How to beat breakdowns

Cars break down for numerous reasons but many of them are easily preventable. If you want to know what you can do to minimise your chances of being stranded, read on. And, if the worst happens, find out what emergency steps you should take and the benefits of signing up to Breakdown Cover through Direct Line...

Maintain to minimise breakdown

According to government reports, there are 33.8 million drivers in the UK and over a million of them break down on the motorway every year. If you don't have breakdown cover for your motor, this can mean a tiresome couple of hours waiting by the roadside for the tow truck to arrive. The good news is that many breakdowns are avoidable by spending just 30 minutes a month maintaining your car.

Top tips include:

  • A flat or faulty battery is one of the main causes of breakdown. So, when your car is serviced or goes in for its MOT, make sure the battery terminals have been cleaned and protected from corrosion. Smearing terminals with petroleum jelly can also help protect them, while a fortnightly overnight recharge can help prevent a flat.
  • Maintain tyre safety; prevent tyre damage by keeping the tyre tread within legal specifications – this is 1.6mm to 8mm, with at least 3mm during the winter months. Plus remember, your spare tyre needs to be in good repair, as do your jack and wheel removal tools.
  • Listen for strange sounds from your fan belt; a continuous squeal after the engine has started may indicate that the water pump has frozen. Persistent battery problems and dim headlights may also indicate alternator/generator faults. If the alternator belt breaks you need to stop immediately.
  • Moisture and dirt can be major irritants for your engine if allowed to build up. So, have spark plugs, distributor caps, starter motors, clutch cables and high tension leads checked and replaced, if necessary, at regular services.
  • It may sound obvious but ensure your fuel tank is sufficiently full for your journey and is the correct type. Also maintain levels of water and anti-freeze in the coolant tank, and screen wash in the windscreen wiper tanks; wipers should also be checked for wear.
  • Check lights for blown bulbs and cracks, and clean off any dirt on headlights to give maximum brightness in fog, mist and on dark nights.
  • Ensure your engine is running before you turn on lights, heaters or other electrical systems to prevent the battery draining; and of course, turning them all off when you leave the car.

On the road

A recent report revealed that running out of fuel was one of the main reasons for motors breaking down – so make sure your tank leaves home prepared for the journey you need to make. Overheating in summer is also a major culprit for car breakdown so check your car cooling system is in good working order.

Keeping a car 'emergency kit' is also a good idea. It should include a fully charged mobile phone and torch; a reasonably up-to-date road atlas; de-icer and a windscreen scraper; a warm blanket, waterproof clothing and sensible footwear; rubber mats (if you are stuck in snow, these can be used for tyres to achieve purchase); jump leads (although experts advise that incorrect use could damage the car); spare keys and security keys; and food and drink.

Breakdown Cover policy really should be part of your emergency kit, too; make sure yours is up to date and that you have a record of all the essential details and emergency contact numbers in the car when you drive.

What to do in an emergency

Studies show that a huge proportion of drivers are actually unaware of what they should do if they breakdown and over 94,000 of the thousands who break down on the motorway, put themselves in further danger of an accident.

If you see smoke coming out of your car – from the bonnet or vents, for example – it could be serious, so stop as soon as possible, ideally off the road. Turn off the ignition but do not open the bonnet as additional oxygen can cause any fire to spread. Call the fire brigade immediately and keep all passengers away from the vehicle, at a distance of at least 50m if you can.

In the event of a motorway breakdown, accident protocol indicates that you should pull in as far as possible to the left of the hard shoulder. Hazard warning lights should be switched on and SOS phones should be used to call for help, as these have a direct link to the emergency services and can immediately pinpoint your location.

You should wait away from the car, on a grassy bank or verge; however, if you do feel threatened, return to your vehicle and lock all the doors until you feel any danger has passed.

If you have Direct Line Breakdown Cover, call 0800 590 590 as soon as possible. Whether you have Rescue, Rescue Plus, Recovery, Recovery Plus or Europlus, the minimum cover that Direct Line provides is roadside assistance once you're a 1/4 mile from home.

Plus, if your car cannot be fixed at the roadside, you and your vehicle will be taken to a suitable garage. A message service is also available to let friends and family know what has happened and advise of delays – which means peace of mind all round.

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Things you need to know about Over 50s life insurance:
Premiums stop after your 90th birthday but you still enjoy cover for the rest of your life. In the first year, if you die from natural causes we will refund any premiums, or if you die as a result of an accident, we will pay your cash sum. After the first year regardless of the cause of death we will pay your cash sum. Depending on how long you live, the total sum paid in premiums may be more than the cash sum payable on death. If you stop paying your premiums before the end of your policy your cover will stop 30 days after your missed premium and you won’t get anything back. This isn’t a savings or investment product and has no cash value unless a valid claim is made. Inflation will reduce the buying power of your cash sum in the future.

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