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Wonder how to avoid troubles on the road? Or maybe you’re worried that your car will break down during a long road trip? To prevent your vehicle from breaking down, you need to know the most common reasons why a car may fail and find out what can cause them.

Although various cars have different weak points, there are some common breakdowns that are liable for all vehicles. Below are the most frequent car breakdowns, their causes, and ways to avoid them.

12 common car breakdowns and their causes

Of course, the parts that require regular inspection will depend on your car model, age, and the type of fuel you use (gas or electricity). Here are some frequent breakdowns that most car owners typically face.

Battery trouble

Let’s start with one of the most common causes of breakdowns – a flat or faulty battery. This problem can be caused by irregular driving. However, you should also keep in mind that driving frequently but short distances is not always able to maintain optimal battery charge. You may suspect battery trouble if you face the following vehicle issues:

  • It takes longer that usual for you car to start;
  • You experience problems when trying to turn over the engine (for example, the car doesn’t start when you turn the key);
  • A red battery indicator is displayed while driving.

You should also remember that the battery life is finite. This part should be inspected and replaced over some time. The typical battery life is nearly 5 years. If your battery has been in use for a longer time, it is recommended to replace or thoroughly check it in a car service center to prevent possible breakdowns.

Brake problems

Brake problems are one of the most dangerous. In addition to costly repairs and potential serious damages, it can cost you your life and take away the lives of other drivers and passengers. If your car’s brake pads and discs are worn out excessively, at some point, it will not respond to the pressing of the brake pedal, making it impossible to stop the car. That is why driving with shot brakes is not safe.

The most common signs of brake problems are:

  • Appearing of a brake light indicator;
  • Grinding, squealing, or squeaking noises;
  • Extraneous vibrations while braking;
  • Burning smells.

What causes brake damage? The most common causes include owner neglect of operation and maintenance recommendations, overheating of brake pads, damaged rotor disk, and leaking brake fluid.

Transmission trouble

Engine problems don’t usually happen without warning. They start with strange sounds and noises or system instability. If these signs are ignored, they can result in a total breakdown. If your transmission is blown, your car will not move. The most common symptoms include:

  • Strange sounds and noises;
  • Weird smells;
  • Check engine light;
  • Shaking during gear shift;
  • Clutch drag (for manual vehicles).

Typically, transmission problems are caused by fluid leakage or excessive deterioration.

Damages of tires and wheels

Unfortunately, no one is immune from tire damage on the road. A puncture or damage can be caused by debris, a pothole, or sharp objects on the road surface. However, there are other reasons that you can impact, so you should monitor them regularly. Make sure your tires are well inflated, have the right tire pressure, and have a depth of at least 1.6 mm. Also, check how evenly the tires wear. Uneven wear may indicate that the wheels are not aligned in a proper way.

Problems with the electrical system

The electrical system is responsible for keeping your car running smoothly at all levels, from the headlights to the record player. The problem can be tracked with a multimeter, but you will typically need the help of a qualified mechanic to fix it.

The indicators of the problem include no response to the key fob commands, blown bulbs or fuses, and problems with starting the engine. The most common causes are a wiring fault and wear. Since more and more components in modern machines are powered by electricity, such breakdowns or related problems can be considered quite typical and frequent.

Using the wrong fuel

This problem is quite common. Many drivers mistakenly put the wrong fuel in their car (for example, put petrol in a diesel car, or vice versa). In that case, speed matters. If you detect the mistake before starting the engine, everything can be fixed only by pumping out the wrong fuel and refueling your car with the right one.

However, if you have already started the engine and driven some distance, the situation becomes more complicated. Occasionally, you may require additional service due to probable damages caused by using the wrong fuel.


Overheating is especially common for people who drive in areas with hot weather. Ignoring the problem could result in engine damage or fire. A common cause is a low coolant level or a leakage in the cooling system. To prevent damage, keep an eye on the coolant and fan levels. If you live in a region with a hot climate, it will be helpful to have a bottle of water and coolant in your car.

Keys and alarms

Even if you think it will never happen to you, it’s still possible to lock the key inside the car. It may be quite simple to open the car with the key inside it if it’s running. But if the key is in the trunk or cabin, it may be much more challenging. Some cars’ security systems make keyless openings without damage impossible. Thus, you should always keep a spare key safe.

Spark plugs

As with many other types of breakdowns, wear is the most common cause of spark plug failure. This problem results in poor fuel efficiency, acceleration problems, and problems with starting the car. This is a common issue, and you can fix it with the help of a qualified mechanic. To prevent its occurrence, don’t neglect regular maintenance.

Fuel leakage

Even a minor leak in the fuel system is deadly for the driver and passengers of the car. Gas leaking from the fuel lines can cause a fire. If you notice suspicious spots under your car or see drops of a combustible mixture, your vehicle needs an inspection as soon as possible. Owners of vehicles with automatic transmissions should also be aware of the danger of transmission fluid ignition. Oil ducts run close to the exhaust pipes. Thus, their damage may lead to a fire.

Steering problems

If your car becomes less sensitive to the steering wheel, it indicates problems in your vehicle’s steering system. Such a malfunction can be a result of wear of the tie rod end and steering shaft bearing, as well as frequent off-road driving. Remember that the total backlash of a passenger car’s steering wheel shouldn’t exceed 10 °. Even small deviations combined with vibration while accelerating can indicate a malfunction of the steering elements.

Crack in timing belt

A broken timing belt can make your car’s valves and pistons meet. In that case, valves will start to bend, while pistons will be marked and damaged. Just be attentive to avoid costly repair work. First, read the car’s technical documentation carefully.

On average, the belt mechanism is replaced every 90,000 kilometers. If you want to play it safe, you can replace the timing belt after 60,000 kilometers. If you don’t know when the belt was last changed, inspect the flexible connection regularly. Cracks and other damage are a reason to buy a new belt. Noisy engine operation and heavy starting may be signs of an urgent need to replace the timing belt, rollers, and tensioners.

Prevention tips for common car breakdowns

Each type of potential breakdown requires unique preventive actions. However, it all comes down to one main rule: timely inspection and maintenance, as well as careful driving, will help you keep your car running longer. This simple rule will also help you avoid costly repairs or accidents that can cause serious damage.

Commonly, if you neglect your car operation rules, it can cost you an arm and a leg. While the average cost of the annual car routine maintenance is nearly £1,350 (or $1,700), you can pay between £2,800 and £4,000 (or $3,500 to $5,000) only for transmission replacement if you don’t fix the problem on time. Although there are ways to make a car repair without money or on a limited budget, it’s still better to prevent breakdowns than to put yourself and others at risk. Here are some tips that will help you avoid problems with your car.

When it comes to a battery, try to charge it overnight. This will help you prevent problems associated with irregular driving or driving short distances. Additionally, it will extend your battery’s lifetime.

To avoid problems with the brakes, consider checking the brake pads, discs, and brake fluid levels twice a year. Most cars require a brake fluid change every 2-3 years, provided that there’s no leakage. You can also check the exact frequency in your vehicle owner’s manual.

Regular transmission maintenance and transmission fluid flushing will reduce load-related wear and tear on your vehicle’s transmission. Thus, you can prevent breakdowns.

When it comes to wheel problems, they usually can’t be prevented. However, you can get prepared for them in advance and face them on full alert if they occur. Make sure you have a spare tire in good condition, especially if you’re going on a long trip. Also, ensure you have jack and wheel nut wrenches in case of an emergency.

Bottom line

If you want to drive safely and keep your car on the road longer, you should carry out regular inspections. Also, you need to keep track of signs that may indicate damage, malfunction, or failure that can potentially cause breakdowns. We hope this guide will help you recognize these signals and fix the issues before they become a total breakdown.

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