In Canada, there are around 160,000 car accidents each year, of which 2,800-2,900 result in deaths. Although the majority of accidents occur due to driver performance and driver negligence, some common mechanical failures can also lead to accidents on the road.
Even if you drive a newer vehicle that’s equipped with modern safety features, you can improve your road safety by knowing how to identify these issues and staying off the road while you’re having them repaired.
Common mechanical failures that can cause car accidents include:
1. Faulty tires
Tires affect traction, handling, steering, stability, and braking. Sudden tire failure can have major consequences, especially when you’re travelling at speed.
Common issues that can cause sudden tire failure include:
- Tire blowouts. Often caused by debris (e.g. glass, a nail, a pothole, or another sharp object) or shift in temperature, a sudden tire blowout can cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
- Worn tires. Tire tread wears down over time, which can reduce braking distance, increase the chances of hydroplaning in wet, snowy, or icy conditions, and cause your vehicle to lose traction on the road.
- Under inflation. Under inflation is the leading cause of tire failure. But 23 per cent of vehicles have at least one tire under-inflated by more than 20 per cent.
You can reduce your chances of experiencing sudden tire failure by taking these steps:
- Once a month, or before embarking on a long road trip, check your tires for wear and damage problems. An easy way to check tires for wear is by using the quarter test.
- Keep your tires properly inflated.
- Replace tires before they lose all of their tread, maintain proper tire pressure
- Use winter tires during colder winter conditions.
- Check your tire alignment regularly, as improperly aligned wheels will cause tires to wear out faster than they otherwise would.
2. Faulty brakes
According to Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance President Capt. John Broers, “properly functioning brakes may mean the difference between a catastrophic collision or the ability to avoid a crash.”
Common causes of brake failure include:
- Worn brake pads and discs, which can result in longer stopping distances.
- Malfunctioning anti-lock braking system (ABS). Fully-functioning ABS systems prevent your wheels from locking up when you slam on the brakes.
- Brake line leaks, which can lead to a loss in the fluid that causes your brakes to become ineffective.
Brakes should be replaced when they are worn out. But the lifetime and quality of your brake pads and linings will be impacted by how far you drive and how efficiently you drive.
Here are some common signs that your brakes may need replacing:
- Squealing noises
- Brake warning light on your dashboard
- Car pulling to one side
It’s a good idea to visually check your brakes regularly, for example every 16,000 km. You can visually check the brake pads by looking through the spokes of your car’s wheels. If less than 3mm of the brake pad is visible, then they likely need to be replaced.
When you take your car in for service, most mechanics will tell you if they notice that your brake pads are going thin or if you have any other brake-related issues. If they don’t, be sure to ask.
3. Steering wheel column issues
A car’s steering wheel column contains a number of delicate parts that can fail and result in loss of control.
Common signs of steering wheel column issues include:
- Steering wheel is off centre
- Steering wheel is shaking or vibrating
- Unexplained fluid leaks
- Knocking, screeching, or crunching sounds
- Uneven or unusual tire-wear patterns
If you notice any of these signs, have a qualified mechanic diagnose and fix the issue asap.
4. Faulty lights
A higher proportion of car accidents occur at night due to lower driver visibility. But even on a bright sunny day, vehicle lights are essential in alerting other drivers to upcoming turns and hazardous situations. So it’s important to keep your headlights, taillights, and brake lights in good working condition.
While your car is parked, have a friend sit in the car and activate your headlights, high beam lights, turn signals, hazard lights, and brake lights to make sure they’re all working.
If a bulb is dim or no longer working, change it yourself or have a mechanic take care of it for you.
5. Suspension issues
A car’s suspension system gives drivers more control over their vehicle. It improves steering and safety. And it makes the driving experience a lot smoother by absorbing the energy from bumps and other impacts on the road.
Understandably, issues with the suspension can result in challenging driving conditions and possibly a total loss of control.
Common signs that your suspension system may be having issues include:
- Difficulty steering
- Bumpier-than-usual car rides
- Continued bouncing after hitting bumps
- Dipping when braking
- Pulling or drifting to one side when turning corners.
- When parked, one side of the car is sitting lower than the other side.
Have your car checked out by a qualified mechanic as soon as you notice any of these issues.
6. Engine failure
Engine failure can result in sudden breakdowns and loss of control.
A long list of issues can cause engine problems that can lead to engine failure—poor lubrication, a failing oil pump, oil deposits and debris, leaking coolant, a blocked radiator, and much, much more.
So if you think your engine is struggling or on its way to failing, it’s best to have a qualified mechanic diagnose and fix the exact cause immediately.
Common signs of car engine issues include:
- Your car’s ‘check engine’ light is on
- Your car’s temperature gauge is in the red
- Jerking, inconsistent acceleration and performance
- Unusual noises like backfiring, hissing, spitting, and popping
- Engine stalling
- Decreased performance
- Rough idling
- Strange smells
- Blue smoke and white smoke
Protect yourself from surprise breakdowns (and their expenses).
Regular maintenance and staying alert while you’re behind the wheel is the best protection from common mechanical failures. Typically, the older a car is the more prone it is to wear, tear, and breakdowns. But accidents can still happen to good drivers in well-maintained vehicles.
If you’d like to protect yourself from the cost and inconvenience of unexpected repairs, consider getting a comprehensive extended car warranty for your vehicle.
At GuardTree, we’re proud to say that our extended used car warranty covers all powertrain parts, as well as additional benefits like roadside assistance, car rental, and trip interruption costs.
Disclaimer: This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute mechanical or other professional advice as it relates to your vehicle. Each person must consult a qualified professional with respect to matters referenced in this post. GuardTree Inc. assumes no liability whatsoever for actions taken (or not taken) in reliance upon the information contained herein.