No matter how reliable your car is, it is likely to run into difficulty at some stage. Knowing how to solve any problem that comes your way can give you the best chance of staying safe, and reduce the likelihood of a breakdown.

Just by reading this article, you can learn how to cope with and resolve some of the most common car problems that befall drivers today.

 

Overheating Engine

An overheating engine can be caused by an issue with your car’s cooling system, a broken water pump, a blocked coolant hose, or a faulty radiator fan. If you notice a temperature warning light on your dashboard or steam rising from your bonnet, you need to act quickly to give your vehicle a chance to cool down. 

 

What To Do

Pull over when it is safe to do so. Turn off the engine, and get all passengers away from the car. If possible, open the bonnet from inside the cabin - you will need to be careful as the bonnet will likely be very hot. Stand in a safe place away from the vehicle, and let the engine cool for at least 30 minutes. Do not remove the cap of the radiator or expansion tank, as the steam could cause serious burns. If you do choose to open the cap, do this slowly with your hand covered, and only once the engine has cooled down. 

Now that the engine is cool, you can check the coolant tank, which is located near the radiator. An empty coolant tank could mean there is a leak - you may spot a puddle underneath your car. You can replenish fluid levels using coolant, or warm water mixed with coolant. Do not pour cold water into a hot radiator, and know that you should only use water on its own in an emergency. If the temperature warning light stays on even after the coolant has been topped up, then there is likely an issue with your cooling system.

If the coolant levels are fine then there could instead be a mechanical fault with the engine, which will need to be checked out by a professional mechanic. Be sure to keep extra coolant in your car in case of emergencies, open windows to regulate temperature, and have your cooling system flushed and cleaned every 40,000 miles.

 

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Flat Battery

If you leave your car with the lights on - without the engine running - this can drain the battery. A flat battery will not have enough charge to power electric windows, interior lights or dashboard warning lights. Even if a warning light is shining, this does not mean that the battery is working properly - a faint warning light can indicate that the battery does not have enough charge to power the engine. You may experience a flat battery during the colder months, as a change in temperature can cause the battery to fail. 

 

What To Do

It is a good idea to keep jump leads and a second charged battery in your car at all times. When you have the necessary tools with you, you can prepare yourself and your car for any situation. After making sure that there is fuel in the tank, you should check that your wheels aren’t up against the kerb if you find that you can’t turn the ignition. You should also check that your key fob hasn’t died if the central locking system isn’t working - use a spare key if this is the case. 

If you think that a flat battery is to blame, then it is time to try and jump start your vehicle. You will need a pair of working jump leads, and another vehicle with a fully-charged battery - you should avoid using a hybrid or an electric car to do so.

Do not use the jump leads if they get hot or damaged, and you should never try to jump start a battery that is damaged or leaking. Remove any clothing that could get caught in the engine - like a scarf or a tie - and take off any metal objects that could come into contact with the car batteries - such as rings or necklaces. You should never remove the jump leads when the engines are running, as this can do damage to the electronics. 

Park both cars so that the batteries are within reach of one another, making sure the handbrakes and ignitions are off. Connect the working battery’s positive (+) terminal to the flat battery’s positive (+) terminal using the red jump lead. Use the black jump lead and attach it to the negative (-) terminal on the working battery. Take the other end of the black jump lead and attach it to an earthing point away from the flat battery and fuel system - this is a section of unpainted metal on the chassis or engine block.

Keep both engines off for at least 3 minutes, before letting the working car’s engine run for 1 minute. You can then turn on the engine of the car with the flat battery. Let both vehicles idle for approximately 10 minutes, at a fast pace. Then, turn off both cars’ engines and disconnect the leads in the reverse order to how they were connected. Be careful not to let the leads touch as you remove them. You can then turn the keys in the ignition to get your car to start. 

If the car still won’t start, or you are intimidated by the concept of trying this for yourself, then you can call a breakdown service to assist you. To look after your car battery, remember to take your car for regular drives that last for at least 30 minutes.

 

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Punctured Tyre

Hitting the kerb, driving over potholes, and neglecting to perform tyre pressure checks can all have an impact on your tyres. If you are unlucky enough to experience a punctured tyre whilst driving, try your best to remain calm and ease off the accelerator. Whilst some damage can lead to tyre blowout - a sudden loss of pressure which can destroy the tyre - this won’t always be the case. 

 

What To Do

When driving, slow down gradually and keep both hands on the wheel - the puncture may have affected the handling, so be sure to use a firm grip. Turn on the hazard lights to make other drivers aware of the issue, and look for a safe place to pull over, such as a layby, grass verge, or hard shoulder if you are on a motorway. You must do so quickly to avoid causing permanent damage to the tyre or losing control of your vehicle. 

Leave the hazard lights on, apply the handbrake, turn off the ignition and exit the vehicle through the passenger door. Make sure any passengers move away from the road. 

When it is safe to do so, inspect the deflated tyre. Look for any sign of damage to the tyre tread or wall. Significant damage can indicate that your vehicle has experienced a tyre blowout, rather than a puncture. This will require a spare wheel to be fitted, so you should call a breakdown service to help you. If you notice a nail or shard of glass in the tyre, do not remove it as this will only enlarge the hole. 

If you have a slow leak flat tyre, you can repair this yourself provided you have a tyre repair kit to hand - you will need a can of sealant and compressor. Wear a reflective jacket if you have one, and place a warning triangle down to let other drivers know what you are doing. With the handbrake still on, squeeze the sealant into the tyre via its adapter, following the instructions in your vehicle handbook if you need further information. When all of the sealant is in the tyre, attach the compressor to the tyre valve, and plug the compressor into the cigarette lighter in your car. You may need to roll the car forward slightly to make sure that the sealant spreads evenly throughout the tyre. 

With the car in neutral, start the engine and turn on the compressor. Inflate the tyre to the appropriate PSI as recommended by your vehicle handbook. Once inflated, drive your car to the nearest garage. You should know that repairing the tyre in this way is only a temporary solution to the problem, but a professional mechanic will be able to assist you. Generally speaking, minor punctures will be repairable, unless:

  • The puncture is in the tyre sidewall
  • The hole is over 5mm in diameter
  • The puncture has damaged the inside of the tyre
  • The tyre is worn

If this is the case, then you should call a breakdown service for help.

 

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Clogged Air Filter

When your car’s air filter is working properly, this can help to lower emissions, improve fuel economy, further the lifespan of your engine and even boost acceleration. As several thousand litres of air are needed in each litre of fuel that enters the internal combustion engine, a clogged air filter can make it difficult for fuel to burn off in the engine. Dirt and dust can build up over time, which is why you should aim to clean the air filter regularly, and have the filter replaced every 12 months. 

 

What To Do

Open the bonnet of your car to locate the air filter - a rectangular box close to the engine compartment. Removing the air filter should be fairly straightforward, though you may need to loosen a wing or bolt to do so. Once safely removed, you may begin tapping the air filter gently against the bumper of your car to shake free some of the debris. You can use a hoover to suck up some of the dust, but you may prefer to use a cleaning solution or kit to really give the filter a good clean. Placing a wet filter back into the car could cause real damage to the engine - something to consider when using a cleaning solution. When the cleaned air filter is completely dry, you may return it to its original spot. If you did unscrew any wings or bolts, remember to replace them.

 

Poor Fuel Economy

Fuel economy is a term used to describe the distance a vehicle is able to travel on a certain volume of fuel. If your fuel economy is poor, you may need to top up on fuel more regularly, which can mean more money spent on your regular routes.  

 

What To Do

You should aim to keep your tyres properly inflated, use the correct engine oil, and drive sensibly to maintain fuel economy. Whilst poor fuel economy may not be the beginning of an emergency, it could point towards an underlying mechanical issue. A faulty exhaust system will need to be replaced by a professional garage as soon as possible, as any number of parts could be impacting performance. Likewise, anything from a faulty ignition coil to a misfiring spark plug could be causing a problem with the engine. As you can imagine, any issue with the engine needs to be looked at by a skilled garage as soon as possible before the problem develops.

You will also need to see a mechanic if your clutch has worn out, as the transfer of power from the engine to the drive system won’t be strong enough. Slipping clutch warning signs include a burning smell when revving the engine, difficulty changing gears, or a squeaky noise sounding when pressure is applied to the pedals. You should book a service with an expert garage to improve fuel economy and the efficiency of your car, and find out exactly what is causing the problem in any case.

If you have experienced any of the issues addressed in this article, then it may be time to book in for a car service with a professional garage. When you choose the right garage for you, you can keep your vehicle running smoothly for longer, and reduce the risk of unexpected breakdowns. 

 

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