How to Deal With Auto Mechanical Breakdown


Running on empty

If the engine misbehaves, you may be able to do something. If it gently runs out of power, perhaps stuttering as it does so, it is likely to be a fuel problem. Check the fuel gauge but even if that registers fuel, think about when you last filled up. If the car seems to have been unusually economical, you may have a faulty gauge. If you are in a quiet place, try taking the fuel filler cap off and rocking the car to see if you can hear fuel sloshing about. If you can’t then you have probably run out.

If you decide to get more, rather than calling out the breakdown organization, make sure you get it in a canister designed to carry the fuel, which should come with a flexible nozzle so you can pour it into the tank without spillage. It is illegal to transport petrol in any other type of container because it is explosively flammable and as it warms up gives off vapour which can burst inadequate containers.

Auto Mechanical Breakdown How to Deal With Auto Mechanical Breakdown

Engine electrics

If an engine suddenly stops, it is more likely to be an electrical problem. Before you call for help, just check connections. With the ignition off, give sparkplug leads a push and follow them through to make sure connectors at the other end are on. On older cars with a conventional distributor instead of modern electronic ignition, a common fault is that a thin lead running to the distributor, called the low tension lead, comes undone or breaks. The distributor is the bit all the leads go to, like a plastic octopus.

Splash!

If a sudden stop happens after hitting water, you may have splashed water over the ignition leads. If the leads are old, the water seeps into invisible cracks in the insulation and shorts them out. With the ignition off, try drying all the leads, connections and distributor cap with a cloth or tissues and seeing if the car will restart. However, if this happens with a diesel, don’t try to restart it because diesels don’t have an ignition to get wet, so if it has stopped you have almost certainly forced water into the engine air intake and starting it could cause serious damage as the engine tries to compress water instead of gas. You need professional help.

Electrical failures

If electrical items fail with the engine still running, turn the ignition off and check the fuses. With lights, a single one going out is probably bulb failure but if more than one goes out it could be the fuse, though a fuse usually works the front and rear sidelights on one side rather than both fronts or both backs.

A headlight with bulb failure usually works on beam but not dip, or vice versa, and a combined brake/tail light works as one but not the other, but if both functions fail, check the fuse before replacing the bulb.

If all the lights go out, check that the earth strap is still connected: it is either a cable or a braided metal strap from the battery’s negative connection to the body.

Changing fuses

The handbook tells you where the fuses are and which fuses work what, which may also be printed or moulded into the fusebox lid.

Fuses sometimes blow because of a very temporary problem and sometimes seem to go just because they’re old, but if they repeatedly blow, there is a fault that should be investigated professionally. Modern fuses are easy to check because they have a hole in the plastic through which you can see if the fuse strip is still intact. Most fuse boxes have a little pair of tweezers for removing and replacing fuses.

Auto Mechanical Breakdown 1 How to Deal With Auto Mechanical Breakdown

The fuses are colour coded and numbered according to amperage. You must replace a fuse with one of the same amperage because a lower amperage will blow straight away and a higher one does not protect the wiring. If it has a 10 amp fuse it’s because the wiring is designed for 10 amp – fitting a 20 or 30 amp fuse means the power could exceed the wires’ capacity which is a fire risk.

If you do not have a fuse of the right amperage for something vital in the car, look at what else fuses of that amperage run. You can do without interior lights to run the indicators, or sacrifice the heated rear screen for the wipers.

If mechanical breakdown involves the steering, brakes, clutch or gearbox giving up, there is little you can do at the roadside except call for help. It is very dangerous to carry on driving with faults to the braking or steering systems.

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