RAC outlines latest reasons for car breakdowns

RAC patrol In advance of the peak new car sales month of March, the RAC held a press briefing at their iconic Motoring Services control centre recognised by its 60-metre tall tower at the junction of the M4 and M5 motorways outside Bristol.


Founded in 1897 the RAC now has over eight million members. In total the RAC received 2.1 million UK callouts last year with about half of those being for vehicles ranging from one to five years of age. Currently there are close to 32 million cars and 36 million drivers on our UK roads.

Their Chief Engineer David Bizley said one third (33.2%) of their callouts nationwide were down to repairing or recovering vehicles with punctures. This increase is due in part to many modern vehicles having no spare wheels and the worsening state of our roads with punctures and tyre damage caused by potholes. Their latest survey for the 2014 year was for vehicles up to five years of age.

He added that the RAC Roadside Recovery Service has developed a universal spare wheel which can be adjusted to fit 75% of vehicles with a five-stud wheel fixing. A four-stud wheel is under development. Every RAC Patrol vehicle carries a universal spare wheel. When fitted, the owner of the car can drive their vehicle at speeds up to 50mph and when convenient they take their car to a tyre supplier, have a new tyre fitted and the RAC’s universal spare wheel is returned by the tyre supplier to the RAC.

The second highest breakdown rate was for battery problems which accounted for 11.4% of callouts. This however was a slightly lower total due to better battery management technology which has extended the life of batteries.

There has been a gradual increase in the number of call-outs, now 3%, due to fuel contamination with an increasing number of diesel powered cars on the roads. The increase is due mainly due to drivers putting petrol in diesel cars. Another increase to 2.3% of breakdowns was exhaust system issues caused by more use of exhaust gas recirculation and the blocking of diesel particulate filters due to constant short-run use.

There had also been an increase, now up to 2.4%, due to failures of body components such as wipers, sun roofs, an increased number of hardtop convertible folding roofs and more use of underbody shields which can be susceptible to breaking.

On the plus side there had been significant improvements in some areas due to better diagnostic systems in cars, improved suspension and steering systems, better warning systems, less lock-outs of vehicles due to improved design and less after-market fitment of alarms and immobilisers.

Engine and transmissions failures have also reduced. Engines now only account for 3.7% of call-outs and gearboxes just 1.8%. David Bizley said this was due to improved manufacturer engineering. Roadside incidents such as accidents remained more or less constant at 9.9% despite the increased number of cars on our roads. In 2001 for instance it was 9.0%.

David Bizley said the RAC operated 1,500 Patrols for repairs and recovery, 30 specialist Fuel Patrols, 12 Tyre Patrols, 50 specialist drop-side Patrol recovery vehicles operated on a double or even triple shift system to meet peak demand and within the M25 they currently have one Patrol vehicle specifically equipped to deal with electrically powered cars but more are planned as sales of electric vehicles increase.

Concluding his press briefing David Bizley outlined the RAC’s Roadside Performance for vehicles up to five years of age for 2014 compared with their performance in 2001. In recent years they have introduced Rapidly Deployable Trailers and one of these folding two wheel towing units is carried in each Patrol vehicle as part of their ‘repairing is better than recovering’ strategy. “The aim where possible is to implement a permanent repair – not a temporary one” he said.

He added that the RAC Recovery Service has increased the number of Patrol units by12%, Patrols are better at diagnosing faults and repairing vehicles rather than using freelance contractors but if a repair cannot be made their Patrols use their deployable trailer recovery system to minimise customer inconvenience.

Due to the complexity of modern vehicles the average time to complete a fix on a broken-down vehicle in 2014 was 36.4 minutes compared to 23.1-minutes in 2001. Other comparison times for 2014 versus 2001 are; attendance time 45.3 minutes versus 45.0-minutes, average travel time 26.4-minutes against 23.1-minutes due to more traffic on our roads and the Patrol roadside repair rate was 89.6% versus 81.4% in 2001. By Miles better news agency 

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