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Roadside Assistance

There are a whole bunch of awesome businesses ready and waiting to come to our aid when we experience a breakdown while on our way from A to B.  As we draw closer to the holiday season, having the backup of a roadside assistance team in our travel plans is a jolly good idea.  According to some of the latest stats from Australia’s NRMA (National Roads and Motorists’ Association Limited), even a brand-spanking new car can still have a breakdown.

A few years ago, I was doing a lot of travelling between office sites and, in the space of 6–12 months, I had had a spate of three-or-so callouts.  Two were for the alternators giving out, and I forget what the other was for – possibly a dud battery.  I also remember a time when I was barely out of my teens, that I had locked the keys in the car, and a very skilful bloke came and unlocked the car within seconds.

The NRMA is one of those roadside assistance teams that are ready to come to the rescue.  New cars are great when they work fine, and most do for most of the time.  NRMA recently stated that car technology is improving, and now there’s even cars that drive themselves, but still these cars have the potential to break down. Over the last year, the number of call outs that the NRMA have had for new cars aged between 0–3 years old has risen by 43% compared to the previous year.  Over the entire year there were 103,262 new cars in Australia that needed the NRMA breakdown assistance service.

In a 2017 NRMA survey, cars that were between 11–20 years old had the highest number of breakdowns, followed closely by cars aged 4–10 years old.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the car’s batteries were at the heart of most of those breakdowns.  During that year, 25% of the callouts were for dud batteries.

Across the ditch in NZ, the AA found out that, in relatively recent years, their number one callout for road assistance was also for a flat or faulty battery.  Batteries can go flat for various reasons but most commonly they are faulty because the car has been unused for a while, or only used for short journeys.  Also, there may be a faulty component in the battery system or the car’s charging system (maybe the alternator has worn out).

The NRMA also came to the rescue of plenty of people who had locked themselves out of the car (5%).  It’s easier to lock your keys in the car than you think!  Number two for AA was for lost keys!

The third most common reason for AA to be called out was for damaged tyres and wheels.  The cause of a damaged or flat tyre is most often due to hitting a sharp object, but other reasons include the tyre’s valve failing, the tyre’s hitting a kerb or a deep pothole at speed, or even just old age.

AA found that AdBlue was the next main reason for their callouts.  Most modern diesel vehicles use a Selective Catalyst Reduction (SCR) method for lowering harmful nitrogen oxide emissions from exiting the exhaust system.  AdBlue (also called urea or Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF)) is an additive that helps with this process, and it requires to be kept topped up for the car to work properly.  The modern diesel engine won’t start if it runs out of this stuff, so it’s important to keep it topped up.

Number five for AA callouts was for the Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF).  Again, the DPF is a part of the exhaust system on vehicles with a diesel engine.  The DPF traps fine particles of soot and burns them off into a less-harmful gas.  Generally, long hot running keeps this filter clear, but it may get blocked up if you do lots of short journeys.  The car won’t run properly, and a warning light comes up on the screen if the DPF isn’t functioning as it should.

Engine oil issues accounted for AA’s next most common callout.  Having the wrong level of engine oil inside your car’s engine can damage it.  And that gets expensive!  Having too much oil can be just as risky as having too low a level of oil.  Make sure you do check your engine oil.  Even Toyota’s, as they start to cover moderate kms, can start to use a bit of oil between services.  Learn how to regularly check your engine oil using the dipstick.  Your vehicle’s handbook will give you a good guide for checking the level of oil in your engine, as well as a guide for adding the correct amount of oil for topping up your car’s engine.

Faults with the car’s alternator was the next biggest issue.  If you experience persistent battery problems and dim headlights when your car’s engine is idling, you could have a fault with your alternator.  If your ignition warning light comes on and the engine temperature rises quickly, the belt that drives the alternator and the water pump may have broken.  If this happens, then stop right away and get help!  If you don’t, the engine will quickly overheat and self-destruct itself costing lots of money in repairs or even a total engine replacement.

Starter motors fail as they age.  Although starter motors are usually tough and robust, they do fail eventually.

The ninth most common issue that required AA was for problems with the car’s fuel system.  Never start your engine if you’ve accidentally put the wrong fuel type in your car (diesel instead of petrol or vice versa).  Also, fuel filters can get clogged up causing rough engine performance.  The fuel filters also require servicing and even replacement for many cars.  But then if you don’t have any fuel in the tank, then the car won’t go either!

Tenth most common reason for a callout was for the car overheating.  In this case, there could be problems with the engine or with the engine’s cooling system.  If there’s steam coming from your engine or the temperature warning light is on, just pull over and stop.  A hot engine is a recipe for costly damage.

In light of all these things, it is wise to have a roadside assistance team there to back you up at any time of the day or night, whether it is the holiday period or just an everyday commute.  NRMA, RAC, and 24/7 Roadservices Australia are three roadside assistance teams that offer us a great service.  Of course, there are others as well.

Here are some quick tips if you have a breakdown while out on the road:

  • Turn on your hazard lights as soon as you sense something’s wrong.
  • Slow down and pull off to the side of the road.
  • Stop in a safe place and put the parking brake on.
  • Once you are safe, call your roadside assistance team.