The 3 Most Common Reasons for a Car Breakdown

February 21, 2012

Check for suspension and drivetrain problems, engine fuel and spark problems, and electrical/computer problems that often result in a car breakdown.

Car Breakdown

Dealing with a car breakdown is an experience that no one enjoys. The worst is suffering a breakdown and then finding out it was due to a simple thing that could have been corrected easily and quickly if you just knew how to figure out what was wrong. The good thing is that virtually all breakdowns can be placed in one of three different categories, which means that simple problems may be relatively easy to diagnose. Here are the basic types of breakdowns that typically disable cars.

Suspension/Drivetrain Problems
Beyond a simple flat tire, problems with the suspension and drivetrain are actually the most disabling mechanical problems out there. To most people it would seem more likely at a problem with the engine would cause a vehicle to become completely disabled. However suspension problems are much more difficult to diagnose and repair. If a car can't roll, it isn't going anywhere. One simple fix that you may want to check on is making sure that all your vehicle's lug nuts are securely tightened. It may seem obvious, but this is actually a pretty common mistake.

Engine Fuel/Spark Problems
The two things that your engine most relies on to make power are the flow of fuel and the presence of the spark that ignites it. Take away one of these and the car is sure to die. If your car just plain isn't running, you should check both the fuel and spark to make sure that both systems are working properly. You should take note that both of these take some tinkering to check, so you should be at least somewhat comfortable with getting your hands dirty. Here's how you check the fuel and spark out:

  • Check the spark first.This will avoid mixing possible gas fumes and electric spark. The easiest way to check and make sure that your car is getting spark is to pull off one of the spark plug leads at the engine. Then simply set it somewhere on the motor that it can be clearly seen and have someone crank the motor. You should clearly be able to see a spark jump from the lead to the engine block. Make sure you're not touching the lead when you turn the motor over or you will get a nasty shock
  • Check the fuel second. If you're getting good spark, then it's time to check the fuel. The easiest way to check the fuel is to disconnect the main air intake and crank the motor for about 30 seconds. Once the motor has been turned over, there should be a strong smell of gasoline. If not, there might be something wrong with your fuel system

Some common problems (and easy fixes) in this category: Make sure the car has gas in it, regardless of what the fuel gauge says. Fuel gauges are wrong all the time. Also, some cars are equipped with a fuel cutoff that interrupts the fuel supply in case of an accident. Sometimes this switch can trip by mistake, so check your owner's manual to see if your car is equipped with one of these. Also check the spark plug leads, especially at the distributor/coil pack.

Electrical/Computer Problems
Another possible culprit is a problem with the engine's computer or electrical system. Check all the fuses and relays for the engine's systems. Something as simple as a blown fuse can cause all kinds of havoc and instantly disable your car, causing the engine to quit running or the transmission to stop shifting correctly.