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Ten Common Reasons For Breakdowns

It’s Murphy’s Law, isn’t it? You’re ready to head off and you need to get somewhere quickly (in fact, you’re late already) and… the car won’t start. It seems as if the more things that cars have and the more things they are able to do, the more things there are to go wrong on them. OK, you can still get to where you want to go on time if the air-con (or the dual-zone climate control system) isn’t working, although you will arrived hot and even more bothered. And you can still park a car without parking assist, as long as the mirrors are visible and don’t have bird poop all over them. But if something goes wrong with the mechanics or the more vital bits of the electronics (which is happening with more and more cars these days), you’re stuck.

This is the moment where you phone up the AAA and then phone in to work or the doctor to say that the car’s broken down before you get comfy and make yourself a cup of coffee and check your emails while you wait for the AAA to turn up.
It’s often the little things that leave you stranded. According to the British Automobile Association, the most common things they get called out for are horribly minor. Massive great big engine blow-ups are rare (but do happen – it happened to me).
According to the British AA, the top ten reasons they get called out are as follows (remembering that if the car is stopped and the driver can’t get it going, the team can get called out):
1. Flat batteries. If this has happened to you, you can try your luck with jump-starters or by giving the car one heck of a good push downhill to get the engine turning over. Longer journeys help keep batteries well charged, and don’t forget to close the door and/or turn the stereo and park lights off when you leave the car.
2. Lost keys. If you’ve got one of those modern numbers that have an electronic chip to prevent theft in the transponder key, you’re in trouble and it’s back to the authorised dealer you go – not to buy a whole new Mercedes or whatever (thank goodness for that!) but a new key.
3. Flat tyres or badly worn tyres. You did remember to replace or repair the bad one after you changed the tyres last time so you actually have something in good nick on hand if you get a flattie? You did, didn’t you??? You didn’t? Ooops.
4. Alternator faults. Yes, this one’s a more serious mechanical death.
5. Failed starter motor. Ditto.
6. Cracked distributor cap: cracked or damaged distributor caps have been bugging motorists since at least the 1930s if not before. And they’re still a problem, as they cause the high voltage you need to get started to leak away. Maintenance here is the key – you might not see the crack but it could still be there.
7. Fuel problems. This could either be caused by not having enough gas in the tank (grab the jerry can and get on your bike, mate!) or by putting the wrong fuel in your car. I’m not sure whether putting diesel into a petrol engine happens more often than putting petrol into a diesel engine, but they’re both Not Recommended.
8. Clutch cables: They’re made of wire. They break.
9. Spark plugs: replace them regularly like you ought to.
10. HT leads: WD-40 is a short term solution to when the insulation on the leads gets a bit worn, but this should just be enough to get you limping into the nearest garage.
The moral? Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. And keep a spare key somewhere handy.