How to prevent the most common causes of car breakdowns

How to prevent the most common causes of car breakdowns

It is a common complaint amongst drivers: cars are now so complicated that when you open the bonnet it’s impossible to tell what’s what – so surely it’s pointless trying to carry out any checks.

Yet surprisingly, it’s actually some of the simplest things on cars that go wrong and cause car breakdowns. And those areas of your motor are easy to check.

The UK’s biggest car breakdown companies, including the AA, Green Flag and the RAC, release details of the most common causes of cars grinding to a halt in the summer. We’ve compared their findings and show drivers how they can prevent problems arising.

Top 5 causes of car breakdowns in the summer

1. Overheating engine

As temperatures rise, it’s not just drivers that can lose their cool; cars get hot under the collar, too. Both Green Flag and AXA rank ‘overheating’ as one of their five most common reasons for rescuing stranded motorists in the summer.

Hot weather means the engine’s coolant system has to cope with higher operating temperatures. And that can quickly expose any weaknesses in the system, such as turning a slight weep from a deteriorating seal into a catastrophic leak.

Tip to avoid overheating

Check the car’s coolant level regularly, using the vehicle handbook to locate the reservoir. If it’s low, don’t ignore it; take the car to a local garage to have the system checked over.

2. Flat battery

It’s a common misconception that batteries only tend to go flat in cold weather. But according to the AA and RAC, cars face equally demanding driving conditions in the summer, as air-conditioning pumps cool air into the cabin, the navigation directs you to the beach, summer tunes play loud and proud over the sound system and the kids charge all their gadgets in the car. It all places a drain on the battery. Especially if driving in nose-to-tail traffic.

Tip to avoid a flat car battery

If you aren’t using the car much, such as when on holiday, give it a drive for at least 30 minutes once a week, which will help regenerate charge. And if the battery is more than five-years old, consider replacing it at a reputable local garage.

3. A puncture

Tip to avoid being stranded by a puncture

Nobody likes getting a puncture, especially when heading off for a well-earned summer break. But fewer still want to suffer a puncture and then find they either don’t have a spare wheel, or if they do it’s unusable. AXA and the RAC both say drivers in the summer are more likely to suffer a flat tyre and not have a way of repairing or replacing it.

Tip to avoid being stranded by a puncture

Check the air pressure, tread depth and general condition of all four tyres on your car. Then open the boot and do the same for the spare wheel. If you only have a tyre inflation kit, make sure it’s not passed its expiry date.

4. Clutch

Is there anything more unpleasant than the smell of a burning clutch? All major breakdown providers agree that a worn out clutch is one of the five most common causes for a car breakdown in the summer. Hot weather and poor traffic conditions are a recipe for frying a clutch. And don’t forget that a clutch doesn’t last forever, as its components wear down over time.

Tip to avoid clutch trouble

There are usually tell-tale signs that a clutch is nearing the end of its life. If the car judders as you lift the clutch pedal to pull away, or if you accelerate hard and see the engine revs rising but the car isn’t driving forwards, there’s trouble ahead. Have a garage check the clutch at the first signs of trouble.

5. Alternator

The alternator charges the vehicle’s battery. It can wear out over time, or more specifically, the rubber belt that drives it from the engine can fail. Look out for the battery warning light illuminating in the instrument binnacle.

Tip to avoid alternator problems

Regular servicing is your best way to prevent alternator problems. The vehicle manufacturer will have specified when the drive belts on the engine should be changed. And a rated garage will ensure such work is performed on schedule.


Recognise any of these signs of trouble? Book your car in for a service or a health check, using our helpful postcode search

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James Mills

James is a motoring journalist and former magazine editor at BBC Top Gear and Auto Express. He has scooped, reported on and reviewed most new cars of the past 20 years, and currently contributes to the Driving section of The Sunday Times.