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Breakdown insurance - how to avoid using it

When driving a car in the UK, it is essential to have insurance, tax and (for cars over three years old) an MOT certificate. Many car drivers also choose to buy breakdown insurance, to help them if there is a problem with their vehicle, that stops it from working the way it should. This can be very useful, but it's also great if you can eliminate some of the most common causes of breakdown as well.

Types of cover

There are different levels of cover available for breakdown insurance. Some policies will cover you wherever you break down, some will include bringing your car back home from wherever the problem occurred. You may also wish to buy an extra which guarantees you transport on to your destination. Often the cheapest package, though, cover the car only when it is away from home, so if you are at home and your car will not start, then you would still need to pay to have a mechanic come out and diagnose the problem. This is likely to reflect the fact that the top cause of breakdowns is actually a flat battery, which is most likely to occur when the car is parked for a long while, typically when the car is at home.

If you mainly do short journeys, the battery may not be getting a chance to fully charge up. If this is the case, then charging the car overnight once a fortnight could help avoid a flat battery and the dreaded non starting car.

To try and avoid your battery, or other parts like spark plugs, clutch cables or the alternator, causing a problem, it is a good idea to have your car serviced regularly. Alternatively you can make some checks yourself using your car owner's manual, if you are confident around an engine.

Human Error
Some of the other top reasons for breakdown can be due to human error. The second most frequent problem identified by breakdown insurers is lost keys. In older cars, it was relatively easy to lock your keys in your car. Even in modern cars, which typically have a remote to activate the locks, it is still possible to mislay your keys. It is always a good idea to make sure you have a spare set of keys available at home in order to be able to let yourself back in, should you lose or lock your main set of keys in the car by mistake. If you do lose one set, then order a new one from the manufacturer to ensure you don't end up without any, should lightning strike twice.

Another infuriating error, which happens in about 3% of breakdowns, is running out of fuel or putting the wrong fuel in your car. Some breakdown insurance specifically excludes 'wrong fuel' incidents from the cover, so check the small print in case this error ever happens to you. If you do accidentally put diesel in a petrol car, or vice versa, don't start the car as that could cause damage to your engine. To avoid running out - don't play fuel measure roulette, get into the habit of topping up as soon as your tank falls below a quarter full and you will never risk being too far from a petrol station and breaking down.

Some breakdowns are unavoidable

Many of us have had windscreens damaged by flying debris, particularly on motorways. This can be particularly worrying, especially if visibility is impaired or there is a risk of injuries from broken glass. In these circumstances the only sensible thing to do is to get off the road or onto the hard shoulder as quickly as possible and call for help.

A flat tyre caused by road debris is an occasional hazard that is difficult to entirely avoid too, however the general risk of a flat tyre causing a breakdown will be lower if you regularly check your tyre depth and replace them before they are too near the legal limit. Run-flat tyres have their supporters but not everyone is convinced of their merits, and still fewer appreciate the thin 'space saver' wheels that many motor manufacturers have introduced, in order to save money; and which can cause considerable stability problems. Unfortunately nine out of ten new cars do not come equipped with a full-sized spare wheel; if yours is similarly under-equipped, perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea to invest in one.

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