Little driving tics and quirks you’ve had for years could be hurting your car and costing you some serious cash.
Here’s a closer look at some common driving no-nos and the damage they can do to your car and your wallet.
Driving on empty
Do you pride yourself on getting every last drop of gas out of your gas tank before filling up? Cut it out.
Sediment from gasoline settles at the bottom of every gas tank. When you let your gas level run low, you force your car to use the dirtiest gas in its tank for fuel.
The lower your car’s gas level sinks, the more the dirt gets stirred up from the bottom of the tank. Drive on a near-empty tank and you risk this dirt getting into your car’s fuel line and even into the engine. There’s a good chance your car’s fuel filter won’t be able to catch all of it, especially if you drive with a barely filled gas tank on a regular basis.
“You’re going to pull the heaviest sediment into the fuel line,” says Karl Brauer, editor-in-chief at Edmunds.com. “If it gets all the way to the engine, it could scar or damage internal parts of the engine.”
If this happens, you’re putting extra strain on the engine. And you’ll need to flush the entire fuel system if it clogs up with dirt.
“You’re talking a minimum of a couple of hundred dollars if it really jams up the system,” Brauer says.
At the very least, you’ll need to replace your car’s fuel filter more often. That will run you about $100. And if sediment deposits or sludge form on your fuel injectors, you won’t like the way your car drives.
“The car will run funny,” says Tony Molla, a spokesman for the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence. “It will feel like the car needs a tune-up.”
The best advice? Never let your gas level dip too low.
“It’s a good idea to keep your tank half full,” Molla says.
Revving the engine
This is never a good idea.
“There’s just no reason for it,” says David Bennett, manager of automotive programs at AAA. “You’re putting additional stress on the engine itself.”
Revving is especially bad for your engine if you do it right after you start the car when the engine is cold and all the oil is still down in the oil pan.
“All those metal parts in an engine that move around aren’t properly lubricated with oil,” Brauer says.
Repeated revving will damage your engine and it will cost you thousands of dollars to buy a new one.
So be good to your engine. Be as gentle as you can on your engine in the first few minutes of driving. Avoid aggressive driving moves.
And never, ever rev your engine.
Quick starts and stops
You might like how it feels to floor your accelerator at a traffic light, but all you’re doing is wasting gas and putting more strain on your car.
All those abrupt stops aren’t great for your car either, and you’ll burn through your brakes in no time.
Keep your fuel bills and brake bills in check by becoming a smooth driver.
“The smoother you drive, the longer everything is going to last,” Molla says. “The more smoothly you start and stop, the more life you’ll get out of your car.”
Anticipate stops whenever you can. Letting your car coast to a stop is a good way to improve your gas mileage.
Coasting into gear
Ever roll out of a parking space and pop your car into drive while your car is still coasting backwards? You’re being mighty rough on your car.
“You’re putting stress on the entire drive train,” Brauer says. “All the metal parts get strained when you do that.”
And your car doesn’t like it one bit. The first clue is the clunk you’ll hear as you force your car to change directions too rapidly.
Do this maneuver often enough and you may need to replace your car’s universal joints, or U-joints, which could cost anywhere from $200 to $700. It’s also rough on your transmission, and a new transmission could cost you thousands of dollars. So remember to stop before putting your car in drive or reverse.
“Make sure the car is at a full stop before you change directions,” Molla says.
Neglecting the tires
Car tires are critical for braking and steering, and they put up with all kinds of owner neglect.
“The most neglected piece of equipment on a vehicle is the tires,” Molla says. “You should be checking your tires as frequently as you check the oil.”
Driving with underinflated tires is a common mistake. When your tires are underinflated, your car won’t handle or respond the way it’s designed to. Underinflated tires wear down more quickly and also lower your gas mileage.
When you drive on underinflated tires, you decrease your gas mileage by up to 15 percent and reduce the life of your tires by 15 percent or more.
Why are so many people driving around on underinflated tires? They don’t bother to check the tire pressure.
“It’s a very easy thing to do and a very easy thing to correct,” Bennett says.
Get in the habit of checking your tire pressure once a month. Buy a digital gauge and keep it in your glove box.
Compare the pressure in your tires with the recommended pressure listed in your owner’s manual and on the placard in your car door. And then inflate your tires as needed.
Be sure to check tire pressure when your tires are cold. A good time is early in the morning after your car’s been idle overnight.
Want your tires to last longer? Rotate them at least twice a year. Rotating your tires will keep your tires from wearing down unevenly and prematurely.
Riding the brake
People who drive with two feet, the right foot pressing the accelerator and the left foot pressing the brake, often rest the left foot on the brake as they drive. This is a big mistake. Lots of folks end up driving with the brakes on because the “resting” foot is actually depressing the brake pedal. The result? It’s not good.
“It will make the brake pads wear prematurely, and it will decrease gas mileage because of the drag you’re putting on the engine,” Bennett says.
Plus, having your brake lights constantly on makes you a bad distraction for other drivers. The folks behind you will wonder what you’re doing.
So do yourself and your brakes a favor and don’t touch them until you need them. Anticipate your stops and begin slowing your car by simply easing off the accelerator.
“Start braking by simply taking your foot off the accelerator before you even get to the stop light,” Molla says.
Driving too fast for road and weather conditions
You can’t control the weather or the condition of a road, but you can control how you drive. When in doubt, slow down.
If you’re driving in a storm of rain, sleet, wind or snow, slow down.
“Most people drive too fast for conditions,” Molla says. “If it’s rainy or foggy, you really need to slow down. If visibility is poor, slow down.”
When driving on a rough road, you’ll want to decrease your speed as well.
Steer clear of potholes and manhole covers whenever you can. Driving straight over one of these at full speed could really bang up your car.
“The suspension and the tires are being jolted around,” Brauer says. “It’s just banging the suspension up and down.”
This is a great way to wear out your car’s suspension. And once a car’s shock absorbers and springs start to go, you’ll really notice.
“It’s not going to ride as smoothly or handle as well,” Brauer says.
Want your smooth ride back? Replacing a car’s front and rear shock absorbers will cost you a grand or more.
Need another reason to slow down on a rough road?
If you hit a pothole or manhole cover hard enough you could take a chunk out of a tire, increasing the chance of a blow out.
And don’t forget to slow for speed bumps. The whole point of a speed bump is to get you to slow down, and when you don’t your car can really pay the price.
“If you hit a speed bump at too high a speed, you could damage your exhaust system or some other piece hanging down,” Molla says.
Pulling too far into a parking place
If you feel the wheels of your car hit the concrete slab or barrier at the end of a parking space, you’ve gone too far. Leave it there or jerk back too quickly and you’ll hurt your car.
“Those are standing just high enough to scrape or tear off the front spoiler in a car,” Molla says.
And by cramming your car up close against a concrete slab and slamming your car into park, you’re putting a huge strain on your car’s suspension system. The longer your car sits in that position the worse it is.
This is not the way you want to park your car and, say, walk around a mall for four hours.
So next time you zip into a plum parking space and feel your tires hit concrete, be sure to ease back gently.
“Slide it into neutral and let your foot off the brake,” Brauer says. “The car will ease back down on its own.”
And then slip your car into park. Your car’s suspension will thank you.