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27 Oct 2020

The two main reasons your car will break down and what you can do about it

We also know where your car is most likely to breakdown and how long you'll probably be stuck there

Having surveyed more than 7,500 motorists we can reveal the top two reasons for car breakdowns in the UK. But if you think your breakdown policy has you covered, you may want to check it again as we've also found that you may well not be covered at the place you're most likely to have car trouble.

Almost half of the drivers we asked who'd had to call out a breakdown service in the 12 months prior to our survey* told us they waited more than 45 minutes for assistance to arrive. It was over two hours for nearly one in 10.

That's a long time to be hanging around feeling useless and wondering if there might be something you could do about it.

Carry on reading to find out the most common reasons for a car breakdown, where it's most likely to happen and why you may not need to call for assistance at all.

Want to be sure you're covered wherever your car breaks down? Then take a look at the best car breakdown providers for 2020

Two most common reasons you'll need breakdown assistance

Many of us have gotten in our car of a morning, tried to start up the engine and - nothing. Then you look around and realise that you left the lights on last night. So we can sympathise with the unfortunate third of respondents whose battery was flat.

Aside from the lights, the battery can also be drained by being left idle (increasingly common in the current situation), too many short trips, corroded battery connections and extreme weather conditions.

One of the best ways to avoid a breakdown is to own a reliable car. Discover which new and used car models our unique car survey found to be the most reliable cars.

Are you sure you're covered for where you've broken down?

We found the most common place for your car to breakdown is where it tends to spend the most time - at home.

Breakdown services know this to and that's why nearly all the most basic roadside assistance packages won't attend a breakdown within a quarter mile of your home, sometimes even further.

Unless, that is, you're willing to cough up a much larger premium, with some of the biggest brands charging more than double to add home assist to a package. And you'll have to pay even more on top if you want national recovery, too.

Make sure you get the breakdown cover that best suits your needs. Here's our expert guide on how to buy the best breakdown cover.

How to deal with a flat battery

While a significant inconvenience, a flat battery is a problem that, with a little help, you can solve yourself without having to call out a breakdown service.

If you have a set of jump leads and can find a helpful driver who has a car with an engine the same size or larger than yours then you can jump start your car and be off and running.

Both manual and automatic cars can be jump started and once the motor is running again don't just take it out for a short drive. The alternator will need some time to charge up the battery sufficiently.

Simply watch the video in our expert guide on how to jump start your car safely, and make sure you follow the seven basic safety precautions

How to fix a flat tyre

It might be the 'bang' then 'thwump-thwump' of a sudden puncture you hear or the drag on your steering wheel you feel from the slow deflation of a tyre, but either way you'll have to pull over to deal with it

But you may not need to wait around for the breakdown service cavalry to come to the rescue, like 26% of our survey respondents did, if you follow these six steps to change the tyre yourself:

  1. Make sure the handbrake is on and that your car is in a safe place, out of way of traffic
  2. Take out the spare wheel and tools, including a jack, and use the instruction manual to locate the car's jacking point
  3. Raise the car up by placing the jack under the jacking point closest to the wheel you're going to change (make sure the jack is secure on flat and level ground) and rotate the jack's handle clockwise
  4. Once the tyre has cleared the ground, remove any trim that covers the wheel nuts and use a wrench, or special key if your car has locking wheel nuts, to remove them completely.
  5. You should now be able to remove the wheel and replace it with your spare. Be careful - a car wheel is quite heavy
  6. Reattach the wheel nuts and then lower the car to the ground. Once the car is lowered, tighten up the nuts, ideally working in a diagonal pattern.

But you can save yourself all that effort in the first place by looking after your tyres. Wear and tear can be minimised by avoiding harsh breaking, rapid acceleration and fast cornering, and you should get your tyre checked if you hit or go over a bad pothole.

Many cars are now sold with an emergency tyre kit rather than a spare tyre. These kits work best on minor punctures, rather than major tears, and tend to be pretty straightforward to use. But it's only a temporary fix. You will still need to get that tyre sorted as soon as possible.

For videos and simple step-by-step guides, check out our expert advice on how to change a tyre or use a repair kit.

*(Survey - December 2019 to February 2020; 7,507 respondents whom all said they had called out a breakdown service in the 12 months prior to answering our survey.)