Breakdowns are rarely spontaneous – if you keep up with your car maintenance you'll generally spot any problems in time to prevent them becoming major hassles. As the UK's largest breakdown organisation, we fix more breakdowns by the roadside than anyone else. Here's what our breakdown team has to say about avoiding the most common faults.
Very simply put, the battery provides the power to start the engine, and once the engine is started the petrol keeps it running. The running engine turns the alternator which recharges the battery. When the engine is switched off, everything is powered by the battery (lights, stereo, etc), but the battery is not being recharged so it will go flat eventually.
Most drivers will forget to switch their lights off at one time or another – for example after starting a journey in poor visibility and finishing when the day is brighter. Leaving your lights switched on will flatten your battery, so always double-check you've switched them off before you leave your car.
Making frequent short journeys can result in a flat battery if your battery isn't given enough time to recharge after starting the engine. If you're only going a short distance, then reach for your walking shoes, not your car keys.
The most common battery faults result from terminals and clamp connections – these can be avoided with regular servicing.
Punctures are more likely to occur when your tyres are worn, so replace your tyres when the tread gets low.
To state the obvious: drive around, not over, corners. The reason that the tread is on the outside of the tyre is because that's the part which comes into contact with the road – not the sides of the tyre. Clipping the kerb as you corner will damage your tyres.
Keep your wheels aligned. Unaligned tyres will wear out quickly because they tend to drive 'against' each other, and you may notice that the car's handling feels loose. Don't forget your spare. A flat spare is absolutely useless, while a very worn or damaged spare is dangerous to drive on.
Locking your keys in your car is always a pain, and can leave you stranded in a place where you feel unsafe. When you buy a car get a spare set of keys cut straight away – don't let it be the thing you always meant to do but never got around to ….
You may have heard that 'most cars' will go another 60 miles or so after the needle shows the tank's empty – but don't be tempted to try it. Running out of fuel is the most embarrassing type of breakdown, so if your tank is low, fill it up. Prepare for long journeys by filling up the night before.
Every year more than 100,000 motorists put the wrong fuel in their tank (usually petrol in a diesel tank or vice versa). This is a time-consuming and very expensive error, so double-check the pump before you fill your tank.
The AA is the UK's largest breakdown organisation and if you're a member there's no charge for labour at the roadside. Find out more about breakdown cover.