What Do I Do If My Car Breaks Down?

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Cars break down a lot less than they used to because they’ve gotten more reliable … but that is cold comfort if you’re stranded at the roadside. If that’s you while reading this article, hopefully, we can help! 

Ideally, your phone will have roadside assistance (check for any stickers in the upper area of the windscreen) or you have a membership of the NRMA, RACV, RACQ or another motoring club —  but if not, most roadside assistance companies can sign you up on the spot when you call them. 

If you can, figure out what’s gone wrong — because that way you can speed up the process when you call roadside assist. 

But what if you’re way too far out of town? Here’s how to get the basics of fixing up a car done on the spot. 

Changing a Tyre to the Spare 

If you’ve got a flat tyre and your car has a spare wheel and jack, you will be able to change out the flat for the new spare. It’s not the easiest process but it is possible to get it done. Take great care as it is easy to get hurt if you skip steps. 

The first thing to do is to check that you have what you need: the spare tyre is usually under the boot floor. Is it there, and inflated? Do you have the jack? If either of these is missing you won’t be able to complete this job. 

If You’re All Set, Here Are the Basics of Changing a Tyre

Take the wheel brace from the toolkit in the boot (often near the jack or in a pouch) and loosen each of the wheel nuts (the silver studs in the centre of your wheel) by just one turn. 

Then, consult the owner’s manual to find out where to put the jack. This is normally along the lower chassis next to the flat tyre, but do check. Once you’ve found the right place to sit the jack, place it on the ground and begin to wind it up — raising the car until it is about 10cm off the road. 

Then, remove each of the wheel nuts (silver studs) completely from the wheel you’re replacing. Don’t lose them — put them in a cupholder or other safe place. You will then be able to lift and slide the old wheel straight off. The brakes and suspension will be visible behind it. 

Immediately take the flat tyre and place it under the car, alongside the jack — this means if the jack fails, the car will fall onto the flat tyre. It’s a safety thing. 

Next, take the spare wheel, line up the holes for the nuts and slide it onto the hub. Take your wheel nuts and tighten them by hand. 

Now it’s time to lower the car. Remove the flat tyre from under the car and then wind down the jack carefully, letting the new spare wheel take the weight of the vehicle. Slide the jack out, then use the wheel brace to tighten the wheel nuts completely. 

Now, you’ll need to put your flat tyre into the boot —  into the same space the spare came out of — and pack away your tools for next time (while hoping there isn’t a next time!) 

As long as that spare wheel is tight, you’re good to drive away.  

Jump-Starting a Car 

Got a flat battery? Almost everybody’s had one at least once. Thankfully, jump-starting a car is pretty easy, but you need to make sure you have jumper cables. Without these, it’s not possible, but they can be picked up cheaply at Bunnings, Supercheap Auto and other hardware stores. 

You’ll also need a second car that has a good battery charge to assist you with this project. 

Nearly all cars have their batteries under the bonnet (some have them in the boot). Locate the battery first, then make sure the two vehicles’ batteries are close to one another. Normally, this means parking nose-to-nose. 

With both batteries close to one another and both cars turned off, take your jumper leads and connect the red coloured jumper lead to the positive (+) terminal of the flat battery, and connect the other end of the same lead to the positive (+) terminal of the good battery in the second car. 

Next, connect the black jumper lead and connect it to the negative (-) terminal of the good battery in the second car. DO NOT connect the other end to the negative terminal in the flat battery. 

Instead, the other end of the black jumper lead needs to be connected to what’s called an earth point. This is a solid metal component in the engine bay of the car with the flat battery. Lots of images of a car earth point are available on Google. 

Double-checking that the cables are in place properly, start the engine of the car with the good battery. Then, try and start the engine of the car with the flat battery. If it doesn’t start immediately, try again in a few minutes. 

Next, you need to let the car with the previously flat battery idle for at least a few minutes. This is best done with headlights on. 

Once you’ve run for a few minutes, you can disconnect the jumper leads. This is done in the reverse order from connection, disconnecting the black lead from the earth/ground first, and then disconnecting the black lead from the good battery. 

Then, you can disconnect the red cable from the good battery, and finally, disconnect the red cable from the previously flat battery., 

Finally, you’ll need to drive the car with the now partially-recharged battery for at least 40 minutes to ensure it gets a decent charge from driving. Cut this short and you’ll be experiencing another flat battery again soon. 

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