Damaging your own car is costly but common

Car manufacturers have spent millions investing in new technologies to protect drivers. There are thousands of components that go to make up a modern automobile and every single one has been researched, scrutinised, refined and redesigned a thousand times.

Like a lot of things that we take for granted in the 21st century, from iPhones to kettles, cars really are miracles of human ingenuity and skill.

But one component stubbornly refuses all attempts to improve on its original design. No matter how hard they try car makers have been unable to make this single component reliable and it remains the weakest part of the system and the one most likely to cause damage to all of the others.

It is of course the Mark 1 version of the human being. People, it seems, continue to be people. This means they continue to make mistakes that no self-respecting computer or widget would contemplate.

Last month the AA carried out one of its regular polls asking AA Members up and down the country to tell us about their experiences. We asked them about what sort of mistakes they have made that caused the car to break down and unsurprisingly there were plenty.

The most common breakdown of all is one of the oldest – the simple flat battery. Even though lots of modern cars have warning systems and bleepers to stop us leaving the lights on we still manage to do it in tremendous numbers.

In our poll sample we had just over 9,200 people respond. That gives a really good insight into what type of incidents happen and to whom. Of course you have to be careful examining data sets like this. It is a large sample over all but much less so when you break it down. There are more people from the urban areas, less from thinly populated counties and other statistical limitations.

Even so what the numbers appear to tell us is that people under 24 years of age are twice as likely to leave their lights on as those between 45 and 55. That held true across the country so perhaps there is something in it. I wonder if age really does bring wisdom. It hasn’t for me yet.

In our poll Dubliners were the most likely to have damaged their own car by denting it or scraping it. That might be explained by higher traffic volumes and busier roads but perhaps not as both Kerry and Clare were very nearly as bad.

Males are more likely to run out of fuel or to put the wrong fuel in their tanks apparently. In fact that is getting more common across the board and it can be ruinously expensive.

Petrol nozzles are thinner than diesel ones to prevent petrol owners putting in diesel by mistake. But the problem now is that more and more people have diesels, and it is a much easier mistake to make the other way around. Hence it is happening more often.

Another common error is to lock the keys inside the car. Don’t panic – the AA can generally sort this out and we get that type of call all the time.

People aren’t often in as much trouble as one AA Member that we heard from recently though. A new father, he called us from outside Holles Street hospital in Dublin. He had been in charge of his very new first-born child for approximately two minutes.

After loading the baby in the car he locked the doors for safety while he packed the boot, then shut the boot with the keys inside. Although we were able to sort it out straight away it did not go down terribly well with his exhausted wife.

Thankfully the priceless new human being in the baby seat slept happily throughout. I think it is safe to say that when that baby grows up people will still be as human as they ever were, and the AA will still find itself called upon to fix problems caused by that maddeningly unreliable component.

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