15 common reasons a car breaks down and how to avoid them

Is there anything worse than your car breaking down? And why does it always happen when you have somewhere to be!

There are numerous reasons why a car can break down and, yes, you may have breakdown cover that can help you in these situations, but who wants to be waiting around for potentially hours in the cold, dark, and (as this is the UK) wet weather for help?

For that reason, we’ve rounded up the most common causes of breakdowns, and included ways you can avoid them.

Here at Finance Rate, we provide no-nonsense financial information to help you make the best decisions about your financial future. The best bit – it’s all completely free!

Without further ado, let’s discover how you can avoid any future car breakdowns.

The common reasons a car breaks down

The list below features just a few of the common issues causing vehicle breakdowns. Of course, there could be numerous other reasons and, if you’re unsure about how to fix it, please do contact your breakdown cover provider who can send someone out to help you.

Flat battery 

A dead battery is one of the most common breakdown issues. It usually happens for the following reasons:

  • Frequently only driving short journeys 
  • A poor electrical connection
  • Leaving your car lights on

If you are someone who usually only drives short distances, you could charge your car battery to prevent this issue. However, don’t charge it up too much, as this can also cause problems to the battery.

Spark plugs 

Eventually, spark plugs will wear out due to long-term use, but this can be avoided as long as you keep up with service checks. 

Electrical issues

As the electrical systems of cars become ever more complex, there are an increasing number of electrical faults causing breakdowns. 

Typically, as long as your services are up-to-date, your electrical systems should run smoothly. However, if not, we recommend contacting your breakdown provider or a garage for assistance.

Lost keys 

We know this seems redundant, but we all know how easy it is to lose your keys. You’ve got one too many things on the brain and before you know it, the car door is shut with the keys still in the ignition! 

Having a set of replacement keys or a fob is expensive, but is often worth the investment for your peace of mind. Of course, if you don’t have them, you can always contact your breakdown cover provider to help you.

Running out of fuel

We’ve all done it – thought we could make that extra journey on the last bit of fuel. Of course, the natural way to avoid this cause of a breakdown is to have adequate fuel in the tank.

However, it may be worth keeping an empty fuel carrier with you so you can go to the nearest petrol station to get more fuel if this happens to you.


When coolant levels and water are low, it can cause your car to overheat. This is only exacerbated in the hot summer months. Make sure to keep your engine coolant levels topped up to prevent any issues. 

Filling up with the wrong fuel

In 2021, it was reported that breakdown provider AA was called out to 20-25 misfuelling incidents per day! Showing that, although it seems like a silly mistake, it happens more than you think!

Naturally, the main way to prevent this reason for breaking down is to ensure you are filling up with the right type of fuel for your vehicle. 

Engine oil

Incorrect engine oil levels can poorly affect your engine – whether that be too much or not enough! To avoid this issue, regularly check your oil levels using the dipstick and make sure the oil is in between the two lines. 

Clutch cables

It’s no secret how important the clutch is to the car and if the cables go, you will have serious problems!

To prevent your clutch cables breaking, you could take your foot off the clutch when you don’t need to press it or between gear changes, avoid using the clutch to ‘hold’ the car when on a hill, and put your gearbox into neutral when stationary so you don’t have to keep the clutch down. 

Flat tyres

There are numerous reasons you could have a flat tyre, such as:

  • A puncture
  • Driving over a sharp object
  • Poor road conditions

One way to prevent having to change your flat tyre on the side of a road is to avoid hazards in the road, such as potholes, and don’t overload your vehicle. 

Tyre blow outs

Perhaps the most dangerous out of the two tyre-related break down causes, tyre blow outs can happen to anyone. 

You can attempt to avoid tyre blow outs by checking your tyre pressures before undertaking a long road trip.

Starter motor

This isn’t the most common reason a car can break down but is something to be aware of! A starter motor simply turns your engine on when you switch the ignition, so they’re made to be long-lasting, however, eventually they can break. 

Some ways to extend the lifespan of your starter motor are:

  • Where possible, park your car indoors and away from the cold
  • Avoid using power sources – such as charging phone batteries – in the car
  • Refrain from taking too many short journeys

Diesel particulate filter (DPF)

Of course, this is specifically for cars that run off diesel, but is an important issue to be aware of nonetheless. The DPF is part of the exhaust system that traps particles in filters and releases them in a way that makes the gas less environmentally-damaging to the air. 

You may experience this issue if you take multiple short journeys, and to make sure this is avoided, you should take a long drive, like on the motorway, to clear the filter.

Faulty battery 

There are various reasons for a battery fault. Perhaps the most common is extreme weather conditions that can cause damage to the cells inside a battery, leading to more frequent faults. 

If you find you often have issues with your battery, you may need to replace it to prevent future breakdowns. 

Alternator faults

Speaking of batteries, faults with your alternator could be a reason your car breaks down. The alternator is an integral part of your vehicle as it recharges the battery as well as operating electrical components.

Whilst driving, if your warning signs come on and the temperature of the engine rises quickly, then your alternator belt is most probably broken. 

The only way to really avoid alternator faults is to make sure your car is serviced regularly and maintain your car properly.

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