefore, it’s essential to seek the advice of a professional when faced with an electrical problem. They can provide guidance on the best course of action and ensure that the issue is resolved safely and effectively.

Regular vehicle servicing and inspections can also help prevent electrical problems from arising, ensuring that your car’s electrical system is running smoothly.

Electrical Faults Can Cause Breakdowns

Keys and alarms

Locking your keys inside your car can be a frustrating experience, despite the convenience of central locking. And with alarms and immobilisers becoming more sophisticated than ever, many people require assistance to gain access to their cars.

Modern car keys often come equipped with a microchip, which provides added security against theft. This technology works by communicating with the car’s immobiliser system, ensuring that the engine can only be started using the correct key. However, the downside to these advanced keys is that they can be expensive to replace if lost or damaged.

Related:  National Highways

To prevent getting locked out of your car, it’s important to take some simple precautions. For instance, always make sure you have a spare key stored in a safe place in case of an emergency. Additionally, avoid leaving your keys inside the car or in plain sight, as this can make your vehicle an easy target for theft.

If you do find yourself locked out of your car or experiencing issues with your alarm or immobiliser, it’s best to seek professional assistance. Attempting to tamper with these systems without the necessary knowledge or equipment can be dangerous and may cause further damage to your car.

In conclusion, while modern key and alarm systems offer added security and convenience, they also come with their own set of challenges.

By taking precautions and seeking professional assistance when needed, you can ensure that your car’s security systems are functioning optimally and avoid getting locked out or experiencing other issues.

How much can you save on European breakdown cover?

Get a quote

Misfuelling

Misfuelling is a common mistake made by many drivers, with thousands of people experiencing this calamity every year. If you’ve accidentally put the wrong fuel in your car, it’s essential to act quickly to prevent further damage to your vehicle.

If you realise your mistake before starting the engine, the solution is relatively straightforward. You’ll likely need to have the fuel pumped out and replaced. However, if you’ve already started the engine or driven a significant distance, the situation becomes more complicated.

In such cases, it’s possible that the fuel may have already circulated through the engine, causing mechanical damage. This could result in costly repairs and potential safety hazards. Therefore, it’s essential to seek professional assistance as soon as possible if you’ve driven any distance after misfuelling.

The process of repairing a misfuelled vehicle typically involves removing the contaminated fuel, flushing the system, and refilling with the correct fuel. In some cases, additional repairs may be required, depending on the extent of the damage caused.

It’s worth noting that prevention is always better than cure when it comes to misfuelling. Always double-check that you’re using the correct fuel before filling up, and if you’re driving an unfamiliar vehicle, take extra care to ensure that you’re using the correct fuel type.

In conclusion, misfuelling can be a costly mistake, but quick action and seeking professional assistance can help mitigate the damage. By taking precautions and being vigilant, you can avoid this common breakdown cause and keep your car running smoothly.

How much can you save on classic car breakdown cover?

Get a quote

Clutch cables on manual vehicles

For drivers of manual vehicles, the clutch cable is an essential component that comes under pressure every time you change gear. Over time, the cable can wear out or become damaged, leading to issues with the clutch. If you notice any difference in the way the clutch feels under your foot, it’s essential not to ignore it.

Failing to address clutch issues promptly can result in further damage and costly repairs. Therefore, it’s crucial to have your vehicle checked by a professional as soon as you notice any changes in the clutch’s behaviour. They can diagnose the issue and provide the necessary repairs to get your car back on the road.

If the clutch cable breaks while you’re driving, it’s essential to pull over in a safe place and call for assistance. Attempting to continue driving without a functioning clutch can be dangerous and may cause further damage to your vehicle. Additionally, driving without a clutch can be challenging and requires specialised skills that many drivers may not possess.

Regular vehicle servicing and inspections can help prevent issues with the clutch cable from arising. Therefore, it’s recommended to have your car checked regularly by a professional mechanic to ensure that all components are functioning correctly.

In conclusion, the clutch cable is an integral part of a manual vehicle’s operation, and any changes in its behaviour should not be ignored. Seeking professional assistance as soon as possible can help prevent further damage and ensure that your vehicle is safe to drive. Regular vehicle inspections can also help prevent clutch-related breakdowns and keep your car running smoothly.

Clutch Cable Breaking Breakdown

Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF)

Diesel Particulate Filters (DPF) are an essential component of diesel engines that help reduce harmful exhaust emissions. They work by trapping dirt and fine particles of soot and burning them off. However, if you frequently use your diesel car for short journeys, the DPF filter can become blocked.

A blocked DPF can cause several issues, including reduced engine power and increased fuel consumption. Therefore, it’s crucial to take steps to prevent blockages from occurring. One way to do this is by ensuring that your vehicle has a good run every now and then.

Regenerating the DPF and clearing the filter requires diesel vehicles to undertake a ‘regeneration cycle’ by running at a high temperature for an extended period. Therefore, a weekly run up the motorway for a decent period can help prevent the DPF from blocking. During this run, it’s important to maintain a consistent speed to allow the engine to heat up and complete the regeneration cycle.

In addition to regular runs up the motorway, it’s important to ensure that your vehicle’s engine is properly maintained. Regular vehicle servicing and inspections can help identify any potential issues before they turn into significant problems. Additionally, using high-quality diesel fuel and avoiding short journeys wherever possible can also help prevent DPF blockages from occurring.

In conclusion, DPF filters are an essential component of diesel engines that help reduce harmful exhaust emissions. To prevent blockages from occurring, it’s crucial to ensure that your diesel vehicle has a good run up the motorway every now and then. Regular vehicle servicing and inspections, using high-quality diesel fuel, and avoiding short journeys can also help keep your DPF functioning optimally and reduce the likelihood of a breakdown.

Compare cheap breakdown cover

Get a quote

Starter motor

Starter motors are an essential component of modern vehicles, particularly those equipped with stop/start technology. These motors work harder than ever, making them more prone to wear and eventual failure. If you’re experiencing issues starting your engine, and your battery is functioning correctly, it’s likely due to a starter motor problem.

To avoid starter motor issues and the need for home start help, regular vehicle servicing and maintenance are crucial. During servicing, a professional mechanic can inspect the starter motor and other components, identifying any potential issues before they turn into significant problems. Additionally, keeping your car’s battery charged can help reduce the load on the starter motor, prolonging its lifespan.

Related:  European breakdown cover

It’s worth noting that a faulty starter motor can also cause other issues, such as slow engine cranking or unusual sounds when starting the engine. Therefore, it’s essential to seek professional assistance if you notice any changes in your car’s starting behaviour.

In conclusion, starter motor problems can be a frustrating experience, and regular maintenance is the best way to avoid them. By keeping your vehicle well-serviced and ensuring that your battery is functioning correctly, you can reduce the likelihood of a starter motor failure and keep your car running smoothly. If you notice any changes in your car’s starting behaviour, seek professional assistance to diagnose and address the issue promptly.

A Faulty Starter Motor Can Cause You To Breakdown

Overheating

Overheating is a common issue that many drivers experience, particularly when sitting in heavy traffic or driving in hot weather. To prevent overheating, it’s crucial to keep a regular eye on your car’s coolant level and fan to ensure that your cooling system is functioning correctly.

If your car’s temperature warning light comes on, it’s essential to address the problem promptly. Ignoring an overheating engine can cause significant damage, resulting in costly repairs and potential safety hazards.

Modern coolant systems are designed to last for the life of the vehicle and shouldn’t need topping up between services. Therefore, if you notice a drop in the coolant level, it could indicate a leak in the system. It’s important to have any leaks checked out promptly to prevent further damage to your car and avoid a breakdown.

In addition to keeping an eye on your coolant level and fan, regular vehicle servicing and inspections can help identify any potential issues with your cooling system before they turn into significant problems.

During servicing, a professional mechanic can inspect the cooling system, including the radiator, hoses, and water pump, ensuring that all components are functioning correctly.

In conclusion, overheating is a common issue that can cause significant damage to your car if not addressed promptly. By keeping an eye on your coolant level and fan, having any leaks checked out promptly, and scheduling regular vehicle servicing and inspections, you can prevent overheating and keep your car running smoothly.

Breakdown cover providers

Find the UK's leading breakdown cover providers below.

AA breakdown cover

Related:  Top Tips for New Drivers

10 Top Tips for avoiding a car breakdown

Breaking down can be a frustrating and time-consuming experience for drivers. However, there are several things you can do to help prevent a breakdown from happening in the first place. Here are ten top tips for avoiding a car breakdown:

  1. Keep your car well-maintained – Regular maintenance is essential to keep your car running smoothly. Make sure you follow your car manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule to keep your car in top condition.

  2. Check your tyres – Make sure your tyres are properly inflated and have sufficient tread depth. This will help ensure good traction and handling, as well as preventing punctures or blowouts.

  3. Use the correct fuel – Always use the recommended fuel for your car. Using the wrong fuel can cause damage to your engine or other components, leading to a breakdown.

  4. Check your battery – Your car’s battery is essential for starting the engine and powering electrical components. Check your battery’s terminals for corrosion and clean them if necessary.

  5. Keep your car clean – Regular washing and waxing will help protect your car’s paint and bodywork from rust and corrosion.

  6. Use good quality parts – Use high-quality replacement parts when repairing or replacing components in your car. This will help ensure reliable performance and reduce the risk of breakdowns.

  7. Avoid harsh driving conditions – Try to avoid driving in harsh conditions, such as extreme heat or cold, heavy rain, or snow. These conditions can put additional stress on your car and increase the risk of a breakdown.

  8. Plan your route – Use a GPS or map to plan your route and avoid areas with heavy traffic or poor road conditions. This will help reduce the risk of accidents or breakdowns.

  9. Be prepared – Carry a basic toolkit and a spare tyre in your car at all times. This will help you address minor issues and get back on the road.

  10. Drive defensively – Practice defensive driving techniques to help avoid accidents and breakdowns. This includes maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles, obeying traffic laws, and staying alert and focused while driving.

By following these tips and taking out breakdown cover, you can help prevent breakdowns and have peace of mind during your travels. Remember to stay aware of any changes in your car’s performance or behaviour, and seek professional assistance if you notice anything unusual.

Compare cheap breakdown cover

Get a quote

Frequently asked questions

A flat or faulty battery is often the main cause of car breakdowns, which can be identified through signs like struggles to turn the engine over or taking longer than usual to start. Regular driving and trickle charging the battery can help extend its life, but batteries typically last around five years.

To reduce the risk of vehicle breakdowns, it is important to keep your engine oil topped up and never miss a service. Additionally, driving properly, removing unnecessary weight from your car, and addressing warning lights, strange noises, or changes in how your car feels when driving can also help prevent breakdowns.

Year Number of breakdowns
2015/16 187,913
2016/17 186,319
2017/18 195,292
2018/19 224,225

Cars are more likely to break down during the winter months due to the prevalence of ice, frost, and snow.

Yes, frictional components in cars such as braking systems and clutches are more likely to malfunction in hot weather due to the changes in their surfaces caused by high temperatures, which can affect their ability to grip and work properly.