Breaking down can be dangerous and incredibly inconvenient, particularly if you’re travelling for a family getaway this October half-term. But with 488 miles of England’s motorway network made up of smart motorways and their hard shoulder becoming another lane to ease traffic flow, it’s more important than ever to ensure you can prevent avoidable breakdowns.
By simply carrying out regular checks on your car, listening out for spooky sounds, or taking note of any lights that appear on your dashboard can significantly reduce your chances of breaking down.
Richard Gladman, Head of Driving and Riding Standards at IAM RoadSmart, is on hand to give expert advice on what all drivers (and riders) can do to prevent any avoidable breakdowns.
Keep your engine oil topped up
Engine oil is vital for keeping your car working properly. It stops heat and friction building up within your engine and allows all the moving parts to work properly. Before your engine oil light comes on, we’d always advise checking and topping it up before it ever runs out. You can check the level by either using the dipstick (remember: wipe, dip and check), whilst the engine is cold. Its also worth noting that some vehicles have onboard computers that recommend a car being run for a period before the computer gives an accurate oil reading, if this is the case then it would be worth moving your oil check to your return journey.
If you see liquid dripping down, this is likely to be oil and you must not carry-on driving. If there is no leakage, go to your closest garage for advice – it might just be a case of buying some engine oil and top it up immediately.
Don’t miss a service
Regularly servicing can make the difference between your car running smoothly and fuel efficiently, and the risk of it breaking down and incurring an expensive and unexpected repair. Missing regular car servicing could mean costly major repairs and replacements, instead of wear and tear requiring minor maintenance.
Practice good driving habits
Our driving habits have a direct impact on the health of our vehicles and the parts which are essential for driving. For example, if you rev your engine from cold it will cause rapid temperature changes within your engine, premature wear, and possible damage to components.
Drivers should try to avoid harsh braking because the brake pads and discs will wear down more quickly, and instead apply the brakes smoothly and progressively when coming to a halt. It’s also important to avoid riding your clutch as this will wear the releasee bearing and the friction material both of which are essential for keeping your clutch working properly.
Don’t ignore warning lights or strange noises
When you start your engine a multitude of dashboard lights will come on and, after a few seconds, go off again… except that sometimes they don’t. Each car has different gadgets but there’s a core set of warning lights that are common to all car manufacturers. Some of them are gentle reminders of things you need to attend to, some of them are there for information only and some are serious and will require you to act straight away.
So which is which, and do you really know what they all mean? If you’re unsure then always check your car manual first, or you can find a full list here.
Are you fit to drive?
The other key component to operate your vehicle is you. Whether that’s a car or a bike, if you’re too tired, or stressed, under the influence of alcohol (LINK TO PAGE) or seasonal medication (Cold & Flu etc) then are you in a fit state to drive? Have you got a back up driver to share the miles? Don’t forget about stopping for regular breaks and planning your journey properly.
If you get into trouble on a motorway – go left says Highways England
If your vehicle has a problem, or you get into trouble on a motorway, stay calm and try to exit at the next junction or motorway service area. If that’s not possible:
If you are unable to exit your vehicle and get to a safe place, have stopped in a live traffic lane or feel your life is in danger:
Richard Gladman, said: “There are 65,000 breakdowns each year where no fault in the vehicle is found – making driver error the sixth most common cause of call-outs, according to the RAC. 70,000 people break down each month by just running out of fuel, this is easily avoidable with just a bit of extra planning. Lack of scheduled maintenance also accounts for a number of drivers being stranded at the side of the road often in a dangerous situation. Check your vehicle regularly and if there is an issue then fix it or take it to a professional and get the repairs done. Breaking down anywhere is an inconvenience on a motorway or around a bend on a country road it could be fatal.”