AAA explores the leading causes of vehicle breakdowns in summer, and how you can help avoid them

A breakdown can strike any vehicle at any time. But a new analysis of Roadside Assistance requests reveals that some vehicles are at higher risk: Specifically, vehicles 10 years and older are twice as likely to require Roadside Assistance, and four times as likely to have a problem serious enough to require a tow, than a car aged 9 or newer.

It's no shock that older vehicles are more likely to encounter problems, but what may be surprising is that more than half of all cars on the road today are more than 10 years old, meaning increased risk of a serious breakdown is widespread. We look at the leading causes of breakdowns, which issues are most likely to require a tow, and what you can do to help reduce your odds of needing help on the road. 

Roadside Assistance calls by the numbers

AAA received more than 32 million Roadside Assistance requests in the U.S. in 2017. Breaking that down by vehicle age demonstrates how much more likely older vehicles are to need Roadside Assistance, and to have a problem serious enough to require a tow to a repair facility.

  • 2 in 3 calls

    were for vehicles 10 or more years old

  • 1 in 3 calls

    were for vehicles aged 9 years or newer

  • 35% of vehicles

    had a problem that required a tow

  • 81% of tows

    were for vehicles 10 or more years old

Top serious breakdowns leading to a tow

  • Electrical issues

    23%

     

    A battery jump or replacement rarely requires a tow, but a near-dead battery can silently damage components like the starter or alternator. If those fail, a shop repair is required.

  • Engine cooling failures

    11%

     

    These include failures of components like the radiator, thermostat, water pump, or timing belt, and are particularly common in vehicles 10 years and older.

  • Tire damage

    10%

     

    As cars increasingly come without spare tires, more instances of tire damage are too severe to remedy at the roadside and instead require a tow for repair or replacement.

What you can do
AAA expects to assist 7.7 million motorists in the U.S. this summer, many of whom will be in the middle of a family vacation or road trip when a breakdown occurs. To reduce your odds of being one of them, AAA advises you to make a good B-E-T by checking your battery, engine, and tires before embarking on a trip this summer.

Check your battery

Automotive batteries typically last three to five years. Once they enter that range, it’s a good idea to assess their health regularly, especially before a road trip that may stress them.

 

AAA Mobile Battery Service offers free testing of a vehicle's battery and electrical system that comes to you upon request. If your battery fails and needs replacing, our technician can professionally install a AAA battery to get you back on the road. Learn how AAA Mobile Battery Service can take the hassle out of battery testing and replacement.1

Check your engine

Summer heat puts additional strain on engine cooling systems such as the radiator, thermostat, water pump, and fan belts. Underlying problems may go undetected during light driving, only to cause a breakdown on a trip. Look for warning signs, such as unusually high temperature gauge readings or coolant pooling underneath your vehicle when it's parked. Taking your vehicle to a professional for inspection can go a long way toward avoiding an unpleasant—and expensive—surprise.

 

Need an inspection or repair? AAA's Approved Auto Repair program can refer you to a trusted, high-quality independent facility with AAA benefits.

Check your tires

Overinflated, underinflated, or unevenly worn tires can mean sudden blowouts, especially in the summer heat. Making sure tires contain the right amount of air can help ward off a flat. Also, keep an eye out for uneven wear patterns that may indicate a suspension or alignment problem, or bulges and cracks that can indicate internal failure. Check your tread depth to make sure your tires are gripping the road properly, and make sure your tires are less than 7 years old. (Older than that, even tires that appear fine are at risk of failing suddenly because of thermo-oxidative degradation.)

 

Not sure how to check your pressure, recognize uneven wear, or measure your tread depth? Check out our deep dive into how to care for your tires.

You love a summer escape; we love getting your car ready

Through August 31, 2018, AAA members can take advantage of two offers at participating AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities2:

  • Free AAA Summer Vehicle Check-Up3: battery test, including starting and charging systems; tire tread depth and pressure check; coolant, wiper fluid and oil level check; and wiper blade and washer check
  • Free tire rotation with a paid service when requested at time of service4

Members can take advantage of one or both offers. 

1AAA Mobile Battery Service is part of Roadside Assistance for AAA members, generally provided by independent service providers, and is only available in select areas during select hours. Batteries and battery warranties are provided by independent suppliers. The battery test and replacement service counts as one of the member’s four (4) allowable service calls per membership year. Batteries are available for most makes and models. Battery prices vary depending on vehicle make and model. Warranty valid in the United States and Canada. Copies of the warranties are available for inspection from the technician at any time upon request. Membership Roadside Assistance terms and conditions apply to mobile AAA Battery Service. See the member guide for details.

 

2Offers valid 6/20/18 – 8/31/18. Most passenger cars and light trucks are eligible. Diesel and select domestic, European, Asian and exotic cars excluded. Appointment may be required. Contact the facility in advance for details. Other restrictions may apply. AAA offers may be combined. AAA offers not valid with any other facility offer. Valid AAA membership card must be presented at a participating AAA Approved Auto Repair facility at the time of service.

 

3AAA Summer Vehicle Check-Up package is a limited time offer for members who request the package during the promotion period. Coolant, wiper fluid and oil level check does not include fluid top off or oil change service. Cost of any repairs not included.

 

4Free tire rotation is a limited time offer for members who request the free offer at the time of service. Tire rotation is only performed if needed.

 

Information taken from "Double Digits Means Double Trouble for Vehicle Breakdowns," the American Automobile Association, April 17, 2018.