Most of us have been there: you turn the key in the ignition and nothing happens, or something happens, but your car won’t go. Of course, this usually happens at the most inconvenient time: when you are running late; when you are blocking the road; or when, as one of our garage’s customers experienced, you are waiting in the queue to get on a ferry.
Even the most skilled mechanic can’t avoid the panic of breaking down, but these tips may make the experience a little easier to deal with.
What to do when your car won’t start will depend on the problem. If you are lucky, you may be able to fix it yourself, or with a little help from a passenger or passerby. If you are not so lucky, you may need to call roadside recovery; with some garages setting call out fees in the region of £350 or more over the weekend, it is definitely wise to get roadside breakdown cover. Here are the most likely causes of breakdown, according to vehicle recovery services, and how you can deal with them:
Flat or faulty battery
If you have enough power in your battery, you may be able to jump start your vehicle. You’ll need a set of jump leads and someone with a car.
One of the most common (and embarrassing) causes of breakdowns is low fuel. If you love a game of “fuel chicken” it could backfire, leaving you short of fuel and red in the face. However, it is probably the easiest problem to solve: grab a fuel can and head to your nearest garage for enough fuel to get you going again. If you didn’t realise that you were empty because of a faulty fuel guage, get it checked out by your garage as soon as possible to avoid this being a common occurrence.
Blocked fuel filter
This is one for the garage. Over time sediment from your fuel can build up in the pipes, eventually preventing the fuel from reaching the engine. You can avoid a blocked filter by getting your vehicle serviced regularly, as they will check and change the filter as routine.
This is only likely to happen if you have a much older car, as modern cars have fuel injection systems. Pushing the accelerator pedal to the floor as you try to start the engine could help, but you risk damaging your starter motor or draining your battery, so don’t overdo it.
Ignition lock jammed
This is usually a quick fix: give your steering wheel a wiggle as it may be jammed against the curb.
Faulty immobiliser or security system
The easiest way to get around this is to try a spare key. Otherwise, try changing the battery in the fob or holding your fob right next to your start button. If all else fails, you will need to reprogramme the key manually – your handbook should give details.
Broken starter motor
If your electrics seem to be ok but you hear a clicking as you start the engine, you could have a faulty starter motor; contact your local garage or recovery service.