Top reasons for breakdown call outs – and how to avoid them

Well it looks like summer is over. I know, “WHAT summer?” I hear you cry! Well, whether you had the sun-roof open or not, the summer season is certainly on its way out now – and it’s hello winter.

Winter spells plenty of trouble for motorists, re-introducing issues of icey roads, cracked windshields and frozen engine components. This is why motor mechanics and vehicle recovery services ensure they are on red alert at this incredibly busy time of the year.

Although the winter months may be the busiest for breakdowns, not all causes are related to the gloomy season. The good news is that many of the main causes for vehicle breakdown can be avoided with just a little bit of forward planning.

Here are the top reasons for breakdown call outs.

Driver error – one of the biggest causes of ‘breakdown’
No one’s perfect, but in this case, “driver error” is something of a misnomer, because many of the so-called breakdowns attributed to this cause aren’t actually breakdowns at all. They’re what could be called the “d’oh” factor, and most of us can probably relate to at least one of them.

These “errors” include things like:

Empty fuel tank! – It’s easily done if you’re not keeping an eye on the fuel gauge.

Using the incorrect fuel – Petrol cars can’t take diesel, and vice-versa. This mistake is most common on a Friday evening, as drivers return from work, thinking of the weekend. Unfortunately for them, it’s an expensive mistake to make – draining and disposing of the contaminated fuel tank can cost anything up to £7,000 for a luxury vehicle.

Losing keys – A poll of 2000 drivers found that 16 per cent had lost their keys at least once – and as many as 10% didn’t own a spare set! It used to be fairly straightforward to open up a car with the keys locked inside (usually with a length of ‘coat hanger wire’). However, today’s security conscious locking systems mean that often only an authorised dealer will be able to get you back into your car. For a Ford Focus, that could cost as much as £266, while Nissan Micra owners would have to spend around as £326. That spare set of keys could save you a lot of money in the long run.

Reporting on non-existent problems – Unbelievable though it may sound, almost 3 in every 100 call-outs reveal no problem at all. Now that really is a “d’oh” moment.

Some breakdown causes you can easily avoid
Sometimes, of course, your breakdown will be caused by a problem with the mechanics of the vehicle. Not all of these are outside your control, though, and many can be easily avoided.

Common causes of breakdown include:

Flat batteries – Leaving your lights on, poor connectivity at the terminals because they haven’t been maintained with Vaseline or grease, or ignoring warning signs such as that tell-tale squealing that signals a slipping alternator belt can all cause this most common of problems. Charging your battery occasionally and performing simple maintenance can prevent it happening at all.

Blowouts/flat tyres – Often dismissed as “acts of God”, these can actually have very human causes, such as failure to check your tyres often enough, or to find out the correct pressures for their speed/loads. Make sure that your spare wheel is present and correct at all times!

Of course, having your car serviced regularly will help prevent many of the problems that cause breakdowns, and a working knowledge of your vehicle’s handbook will further equip you to diagnose simple faults and even make the odd repair yourself. And that little bit of preparation and planning will hopefully mean you won’t be spending time on the hard shoulder, late at night, waiting for a recovery vehicle.