Automotive Maintenance

AAA explores the leading causes of vehicle breakdowns in summer, & how to help avoid them

Man having car trouble

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 4 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

Battery replacement
Electrical issues


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 coolant
Engine cooling failures


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


Pothole tire damage
Tire damage


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. But if you're experiencing a breakdown right now, or if you want to know what to do when the moment strikes, read our guide on what to do when your car breaks down.

AAA mobile battery service

Check your battery

Automotive batteries typically last 3-5 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 engine light

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? The AAA Approved Repair program can refer you to a trusted, high-quality independent facility with AAA benefits.

Tire pressure check

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.

Repair icon

Need a repair? Want your vehicle inspected by an expert?

The AAA Approved Repair program has been referring our members to trusted, high-quality facilities since it was established in 1975. 

Find a facility

Learn more

back to top icon