We’ve all been there – you’re on your way to work or coming back from dropping the kids off, when all of a sudden you hear a rattling coming from your car’s engine, or Smoke starts billowing out from under the bonnet. You’re forced to pull over and… Now what?

All car models break down eventually – it’s not just Ford Kugas. You need to know what to do if your trusty vehicle starts to give trouble on the road.

What to do when your car breaks down?

  • The first thing you need to do is keep calm. If your car starts to give trouble, take deep breaths and get off the road so you’re not putting yourself and other motorists in danger.
  • Turn on your hazards to let other cars know there’s a problem and pull over into the emergency lane if the road has one.
  • If your car is unable to get off the road, try to bring it to a gradual stop.
  • You should be keeping reflective triangles in your car – legally you have to have at least one. These triangles should be placed far enough away from your car to allow other motorists to avoid your vehicle. Position one of these at least 45 m behind your car, and another the same distance ahead of your car.
  • When getting out of the car, make sure you check for oncoming cars before you open the door.
  • Once your triangles are set up, it’s safer to get back into your car, unless your car is stuck in an unsafe position.
  • Make sure you move any valuables out of sight, close your windows and lock your doors.
  • Once you’ve made sure your car is visible to other motorists
  • Call emergency roadside assistance.
  • Let your loved ones know where you are, in case something happens to you and you’re unable to start your car again easily.

Take a look at our list of things you should always keep in your car!

Common breakdown causes

Flat battery

Battery problems are the most common cause of breakdowns.

Warning signs for a flat battery

Watch out for battery warning lights. Keep an ear out when you start your car: if your engine struggles to turn over and takes longer to start than normal, your battery could be flat. If you’re worried about your battery, pop the hood and inspect the battery itself. If the battery fluid level – most new batteries have transparent cases that let you check the fluid level. It shouldn’t be lower than the lead plates.

What to do if your car battery dies?

First, make sure that the problem really is with the battery. Try starting the car: if you can hear the engine cranking normally, the problem may be something else. If you turn the key and nothing happens, or the engine turns over once or twice before dying it’s probably the battery. If you have jumper cables, try to flag another motorist to help you. If you don’t have jumper cables, you can try to flag down someone who might have them in their car.

How to jump start a car

Step 1: Move the two cars as close together as possible, but don’t let them touch.

Step 2:  Make sure both cars are switched off. If the car is manual, make sure the gearbox is in neutral. If it’s an automatic, put in in ‘Park’.

Step 3: The jumper cables need to be connected in a specific order:

  1. Connect a red clamp to the positive (+) battery post of the flat battery.
  2. Connect the other red clamp to the positive (+) post of the charged battery.
  3. Connect a black clamp to the negative (-) post of the charged battery.
  4. Don’t connect the other black clamp the flat battery – this can cause sparking, which might cause the gases coming from the batter to ignite.
  5. Connect it to some large metallic part of your car’s engine block – this will complete the circuit and start your car battery charging.

Step 4: Start the working car and let it idle for a few minutes.

Step 5: Start the car with the flat battery.

Step 6: Once the broken down car starts running, disconnect the jumper cables in the reverse order.

Step 7: Let the engine run or idle for at least 30 minutes before turning off the car.

You can attempt to push-start your car if you can’t get access to jumper cables, but this can be a dangerous process.

How to stop a car battery going flat

You’re battery charges automatically while you drive – the longer your car runs, the more the battery charges. If you don’t make long trips regularly, you should charge your battery for a few hours every few weeks. Be especially careful in winter, as batteries lose their charge faster in cold weather. You should take your battery to be tested once it reaches three years old. Any battery fitment centre can test your battery’s charge. If your car goes flat often, chances are good that it’s time to get a new battery.

Other things to watch out for

Damaged tyres and wheels:

Potholes, obstructions and worn tyre treads can damage your tyres and give you a flat, or worse, cause your tyre to burst.

Clutch cables:

If your clutch cable breaks, you’ll be unable to change gears. If your clutch starts to feel different when you press down on the pedal, it could be a sign that your clutch needs to be replaced.

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