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Why has my car broken down? 10 most common breakdown causes

Cars are made up of a huge number of moving parts, and each one has the potential to break in some way and cause your car to stop working. At Marshall Batteries, our roadside assistance team has seen it all. We get calls to assist with roadside breakdowns of all varieties, and we’re always happy to help.

If you’re broken down and you’re not sure why take a look at the list below or just holler for a Marshall on 1300 627 742 and let us figure it out for you.

Flat or faulty battery

By far the most common cause of a car breakdown that we see is a flat, damaged or faulty car battery. There are a lot of different ways a car battery can go flat:

  • You’ve left your headlights or stereo on while parked.
  • You take lots of short drives.
  • You’ve left your car unused for a long while.
  • The battery terminals have corroded.
  • The battery is old and needs replacing.

Signs that your battery is a fault include:

  • You hear a cranking noise from the engine but the battery can’t turn it all the way over.
  • The car starts but takes a long time or multiple attempts.
  • Modern cars may have a red battery warning light on the dashboard.

To avoid a flat battery, always make sure your peripherals like headlights and the stereo are turned off when getting out of your car, take your car for a good drive on the motorway once a week, and check your battery for corrosion or damage every now and then. Remember that batteries don’t last forever, so you’ll likely need to replace the battery every 5 or 6 years.

Read more: How do I know if my battery is flat?

Flat tyre/s

Whether you’ve hit a pothole or a kerb, or your tyre has just suffered wear and tear, a burst tyre can be a real kick in the teeth when you have somewhere to be. If you don’t have a spare tyre or can’t change your tyre yourself, roadside assistance can help.

You can usually identify a burst or punctured tyre yourself just by examining your wheels. The tyre will be deflated, and the car may look unbalanced toward the corner with the burst tyre.

Sometimes burst tyres are unavoidable, but here’s what you can do to reduce your risk:

  • Check your tyre tread depth and pressure regularly.
  • Avoid driving over potholes, puddles or damaged roads.

Read more: How to change a tyre

Alternator faults

The alternator is a part of your car that’s responsible for converting mechanical energy into electrical energy with an alternating current. In plain English, that means it charges your battery while you drive. Your starting battery uses a huge amount of power to start your car, so the alternator is designed to replace that expended charge as you go about your journey.

So, when a fault occurs in your alternator, your battery will likely run flat soon after. If your alternator is at fault, you’ll usually see your charging warning light come on while you’re driving. When this happens, pull over when you can do so safely and call for roadside assistance on 1300 627 742.

Read more: How long should a car battery last?

Misfuelling (or running out of gas)

Fuel is another common cause of a breakdown — whether you or someone else put the wrong fuel in your car, or the tank’s just run empty. Obviously, your fuel gauge will let you know if your tank is empty. If you’ve put the wrong fuel in your car, however, it will usually be very obvious as soon as you start your car after fuelling up (but hopefully you’ll notice before then).

If you put the wrong fuel in your car, here’s what you should know:

  • Putting the wrong grade of petrol in your car usually isn’t a big deal. But if your car wants premium petrol, you might notice performance problems using standard petrol. Premium petrol should run just fine in a standard petrol vehicle.
  • Putting diesel in a petrol car doesn’t happen often, but fortunately, it isn’t too damaging. You might find your car doesn’t start or sputters to a stop fairly quickly. Roadside assistance can help to drain the diesel and refuel you with petrol.
  • Avoid putting petrol in a diesel car at all costs. If this does happen, hopefully, you’ll notice before you start the car. Once you start the car, petrol will pump into your car’s systems and it can quickly do damage or be harder to remove. This can be a costly mistake.

No matter what’s gone wrong, roadside assistance can help.

To avoid misfuelling, look for a sticker on the inside of your car’s fuel flap and check what type of fuel it requires each time you gas up.

Overheating

Overheating can occur if you run your car’s engine for a long time, especially in a hot Australian summer. Be sure to check your coolant level every now and then — modern systems shouldn’t need topping up between services, so a lower coolant level may mean you’ve got a leak.

If there’s steam or smoke coming from the hood of your car, or a temperature warning light comes on, you’ve got a problem. The safest thing to do is to pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so, then call holler for a Marshall on 1300 627 742 and we’ll be there to help ASAP.

Starter motor troubles

Starter motors need to work very hard, and there’s a lot on their shoulders with modern start/stop technology. Fortunately, starter motors are very robust and durable, so they don’t fail easily. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. 

If you know your battery is fine, but your engine still won’t turn over when you push the start/stop button, it could be your starter motor at fault. That’s when you should call for roadside assistance.

The best way to avoid problems with your starter motor is to ensure your car is serviced regularly. If you’re doing that, any problems should be addressed well before they reach you.

Read more: What is a start/stop battery?

Lost, damaged or stolen keys

While misplacing your keys isn’t exactly a breakdown, it’s still one of the leading reasons people need roadside assistance. With modern alarms and immobilisers, it’s not really an option to break into your own car anymore, so if you’ve shut your keys in the car, lost them somewhere, or if your key has broken off in the car door, you’ll need help from a qualified professional.

There’s no real way to confidently prevent lost, damaged or stolen car keys, so just rest assured that you can holler for a Marshall on 1300 627 742 and we’ll be there to help you get back into your car.

Read more: Locked out of your car?

Broken clutch cables

If you drive a manual transmission vehicle, you’ll be familiar with the clutch. The clutch uses cables that come under pressure when you change gear. If you notice that the clutch feels different underfoot, or you can’t disengage the clutch, pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so, as your clutch cables may be broken.

To avoid your clutch cables breaking on you, have them checked and lubricated whenever you have your oil changed. 

If they do break while you’re driving, you should still be able to nudge the shifter into neutral and let your car roll to a stop.

Diesel Particulate Filter needs cleaning

Diesel cars have a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) in their exhaust system which is used to trap soot and other particulates and burn them off into less-harmful gas. Usually, the DPF can look after itself but it can get clogged if you make a lot of short journeys.

You should see a warning light on your dashboard if the DPF is becoming clogged, and if so you should drive on the motorway for a while to allow the filter to clear itself.

If it’s left long enough that it’s stopping you from starting the car, holler for a Marshall on 1300 627 742 and our roadside assistance team will help you out.

Ignition wiring or coil faults

Whether your car is older or modern, there are electrical components between the ignition and the spark plug which can deteriorate with time. When this happens, electricity can leak out and fail to start the car.

Signs of damaged ignition wiring or coils include misfiring and difficulty starting or running the engine in damp weather. If your car isn’t starting and you suspect the ignition to be at fault, call for roadside assistance.

Broken down? We’re here to help

Whatever the reason you’re broken down, the roadside assistance team at Marshall Batteries can help. Holler for a Marshall on 1300 627 742 and we’ll send someone to you ASAP no matter where you are in Australia.

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