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Experts reveal common causes of UK car breakdowns and how to avoid them

With summer fast approaching, many Brits will be setting off on road trips, staycations and family visits. As more cars hit the roads, facing increased traffic and longer travel times, drivers will need to prepare as best they can to avoid any car troubles.

To help drivers stay safe ahead of bank holiday weekends and summer trips, the experts at The AA have shared a list of common breakdown causes and how to avoid them.

You can read the full research here: 

10 common causes of a car breakdown and how to avoid them

1. Flat or faulty battery

12 volt battery faults are the leading cause of breakdowns, impacting 630,000 drivers in the last year. Common causes of this type of breakdown include frequent short trips or long periods of inactivity. Faults can also stem from the battery itself or the car’s charging system.

To prevent a flat or faulty battery, remember to switch everything off as you leave your car. If you typically drive short distances, consider manual charging overnight every fortnight or so.

2. Damaged tyres and wheels

Punctures from sharp objects, potholes, and regular wear and tear can damage your tyres and wheels – as over 560,000 drivers found out last year. If you suspect a puncture, check your wheels and rims, and speak to a specialist tyre dealer as soon as you can.

Remember to check your tyre tread depth and pressure regularly, and avoid driving over potholes or through puddles that could hide a damaged road surface. If you do spot any tyre wear, ask a tyre centre or garage to check if your wheels are aligned correctly.

3. Engine oil

Engine oil levels that are too low, or even too high, can damage your engine. In fact, issues with engines, including those relating to engine oil, caused 43,000 breakdowns.

To prevent engine oil issues, use the dipstick to check the oil regularly, making sure its level is between the two marked lines – the distance between these lines typically represents 1 litre of oil. If you’re unsure, refer to your vehicle handbook, which will tell you the correct oil specification.

4. Timing belt or chain

Timing belts (or chains) are critical components in an engine, and a failure can cause catastrophic damage. Regular servicing, including timely replacement based on manufacturer recommendations, can prevent these issues.

Timing chain failure is often due to lack of oil or oil degradation. Regular oil changes and maintaining correct oil levels increase the lifespan of the timing chain. To avoid failure, have your garage check the timing belt during services, keep engine oil topped up, listen for unusual engine noises, and consult your garage if you hear any.

5. Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF)

This part of a diesel engine’s exhaust system traps and burns fine soot particles to reduce harmful emissions, known as regeneration.

Although the filter usually works well on its own, frequently making short journeys in your vehicle may cause blockages in this system. If this happens and the system becomes blocked, a dashboard warning light will illuminate. If you see the warning light, or to prevent the system from blocking, it can typically be cleared by driving around 40 minutes at a consistent speed of around 50mph.

6. Alternator faults

If you experience frequent battery problems and dim headlights when your engine is idling, you could have an alternator issue.

If your ignition warning light comes on and the engine temperature rises quickly, the belt that drives the alternator and water pump could be broken, which may cause a serious fault. If this happens, call your breakdown insurance provider straight away, and do not restart your engine.

7. Using the wrong fuel

Fuel problems are another breakdown issue that affects thousands of drivers a year. If you put the wrong fuel in your car, don’t start the engine. Leave your car in a safe place and call a fuel assist team immediately. If you’re unsure what type of fuel your vehicle uses, this can normally be found in the vehicle manual.

8. Running out of fuel

Running out of fuel is another common problem many drivers face, as it can be easy to overestimate how much fuel is left in the tank.

It’s best not to rely on your car’s display which shows how many miles are left until the tank’s empty, as it’s not always accurate. If your tank is low, fill it up sooner rather than later, and always top up before a long journey.

9. Overheating

If your temperature warning light is on, there could be a problem with the engine or with the cooling system.

To prevent this, make sure you regularly check and top up your coolant. You can also check your car’s cooling fan at the same time. If you ever see steam coming from your engine, or the temperature warning light turns on, pull over in the nearest safe spot and call for help.

10. Lost keys

If you misplace your keys or lock them inside your car, you’ll need help getting back in your vehicle.

Keep a spare key at home to avoid this situation. If you lose your keys whilst out and about, you’ll either have to visit an authorised dealer or contact a qualified professional to come and assist you.

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