Direct Line magazine

How to beat breakdowns

Updated on: 7 December 2020

A driver looks under the bonnet of a broken down car.

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 you do break down, find out what steps you should take.

Maintain to minimise breakdown

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.

  • Prevent tyre damage by keeping the tyre tread within legal specifications – this is 1.6mm to 8mm. 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 make sure 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.

  • Make sure your engine is running before you turn on lights, heaters or other electrical systems to prevent the battery draining.

What to do if you break down

Sometimes a breakdown will be totally out of your control, so knowing what to do if your car breaks down is just as important as trying to avoid it.

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 don’t 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, 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 - 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 feel threatened, return to your vehicle and lock all the doors until you feel any danger has passed.

If you have breakdown cover, call them as soon as possible.

Related articles

a red car has broken down by the roadside
Motor

Top five summer breakdown reasons

In warmer weather, the heat can put stress on critical components of our cars and cause dreaded roadside breakdowns. We look at five common reasons for breaking down and how to fix them.
A man and woman look under the bonnet of their car.
Motor

Breaking down abroad

If you're planning a trip to Europe using your own car, it's important to be well prepared - and that includes considering breakdown cover.
An SOS phone on the side of a motorway.
Motor

What to do when your car breaks down on the motorway

With cars travelling at high speeds, breaking down on a motorway is a dangerous situation to be in. That's why it's really important you follow advice designed to keep you and your passengers safe.