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The most common causes of car breakdowns

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Cars breakdown all the time. But why? WhoCanFixMyCar explains the most common causes and how to avoid it happening.

Breaking down is right up there as one of a driver’s worst nightmares when on a journey (next to 'are we there yet?' of course).

Once the initial shock has worn off, you’ll often discover that the cause of the breakdown isn’t as serious as first thought. However, this will give you little consolation if you find yourself stuck by the side of the road waiting for the recovery vehicle to arrive.

They say prevention is often the best cure, which is why we’ve created this handy advice guide to help you avoid falling foul of some of the most common causes of car breakdowns next time you go on a trip.


Guide Contents

Flat battery

Punctures

Lack of fuel

Faulty spark plugs

Distributor cap

Alternator

Starter motor


Flat battery

One of the most common causes of breakdowns is either a flat or faulty battery. This is often the result of making lots of short, stop start type trips that over time drain the battery. One way to avoid this happening before going on a journey is taking your car for a reasonable drive to give it enough time to recharge, or alternatively leaving your battery on charge overnight. If neither makes any difference it may be that a new battery is required.

A lack of charge isn’t the only thing that can cause battery problems. Sometimes faults occur due to poor electrical connections, often at the battery terminals through a build up of corrosion. An easy way to avoid faults is to give your terminals a clean prior to your journey and check the connections to make sure they haven’t come loose.


Punctures

Before any long journey it's worth checking your tyre pressure as well as looking for any damage to the tyre wall. Under-inflated tyres can cause the wheel rim to rub against the side wall of the tyre until it eventually wears right through and causes a puncture. Also check that you have a spare tyre just in case. Failing that then a puncture repair kit so that you can least get to the nearest garage to have it fixed.


Did You Know?

There are almost 40 million tyres fitted every year onto cars in the UK - with two thirds of these being replacement tyres


Lack of fuel

Running out of fuel is an all too common occurrence. Every year, over 800,000 people run out of petrol, even after the warning light comes on. Bear in mind that while it’s not an offence to run out of fuel on a motorway, you can be charged if the breakdown leads to a collision. So, before you head out, make sure to fill up so you have more than enough fuel to get you to your destination. It’s worth trying sites such as Petrol Map to help find the cheapest fuel closest to you.


Faulty spark plugs

A worn or broken spark plug will simply mean that your car won’t start. While inspecting your spark plugs regularly isn’t a realistic option for most people, getting your car regularly serviced will negate this problem as sparks plugs are one of the things that are checked (and replaced where necessary) at both an interim and full service.


Distributor cap

As the name suggests, the distributor cap covers the distributor which in turn directs the voltage needed to help the spark plugs fire your engine to life. If the cap gets damaged, you will often find that it will short circuit in damp conditions, causing you to break down. If you do notice any damage, make sure to get yourself booked in with your local garage to have that part replaced.


Alternator

The alternator is responsible for recharging your battery – using the power from the engine – as well running the majority of the car’s electrics. Like everything, over time they tend to become faulty, and without attention, this will initially cause slow starts until eventually your car won’t start at all. A quick and easy way to check if there is an issue with the alternator, especially if you are planning any sort of journey, is to switch on the engine, remove the negative cable from the terminal and if your car stalls or stops then it will need repairing or potentially replacing.


Starter motor

The starter motor may be small but it is an extremely important device that gets your engine going. However, over time, and given the amount of pressure being exerted on the starter motor, it will wear out. Sadly, more often than not, you won’t realise this until you turn the key and nothing happens. Thankfully, there are a few tell-tale signs that your starter motor could be on the way out, giving you time to book a visit to your local garage:

  • The dashboard lights up, but the car won’t start - if there’s constant power coming from the battery, but the engine won’t turn over, then it’s a clear indicator that there is a fault with the starter motor.

  • Metal on metal grinding noise - this will be caused by the starter motor failing to properly engage with the flywheel because it’s worn out.

  • Continual problems starting the engine - sometimes the engine starts first time, other times it takes a while. This is often down to the relay feeding current to the starter motor


If your car is showing signs that it could be about to breakdown, it’s always best to get it checked by a trained professional – even if it's for something as simple as a loose connection.

WhoCanFixMyCar can help you arrange for that work to be done through its comprehensive network of garages and mobile mechanics in your local area.

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