Seven causes of summer car breakdown and how to solve them

From low oil pressure to soft tyres, summer can exacerbate underlying car issues.

Tips & guides

27 July 2018

With its long days and warm weather, summer is the ideal time to hit the road for sunshine-soaked adventures. However, the sunny season can be tough on your car, pushing underlying problems to the forefront and bringing your road trips to an unexpected stop.  

Between June 2017 and May 2018, AXA attended 270,00 breakdowns*. Here, we examine seven common problems that can plague your car in the summer months, the warning signs to look out for, and what you can do to keep your vehicle in tip top gear**.

Overheating

As the mercury rises in the summer months, your car can get extremely hot, meaning your coolant system must work much harder. When you’re driving on sunny days, keep your eyes on the temperature gauge and look out for the lit radiator icon on your dashboard.

How to avoid it: Check your coolant levels regularly and top up as and when required. If your engine’s drive belts are in good condition, the risk of overheating will be reduced.

Flat tyres

High temperatures can aggravate existing tyre damage, and if they’re under-inflated, this can cause even more problems. When soft tyres meet the road in hot weather, the increased friction generates more heat, which can deteriorate weak spots further.

How to avoid it: Check the pressure of your tyres regularly and before long journeys. If you’re unsure of the levels, consult your vehicle handbook or check what’s listed on the sticker inside your car (normally situated in the driver’s door). Check the tread and depth of all four tyres each week and replace any with cracks or continual low pressure.

Loud Brakes

Strictly speaking, you won’t break down due to faulty brakes but not being able to stop makes it impossible to drive safely. If you’re hearing a squealing or grinding sound or experiencing pulling when you put your foot on the breaks, it could be time for new brake pads or more brake fluid.

How to avoid it: Check your brake fluid levels weekly and top up as required. Get noisy brakes checked out by a professional to determine if you need replacement brake pads.

Worn clutch

If your vehicle shudders as you pull away, your clutch slips when you accelerate quickly in a high gear, or there’s a burning smell whenever you lift your clutch, these could be signs that it has worn down. Warm weather can cause your clutch to wear down quicker, which can add to the strain on it if your journey is already full of stops and starts or hilly terrain.

How to avoid it: If you notice any of the above signs, take your car to a local garage to get your clutch checked out and get a replacement clutch if necessary.

Flat or faulty battery

Warm weather places more pressure on your car battery and if you’re on a long-haul journey in the summer, it’s likely to be under added strain due to air conditioning pumping cool air into your cabin, powering your sat navs, gadgets and sound system. All of this can cause your battery fluid to diminish.

How to avoid it: If you’re concerned about your battery, get a professional to check it to ensure that connections are secure and it’s free from corrosion. If you don’t make long journeys regularly your battery won’t have much time to charge. Why not invest in a car battery charger to keep it in great condition?  

Low oil pressure

As it gets hotter, oil becomes thinner and runnier, making it harder for it to stick to, and lubricate, the moving parts of the engine. This can increase wear on crucial parts of the engine and result in it seizing up completely, which can be pricey to replace.

How to avoid it: Check your car’s oil levels weekly and top up as required. Be careful not to exceed recommended levels of oil as this can flood your engine and lead to extensive damage.

Running out of fuel

This might sound obvious but running out of fuel is one of the most common – and preventable – reasons for car breakdowns, but it’s easily done while you’re absorbed in the long hours of a road trip.

How to avoid it: Make sure to keep a close eye on the fuel gauge during long journeys. If you’re in an unfamiliar area, try not to let your fuel level fall below the quarter tank level.

No matter how prepared you are, these incidents aren’t fully avoidable. Use your senses: whether it’s flashing lights on your dashboard, strange smells, loud noises or if something just doesn’t feel right, trust your gut and get your car checked out before heading out on a drive. Purchase car insurance so that if your car fails, AXA can get you back on the road as quickly as possible.

*Based on AXA Assistance claims analysis from June 2017 to end of May 2018.

*Vehicle breakdown advice in line with AA and RAC standards.