Driving Habits that Damage Your Car

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There are a handful of things you can do to improve the longevity of your vehicle. While it’s important to stay on top of routine maintenance, there are small, everyday actions you can also do to maximize your vehicle's lifespan.

But what makes a bad driver? This may come as a surprise, but there are some bad driving habits that you might do that seem minor but are actually quite damaging to your car in the long run. A few bad driving habits are:

  • Ignoring warning signs.
  • Speeding over speed bumps.
  • Not using the parking brake.
  • Riding the brakes downhill.

Take a look at the expanded list of bad driving habits below to see if you’re guilty of a few of these. If left unchecked, these driving patterns could result in unnecessary and expensive repairs or part replacements.

Ignoring Warning Signs

It may seem easier to temporarily ignore squeaks, rattles, and warning lights—to simply wave them off or deal with them later. However, kicking the can down the road only allows the issues to fester.

If your car is making odd noises or giving you other indicators that something is not right, it’s critical you confront the problem immediately by taking it to your mechanic. The longer you wait, the more likely the parts will incur severe damage or ultimately fail. As a result, you needlessly put your vehicle, yourself, and other drivers at risk—and potentially increase your bill at the mechanic’s shop.

Braking Incorrectly

Sudden stops may be unavoidable at times, but if you slam on your brakes regularly, you cause the rotors and brake pads to experience wear at a far faster rate. Ideally, the natural friction of the engine and gradual inertial slowing should be all that is required to stop.

When possible, try to coast your way to a halt by simply letting off the accelerator at an earlier point. Changing how you brake not only protects your vehicle, but also conserves gas. Your brake action can also have an impact on your own safety and is especially important to pay attention to in certain conditions, such as if you’re driving in snow for the first time. In all circumstances where you do need to use the brakes, try and make it a smooth and natural motion.

Speeding Over Speed Bumps

Speed bumps are not jumps or off-road features, they are deterrents. They were installed for one reason: to slow down vehicles. If you speed over such obstacles, you can cause severe damage to the frame, suspension, and brakes of your vehicle. A report on UK motorists estimated that 1 in 5 drivers damaged their cars by driving too quickly over speed bumps.

Pay heed to these impediments and drive over them slowly. In most cases, they are installed in neighborhoods or parking lots, places where there is absolutely no reason to be speeding.

Not Using the Parking Brake

When parking, especially on an incline, it’s critical to engage the parking brake, and even more important to engage it prior to putting the car in park.

Allowing the vehicle to roll backwards only to be stopped by the parking pawl puts an inordinate amount of stress and weight on the transmission. Further, if the pawl fails and you did not use the parking brake, nothing is preventing the car from rolling down the street.

Suddenly Shifting from Reverse to Drive

A common habit that many people have is immediately going from reverse to drive without allowing the mechanisms to disengage and engage properly. In the moment, it might not seem like a huge deal, but if done repeatedly, it can cause serious damage to the drivetrain, axle, engine, and transmission. When shifting, come to a complete stop. Be patient, give it a second, then put it in drive.

Driving with the Fuel Tank Near Empty

Empty gas tank light on car dashboard.

Although there may be times where you only have a few bucks in your pocket to spend on gas, regularly driving on low could cause lasting damage to your fuel pump.

Most fuel pumps are actively cooled by being immersed in gas. If you make a habit of driving on empty, your fuel pump can overheat and deteriorate at a faster rate.

Riding the Brakes Downhill

It’s understandable why you may feel the need to keep a foot on the brakes when going down a steep hill: you want to prevent your car from accelerating past the speed limit or losing control. However, riding the brakes creates a notable strain on the brake system and causes them to overheat, which can result in long-term damage to your rotors and brake pads.

Ideally, you should shift into a lower gear, which will allow for natural engine braking to help slow down the vehicle.

Save Your Car—Change Your Habits

The actions above are simple and easy to change, as long as you remain thoughtful and aware of your habits. If you are especially guilty of one of the bad driving habits, consider posting a sticky note or asking your spouse to remind you. By making small behavioral alterations, you can extend the lifetime of your vehicle and stay safe on the road, saving you both money and time over the long haul.

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