The United States is a nation of drivers – as of 2021, 91.7% of households had at least one vehicle, and 76% of commuters traveled to work by car. This reliance on cars comes with the possibility of breakdowns, an unfortunate reality that affects even new or well-maintained vehicles.
Being stuck on the roadside far from home is a scenario many drivers fear, but what can you do to minimize the risk? If your car does grind to a halt unexpectedly, what should you do?
We will cover these questions and more, but first, let’s look at the ten essential breakdown statistics.
14 VEHICLE BREAKDOWN STATISTICS EVERY AMERICAN NEEDS TO KNOW
- There are 69 million vehicle breakdowns every year in the U.S.
- Approximately 1-in-3 American drivers are affected by vehicle breakdowns.
- Vehicle breakdown is ranked fifth in the top 5 fears of American drivers after parallel parking, cosmetic damage, car theft, and reverse bay parking.
- There are around 189,000 vehicle breakdowns per day in the U.S.
- Vehicle breakdowns cost American 44 billion dollars annually, trimming 0.18% of the country’s GDP.
- Vehicle breakdowns lead to 30 million lost workdays annually.
- The congestion caused by vehicle breakdowns impacts 150 million American drivers annually and an estimated 120 million hours are lost sitting in traffic.
- An estimated 566 people were killed and 14,371 injured each year between 2016 and 2018 in collisions involving a disabled vehicle. The financial impact of these crashes, including lost wages and medical bills, was calculated to be $8.8 billion.
- A survey in 2020 found that 23% of Americans were unaware of the Move Over Law. This legislation requires drivers to slow down and switch lanes for first responders and roadside assistance workers who attend to broken-down vehicles and other traffic incidents.
- In the U.S., the average age of a car has risen from 9.6 years in 2002 to 12.1 years in 2021. Vehicles that are more than a decade old are twice as likely to break down as newer models and four times more likely to be towed.
- The five most reliable car brands of 2023 as Toyota, Lexus, BMW, Mazda, and Honda. The most reliable model is the 2023 Toyota Corolla Hybrid.
- The five least reliable car brands of 2023 are Chevrolet, GMC, Volkswagen, Jeep, and Mercedes-Benz. The least reliable model is the 2023 Jeep Wrangler.
- The average cost of a tow in the U.S. is $110. The cost varies depending on the time of day, the distance to the nearest garage, the type of vehicle, and the type of terrain.
- Data from 2015 shows that AAA received the most calls for assistance in summer (8.3 million), followed closely by winter (8.1 million), fall (7.8 million), and spring (7.7 million). Increases in vehicle breakdowns coincide with extreme weather conditions and peak seasonal travel (summer vacation and Christmas).
THE 3 MOST COMMON CAUSES OF A CAR BREAKDOWN
Although cars are complex pieces of machinery, the most common causes of breakdowns are surprisingly straightforward:
- Flat or faulty battery. Car batteries usually last around five years but can expire before this if the car is not driven regularly or is only used for short journeys. Signs that the battery may be failing include slow starting, dim headlights, and the red battery warning light.
- Engine cooling system failures. Components of the cooling system, such as the thermostat, radiator, or water pump, can all fail without warning and cause the engine to overheat. Look out for pools of fluid collecting under the car when stationary – this is a sign that there may be a coolant leak.
- Flat or damaged tires. Running over debris or a pothole can damage tires. However, drivers are more likely to encounter problems from poor maintenance. Tires should be inflated to the correct pressure and have a tread of at least 1.6mm. It is recommended to replace tires every six years, no matter the mileage of the car.
PROACTIVE TIPS TO PREVENT A CAR BREAKDOWN
Fortunately, drivers can avoid the most common causes of breakdown with a few simple habits:
- Routine service. The best way to reduce the chance of a car breakdown is to follow the manufacturer’s recommended schedule of checks. A regular, thorough service will identify minor faults that can be fixed before they escalate into serious, expensive problems.
- Driver awareness. Drivers should be vigilant in noticing any unusual noises, rumblings, or warning lights on the dashboard. These are all signs that you should take the car to a garage as a priority.
- Sufficient fuel. The AAA recommends not letting the gas level fall below one-quarter of a tank, to minimize the risk of running out of fuel.
- Be prepared. In the unlikely event of a breakdown, an emergency kit with a few essential items is invaluable. A basic kit should include a flashlight, warning triangles or flares, jumper cables, a toolkit, a reflective vest, a spare tire, and a tire jack.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR CAR HAS BROKEN DOWN
If you are unlucky enough to experience a car breakdown, your primary concern should be your safety. Follow these steps to ensure both you and your car stay out of harm’s way:
- Get off the road. Firstly, don’t panic! Turn on the hazard lights, reduce your speed gradually, and pull over to the side of the road. Aim for the right shoulder of the road, as far from moving traffic as possible.
- Stay safe. Most safety experts agree that if the car is away from traffic, you should remain inside it. If you decide to get out of the car, wait until the road is clear and stand back from the road. Never stand in front of or behind the car because you will not be visible to drivers.
- Warn other drivers. Make your car visible to oncoming traffic. Raise the hood and set out warning triangles or flares, but only if you can do so safely.
- Call for help. Call roadside assistance on your mobile phone, providing as much detail about your location and the nature of the problem as possible.
Vehicle breakdowns can be unpleasant, stressful, and dangerous. The older the car and the higher the mileage, the more likely a breakdown will happen. However, mechanical or electrical failure can affect any car of any age. Routine maintenance and checks reduce the risk of breakdowns but drivers should always be prepared for the possibility that they may end up stranded on the side of the road. A cool head and an action plan are essential to get the car back up and running.