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Common Causes of Car Breakdowns: How to Avoid Them

A car breakdown is a driver’s worst’ve got places to be and things to do, so the last thing you want to happen is to be stood at the side of the road waiting for breakdown assistance.

Given that thousands of motorists experience a vehicle breakdown every year, it’s quite possible that it could happen to you.

Unfortunately you cannot eliminate all chances of a breakdown occurring since there are many and varied common car breakdown problems. That said, even in modern cars there are some steps you can take to avoid those car breakdown warning lights and strange noises.

You don't need in-depth knowledge of your car's braking system, the starter motor or the diesel particulate filter to keep your car in top condition... 

Let’s take a look at some common vehicle faults and how to avoid, or at least reduce, your chances of breaking down:

Keep your vehicle fluids topped up

You should know what fluids your vehicle needs and how to replace them should they be running low. A vehicle consumes a large amount of fluids, and they can easily run out.

The key fluids you need are:

Engine oil – you can check this by opening the bonnet, finding the dipstick and looking at the reading at the bottom. As a car engine ages it consumes engine oil faster.

Coolant – coolant stops your engine overheating so it should be checked regularly. You can check it by looking at the reservoir, which is usually transparent.

Windscreen wash – essential for visibility, this can be easily topped up by locating the washer reservoir under the bonnet and filling it regularly.

Make sure you have a regular schedule for checking your vehicle fluids. It’s a good idea to keep everything you might need in one place, so they are easily located when you find that the vehicle fluid levels are running low. You should never go too long without checking your fluids and always check them before a long journey.

Flat battery issues

A flat car battery is a common occurrence, and it can happen for a number of reasons. For instance, if your car has gone unused for a time, or if you only use it for short journeys.

There may be a faulty component, a problem with the car’s charging system, or a fault with your actual battery. It might even be down to age of the battery or car.

How to avoid battery problems

To avoid these faults, make sure you switch everything off when you leave the car. Lights on some newer cars tend to turn off automatically but not on all cars, so make sure you switch them off yourself.

If you’re not driving your car very frequently, it can be a good idea to set up a schedule to ensure you’re still turning the engine over from time to time, and take the car for a short drive every now and again. You could also invest in a battery charger to give the car battery a boost when it’s not been used for a while.

When do you need a new car battery?

The majority of car batteries last around 3-5 years, so be mindful of this and pay attention to when you may need a replacement.

If you are finding it difficult to start the car after a couple of days of not using it, even after a long journey, then it is likely the battery needs replacing. You can usually get a new battery fitted for you when you buy a new one.

Pay attention to how your clutch cables feel

Your clutch cables are always under stress as you drive, and it’s a huge problem if they break. Get them checked the moment they feel different when you press the pedal. This could save you money in the long run as you don’t want your clutch cable snapping, especially when you’re on the motorway.

Avoid flat and damaged tyres

A flat tyre is often caused by a puncture, but that isn’t the only reason. It may be caused by failure of, or damage to, the tyre’s valve, kerbing the tyre, a pothole, separation of the tyre and rim after a collision, or old age. A tyre can still go flat from old age even if it appears to be legal to use.

How to avoid tyre problems

Make sure you replace your tyres when the tread gets low. The legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm but we recommend considering replacement tyres when the tread is 3mm or less. Don’t forget to check that your spare tyre is correctly inflated, if you have one that is.

Your car handbook should tell you the required PSI/bar levels for your tyres. Check that your tyres are sufficiently inflated regularly and especially before a long journey. Take care not to over inflate your tyres, as this can cause problems too.

Watch our video on how to check your tyre pressure

You’ll want to make sure you drive carefully, avoiding kerbs, potholes, and speed bumps, taking your time if you must drive over them. If you are carrying a lot of extra weight in your car for some reason, it may also be necessary to inflate your tyres further.

Running out of fuel or using the wrong fuel

Every year, thousands of drivers make the mistake of putting the wrong fuel into their vehicle. It can easily happen. Pay close attention when fuelling your car, and always take your time at the pump.

Running out of fuel is also a common reason for a vehicle breakdown. Ensure you fill up before a long journey, and never let your fuel tank run too low. If you always drive with your fuel running low, you could be feeding dirty fuel back into your engine, and this can cause even more problems.

Have your car checked over regularly

Your car should be checked and maintained with a regular service from a professional mechanic. Staying up to date with services are imperative and can help to avoid a breakdown as well as keeping you safe on the road.

Carry out some car checks yourself to save time and money

You should also take the time to learn how to check your car regularly yourself. Our Advice & News section includes tons of information on how to maintain your car should you need any guidance, including short videos.

Make sure you know how to check your tyres, check your fluid levels, and keep a close eye on your battery. Be vigilant – if you notice any changes in the way your car sounds or feels, make sure you have it looked at ASAP.

Preparing for long journeys

Don’t go on a long journey if you notice that something isn’t right with your car.

Checking your car over yourself is especially important before a long journey. You might want to get started on your trip quickly, but you should always leave extra time before you travel to make the important checks for peace of mind.

Ask for help if you can't do it yourself

Don’t put off repairs, either, as they can soon manifest into much bigger problems. If you know that your car needs a small repair, make it a top priority to get it seen to. A motor mechanic can ensure your brake pads and brake fluid are okay, check out the cooling system for you or the exhaust system.

Other things can be more easily checked at home, such as tyre tread depth... and all you need is a 20p coin!

How to check your tyre tread depth

Get breakdown cover

Doing these checks may not stop you from breaking down in the first instance, so it’s a good idea to have breakdown cover in place, giving you additional peace of mind that roadside assistance is coming to help if you do breakdown.

Simple and straightforward breakdown cover from GEM Motoring Assist

Fortunately, GEM’s all-inclusive breakdown cover spares you a lot of the legwork by giving you superior cover at a price that easily trumps that of leading competitors and we don’t try to sell extras to our customers.

We have two types of cover:

Recovery RECLAIM– Our ‘pay and claim’ package. Select this if you are happy to pay callout and labour charges yourself, and reclaim these from us later. Many of our customers who choose this option have their own preferred garage or mechanic.

Recovery EXTRA – This is our premium package. We organise everything including callout fees and labour charges.

You can cover up to four members of your household with our personal breakdown cover, so if you're looking for couples breakdown cover you could take out a joint policy for yourself and your partner. If you have grown up children living at home, and they already drive, they can be covered too. We provide personal breakdown cover to suit your needs - whether that's breakdown cover just for yourself, breakdown cover for couples or breakdown cover for a family of 3 or 4!

So, how do these stack up against our competitors?

Well, compare our cover to a a similar product from the AA or the RAC and you can save around 40% on your premium.

Moreover, if you select our Recovery RECLAIM package you can reduce your up front costs, and you won’t find an equivalent product elsewhere as it’s exclusive to GEM!

Needless to say you’ll still get the great cover you’d expect including home assistance, help with onward travel and accommodation, cover for vehicles of any age and unlimited callouts.

So, the simple question is… Why pay more?

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