Red warning triangle behind a broken down car
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What are the top six reasons for a car breakdown call-out and how can we avoid them?

9 minute read

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Picture this: You're stranded in the middle of nowhere with a non-responsive car, waiting to be rescued. We’ve all been there, but how can we avoid it?

  • 40% of all call-outs are related to vehicles not starting*
  • Can my breakdown recovery company help me after an accident?
  • Just how important are dashboard warning lights?

How to prepare for a broken down car

As with most things in life, prevention is better than cure, and when it comes to your car, it’s no different. But sometimes, all our checks and care can’t stop the inevitable.

Here are a few simple items to carry in case you do breakdown in your car

  • Mobile phone
  • Empty fuel carrier
  • Warm clothes
  • First aid kit
  • Jump leads

How can we avoid the top reasons for a breakdown company call-out?

What's the most common reason for a broken down car?

Below you can find the top reasons for breakdown company call-outs according to LV= Britannia Rescue*.

1 - Why isn't my car starting?

By far the most common reason to call for help is because the car won’t start. In fact, 40% of all call-outs between 1 October 2020 and 1 November 2022 were related to vehicles not starting*. More often than not this is because of a flat battery.

A breakdown recovery agent can often get you going again, but sometimes damage to a 12-volt battery is terminal (pun intended) and you may well need a new one, which can be pricey.

According to carwow, a new 12-volt battery costs anywhere between £45 and £250, depending on the vehicle and battery type. Generally speaking, larger cars require larger, more expensive batteries.

There are two main reasons for flat batteries:

  • Leaving electrical equipment on when the car is unattended
  • Leaving the car unused for long periods of time

We have a few tips which can help keep your battery in good shape, like regularly using the car or disconnecting the battery if it's going to be unused for a while, so if you're worried about your battery life, take a look.

2 - How do I check my tyres?

After cars not starting, the second most common reason for a car breakdown is tyre issues. They’re one of the most important safety features on your car, and when they go wrong, you’ll be glad you had breakdown cover. When and where this happens is pretty much out of your control, but if it’s on a motorway, don’t attempt a fix yourself – call a professional to help you out.

Much like batteries, your tyres should form the basis of regular vehicle maintenance to help increase their lifespan. There are many ways you can look after your tyres and avoid getting on the wrong side of the law in the form of fines. Fines can be up to £2,500 and penalty points can be up to three points for each illegal tyre. Keep an eye on pressures and tread depth, as well as the general condition, paying particular attention to lumps and tears.

3 - What should I do if I'm in a car accident?

Next up on our list it’s road traffic collisions (RTC), or car accidents to you and me. According to the Department for Transport, there were over 100,000 RTCs reported in Great Britain in 2021.

If you’re involved in an accident, your first call for help should be to your car insurance provider. They’ll be able to talk to you about possible recovery of your vehicle and a courtesy car if it’s included in your policy. If they’re unable to help, then a call to your breakdown recovery company would be the next port of call.

4 - What do dashboard warning lights mean?

Fourth on our list is engine issues, such as cutting out, misfiring or no power at all. In this category we’ve also included warning lights and fluids, which can often lead to engine failure.

Now, driving with warning lights on, especially red ones, is risky business and it’ll only be a matter of time before your vehicle breaks down. It’s a similar situation with essential fluids, such as engine coolant, anti-freeze and oil. A low reserve in any of these can lead to catastrophic problems.

"I once ignored a warning to top-up anti-freeze in my car. As a result, the engine seized, which snapped the cambelt, and caused extensive damage to the engine. It cost thousands to repair, for the sake of a few quid on anti-freeze!"
Simon AllenDigital Content and Social Media Exec, LV=
So, the moral of the story is to regularly check and top up your fluids, take notice of those dashboard lights and pay attention to any early signs that there’s an issue.

5 - Is my gearbox broken?

You’re not going to get very far without a working gearbox. Should the worst happen and it breaks while you’re out and about (as it did for 20,000 Britannia Rescue customers*), you’re going to need some help. A clutch or gearbox repair at the roadside probably isn’t going to happen, so you’re going to need breakdown cover with vehicle recovery to a nearby garage or chosen destination.

There’s no two ways about it, gearboxes are expensive! According to whocanfixmycar.com, depending on where you live, you can expect to pay up to £500 for a new gearbox, and that’s without any labour cost included to fit it!

That’s a lot of money, but there are a number of signs you can keep an eye out for as early warnings that something might be wrong…

  • Slipping gears
  • Noisy in neutral
  • Clutch dragging
  • Difficulty finding gears
  • Burning smell

6 - What should I do if I lose my car keys?

Losing or having your car keys stolen can be stressful, but rest assured there are people who can help. It may be your car insurance that can help with lost or stolen keys (depending on your cover level), but if you’ve accidentally locked your keys in your car, then it’s probably your breakdown cover company who’ll send someone to help.

Regardless, take a deep breath, calm yourself and spend a little time reading what you should do if you misplace your car keys.

What happens if I put the wrong fuel in my car?

Although not one of the top six reasons for LV= Britannia Rescue call outs, putting the wrong fuel in your tank is a significant worry for many drivers. The answer to the question “what should I do if I misfuel?” is really important in the moments immediately after the mistake – it can reduce significant damage to your car.

If you do fill up your car with the wrong fuel type, you should:

  • Not start the engine
  • Inform an attendant at the filling station
  • Push your car somewhere safe
  • Call your car insurance company

So, there we have it! Britannia Rescue’s top six reasons for a call to the breakdown experts. Car trouble happens to all of us, but let’s all do our best to try and avoid it…

* LV= Britannia Rescue data (1 October 2020 to 1 November 2022)

Have we got you thinking about breakdown cover?