Regardless if you have a used or new vehicle, breakdowns will happen at the worst possible time. Having an emergency roadside assistance service can provide you the peace of mind for yourself and other family members. Aging parents and grandparents who are still driving should not be without roadside protection. Many individuals driving simply do not have the experience or physical strength to deal with common breakdowns. If you have ever tried to get the lug nuts off a tire that have been air hammered down at your local garage or dealership, good luck in changing a simple tire. When a breakdown occurs, the fear and mind games begin. Let’s face it… breaking down even when you have the best breakdown coverage can be a major inconvenience. We are generally dressed up and on our way to something planned and we are generally running a little late. No time for a family feud, you need help. What if a breakdown occurs when your son or daughter are on the road by themselves or with friends? What do you do when so many take their pets along with them when they travel? Below are the top reasons our cars breakdown and what you can do to reduce the risk of it happening to you.
Dead or Low Battery
Dead/Flat or Faulty Battery – If you do not have a set of jump cables and a willing “donor” car, or a car battery recharger at hand, the next best thing you can do is call for breakdown assistance. Loss of voltage caused by short journeys is a frequent cause of flat batteries. To prevent your car battery running flat, take the car on a longer journey every week. If this is not possible, an overnight charge of the battery will do the trick, assuming you have a battery charger. Loose and corroded terminal or clamp connections cause problems too. A flat battery is by far the biggest reason breakdown services get called out. To reduce the risk of this happening to you, you should check your battery every month and in the winter every week. Most new batteries are sealed, however, if you have one that is not you should check the water level and fill it up with distilled water whenever the level drops. Common reasons why your battery could fail include:
- Bad cell in battery results in poorly charged or dead battery – Includes new and used car batteries.
- Battery terminals are corroded and are preventing the battery from charging.
- Old Age – Will no longer hold a charge and cold weather kills cranking amps. It’s time to replace the battery.
- Lights, radio etc. left on – Recharge the battery or a jump start it.
- Alternator not charging the battery – You will need to get your alternator checked.
Alternator – If the alternator is not working properly your car battery does not charge, this drops the voltage of your battery to a level that is insufficient to run the engine, and so the engine cuts out. While there is little you can do to maintain the alternator yourself, you can watch out for signs that tell you when your alternator is faulty. Look out for a flickering of your battery warning light on the dashboard for instance, keep an eye out for dimmed headlamps and dimmed dashboard lights when the engine is idling and if your car turns over slowly or takes longer to start you may have a problem.
Flat Tire or Tire Blowout
About 10% of emergency calls are related to tire damage. Things to look out for:
- Tread Wear – Check weekly, the legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm.
- Tire pressure – If a tire is under inflated extra strain is put on the tire wall which can lead to failure. Other dangers of under inflated tires include longer stopping distances, reduced handling characteristics and increased wear on the tread of the tire. Tire gauges are inexpensive and easy to use, but most garages will check your tire pressure at no cost to you.
- Damage to tires – This can be caused by hitting something or running over something sharp. You should check all your tires every week.
- Foreign objects – Check for nails, screws etc. Hitting debris in the road when driving always puts us at risk.
Keys Locked in Vehicle or Lost
About 4% of all emergency calls are due to either locking your keys in the car or losing your car keys. Another more recent problem is drivers calling out the breakdown services because their remote key fob that opens the doors is not working. Although you may not be able to drive off, if this happens you will still be able to get into the car. A good tip is to keep a spare key fob battery in your car.
Electrical Fault (including EMS Engine Management System)
Electrical faults account for about 4% of breakdowns. As cars become more and more complex, electrical faults are responsible for a greater number of breakdowns. There is little you will be able to do if your car breaks down due to an electrical fault. The best way to help prevent this type of problem is to make sure you get your car checked out when the first symptoms of a problem show up, if you start to get an intermittent fault or starting your car becomes a problem, get it looked at right away, don’t wait for it to fail completely.
Transmission (including Clutch)
Transmissions continue to get more reliable but there are still thousands that are about to fail. Most people fail to have their transmissions serviced and fluid changed and components adjusted. This causes increased stress and wear and tear on transmissions leading to premature failure and expensive repair costs.
Running Out of Fuel
Every year hundreds of thousands of people put the wrong type or inferior quality fuel into their vehicles or you simply run out of fuel at the side of the road. Keep an eye on your fuel gauge and if the low light comes on make sure you put fuel in the car as soon as you can. Many fuel gauges in vehicles have been found to give faulty low level readings or may not work at all. High fuel prices have left some playing a game of chance by putting in just a few gallons at a time. Sometimes fuel pumps can fatigue and starting your car becomes more difficult and at times impossible. Excess water can build up in fuel tanks resulting in fuel simply not igniting properly.
Are you having trouble with your car overheating? It can be a frustrating problem to deal with and diagnose. One of the most common reasons for a vehicle overheating is a stuck thermostat. It can stick or freeze in the closed position blocking the flow of coolant to your engine. The easiest way to check if your thermostat is not open is to feel the upper radiator hose. Once the engine warms up it should become warm. If it does not get hot the thermostat is probably not opening. Never open your radiator cap when your engine is hot or you could be severely burned. A second common cause of overheating is a leak in your vehicle’s cooling system. If your vehicle is losing coolant there will not be enough left in the vehicle to keep it cool. This is easy to diagnose as the radiator will be low on fluid and there will probably be a pool of coolant on the floor of your garage. Look for leaks in the most common places like around hoses and around the welds of your radiator. If you cannot find the leak you might need to take it to a shop to have the cooling system pressure tested. The third cause is a faulty water pump. The water pump is a vital part of your cooling system since it is responsible for circulating coolant through your engine. With a faulty water pump your vehicle will not run for more than a few minutes without overheating. The fourth cause of overheating is a bad cooling fan. There are two types of fans, electric and mechanical. The electric fan should come on automatically once the vehicle reaches operating temperature or when the A/C is turned on. If it doesn’t you should have it replaced. The mechanical fan will run all of the time but has a clutch which makes it turn faster when the engine heats up. With the car turned off the fan should not turn too easily especially when the vehicle is warm. You can also check for signs of leakage from the fan clutch. If you see any problems have it replaced. The fifth cause of overheating is a clogged radiator. Over time the radiator can accumulate deposits of rust and debris. This is especially true if radiator fluid has not been flushed on a regular basis. If you suspect a clogged radiator you should take it to a shop to have it professionally cleaned. It is very important to maintain your cooling system with annual maintenance and replacement of additives such as rust inhibitors, coolants and antifreeze. Excessive heat can cause cylinder heads to swell, warp or crack. Even engines have been known to crack if the engine gets too hot. Now you are facing an expensive repair. These are some of the most common causes for vehicle overheating. Vehicle overheating can cause a great deal of damage to your vehicle. If you are experiencing trouble be sure to fix your vehicle or take it to a quality mechanic as soon as possible.
Engine Lubrication Failures
Keep an eye on oil pressure and oil level. Every engine needs oil between its moving parts not only to reduce friction but also to carry away heat. Oil is the primary means by which the rod and main bearings are cooled, as well as the pistons. So any reduction in oil flow may cause these parts to run hot, gall and seize. Low oil pressure is often a contributing factor in engine failures. The underlying cause may be a worn oil pump and/or excessive clearances in the main and rod bearings as a result of high mileage wear or neglect (not changing the oil and filter often enough). Oil starvation is almost always fatal to any engine, and is usually the result of a failed oil pump, a plugged oil pickup screen inside the oil pan, or a low oil level. If you suspect engine damage may have been caused by a low oil level, check the dipstick to see how much oil is in the pan. A low oil level may be the result of neglect, oil leakage and/or oil burning. Checking your oil level and oil clarity are simple ways to avoid serious engine breakdown.
As much as we try to avoid disabling accidents sometimes circumstances and other drivers are just not within our control. Construction projects, confusing signs, impatient drivers, cell phones and a whole host of other issues puts us more at risk than ever before.