Driving mistakes

6 driving blunders that put the 'argh' in car

Just because you've been driving for years doesn't mean you stop making the odd faux pas on the road. Whether you're 17 or 57, you might have made one or two of these driving mistakes. Get ready to blush at the memories - and learn how to get yourself out of these sticky situations.

Running out of petrol

You stop to grab a sandwich and get set to continue your journey. You've refuelled - but your car's running on empty.

How to avoid running out of petrol:

Refuel when you can, even if you have over half a tank left. It's not a good idea to use your fuel warning light as a prompt - it may come on in an unfamiliar area or, worse still, on the motorway.

There's no reliable way of knowing how far your car can travel once the warning light's on. It varies from car to car and also be affected by temperature, how much your car weighs, and how efficiently you're driving. If you're switching between gears, going at high speeds and tackling hilly roads, expect your tank to empty faster than usual.

Putting the wrong fuel into the car

You rent a car and need to grab some petrol before a big drive. After paying for your fuel, you head back to the car - completely on autopilot - when you suddenly freeze on the forecourt. The rental car you're using takes diesel, and you've just put petrol in the tank. Oh dear.

How to fix misfuelling your car:

If you discover you've put the wrong fuel into your car, don't touch the ignition. Even just turning the ignition on energises the fuel pump and wakes up the fuel system – potentially pushing the wrong fuel into the tank and causing engine damage.

  • If you're on a petrol station forecourt, put your car into neutral and get help to push your vehicle to a safe place.
  • If you’ve driven a short distance after misfuelling, park your vehicle safely and legally, turn off the engine, and call us on 0800 072 7420.
  • Whether you've got breakdown cover with us or not, we can help. If you need same-day assistance and you're not already a member, call us on 03330 046 046.

Our fuel assist team will drain, flush and replenish your fuel - and we'll aim to get you moving again in two hours. We'll even make sure the 'wrong' fuel we drain from your car is disposed of in an environmentally-friendly way. Bit embarrassed? Don't worry, you're not alone. Around 133,000 drivers in the UK misfuel every year.

Car at petrol pump

Dealing with a flat battery

It happens to the best of us - you're late for work, you hurriedly find a parking space, and you hurry inside - forgetting to turn off the interior light. There goes the battery.

How to deal with a flat battery

There are two ways of dealing with this - call our battery assist team on 0800 88 77 66, or enlist a friend or colleague with a working car if you're not an AA Member.

Modern car electronics are very sensitive and can be easily damaged if you don't know what you're doing. If you're feeling unsure about tackling a flat battery without professional help, it's probably safer all round if you call us.

Our mechanics always carry out a battery test to find out why your battery failed in the first place and we only recommend replacing them if it’s really necessary. We'll get you going again in no time.

If you need to charge your battery yourself, here's how to jump start a car. Follow all of the steps in order, and always make sure it's safe to charge your battery.

  • Never try to jump start a battery that looks damaged or is leaking
  • Don't use worn or damaged jump leads
  • If the jump leads get hot, your engines could catch fire - switch them off and allow the leads to cool down
  • Don’t let any metal objects come in contact with the cars’ batteries; they could cause a spark and possibly make the battery explode
  • Don't remove the jump leads while the cars’ engines are running. This can cause serious damage to the cars’ electronics

Car battery with jump leads

Ignoring a warning light

You're merrily zooming around town when you spot a red warning light's come on the dashboard. Ah, it doesn't matter - you'll be home in a bit. It'll probably sort itself out. Except it doesn't, and your car breaks down 2 minutes from home.

What to do if your red warning light comes on:

If a red warning light comes on, you could potentially have a very serious problem, such an overheated engine or not enough brake fluid. First of all, don't panic. Stop the car as soon as it’s safe and give us a call.

Amber or yellow lights mean it’s OK to carry on with your journey, but you'll need to get your car fixed at your local garage ASAP. Here's a full rundown of dashboard warning lights, and what they mean.

If you're an AA Member, listen up - our nifty new AA-X device can help predict breakdowns. It keeps a constant eye on your car's health and will send you a message on your phone if something's wrong.

You'll need to check you've got a compatible car to get started; when it arrives, you just plug it into your car's OBDII port, download the app, and away you go.

Getting a parking ticket

You park for 30 seconds to dash into a shop, you head back to the car - and there's a ticket waiting for you. Terrific. .

How to avoid getting a parking ticket:

  • Check signs carefully. Car park operators have to make it clear to drivers how they should pay for parking, when charges apply and how much it'll cost
  • It's risky to assume parking's free on a Sunday, after 6pm or unless it's clearly stated on a sign
  • Never assume that all car parks in the same town operate the same terms; check the signs!
  • Park within a marked bay
  • Don't park in a disabled bay unless you're displaying a valid Blue Badge
  • If you're using a pay and display ticket, make sure it's clearly visible (they have a habit of blowing off the dashboard when you close the door)
  • Some ticket machines need you to type in your number plate - car park operators do this to stop you giving a ticket with time left on it to someone else. Take your time and check you've done this correctly, as one mistake could mean a penalty
  • Make sure you get back to the car within the time on the ticket. Our app includes a parking timer and can also be used to ‘pin’ where you’ve parked - handy if you’re in an unfamiliar place
  • It's a good idea to keep some coins in the car for parking, as many machines still only accept cash. However, you're increasingly likely to come across machines which let you pay by card, Apple Pay, or app - such as paybyphone

Run out of time to get back to the car? If you've paid for your parking by phone (either by text or on an app) you may be able to buy extra time, but you might have to pay an admin fee, too.
If you've been given a ticket and you want to challenge it, you can appeal within 28 days. If you do it within 14 days, you may only have to pay 50% of the fine - so act quickly.

Forgetting warm gear for winter

You go for a drive in the middle of December wearing your tracksuit bottoms and a thin jumper. It's only a short dash to and from the car, and the car's heater will keep you warm, right? Wrong.

How to avoid freezing your socks off on winter drives:

The heater won't be able to keep you nice and toasty if your car decides to break down. It's more likely than you'll end up calling us on the roadside, shivering in your singlet.

Keep a warm jacket and some blankets in the boot so you’re prepared for emergencies, as well as spare snacks, bottled water, a fully-charged phone charging block, and any spare medication you need. Read our winter survival checklist before you head off.

Freezing car in winter

Put in the wrong fuel?

Don’t turn on the ignition or start the car - call us on 0800 072 7420.