Bad Driving Habits That Can Seriously Damage Your Car

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Your car does a lot for you. It’s your trusty steed, your workhorse and your companion. You entrust it with the life and safety of yourself and your family. You make sure it’s cleaned, serviced, tuned and ticking over. You change the oil, rotate the tires and change the drive belts regularly because you recognize how important it is to ensure that your vehicle runs reliably and you understand just how catastrophic it can be when it fails.

All of this is entirely admirable, but here’s the thing…

You have bad habits!

I don’t mean that you pick your nose, leave the toilet seat up or spend too much on online shopping (I do all of those things by the way, there’s no judgment here), I’m talking about your bad driving habits. The little idiosyncrasies to your driving style that your driving instructor told you not to do but that you’ve left unchecked for years. These are the little habits that may not seem too damaging in and of themselves, but over time can do damage (in some cases serious damage) to your car if you don’t turn them around today before they cause a detrimental impact that no amount of car services or tire rotations will reverse. You may not even be aware of them, but they can damage your car, just the same. Let’s have a look at some now…

Resting your hand on the gear stick

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Okay, in the interests of full disclosure, I used to do this all the time! Why? Because when I was a kid, my uncle used to do it and I thought that it looked cool. Whatever your reason; whether it’s a matter of comfort, appearance or it simply being something you’ve done for so long you don’t even think about it, if you rest your hand on a manual gear shift then it’s a bad habit that’s got to go. Keep those hands on the steering wheel unless you actually need to change gear.

The effect: This increased pressure on the transmission’s bushings and synchronizers can cause internal wear within the gearbox. While wear on the clutch and gearbox is inevitable, the last thing you want to do is accelerate this.

The consequences: Over time you will find it harder to shift gears, even if you floor the clutch. Your gears and clutch will wear out and you may even start to leak transmission fluid. If any of this happens, you could end up having to replace the clutch and / or flywheel which is a very expensive repair.

Revving a cold engine

We all know a few gear heads who love to fire up the engine and let the whole neighbourhood know what their baby is made of with a few meaty revs of the engine from cold. Yeah, it might sound cool but those gearheads could be doing their beloved car more damage than they know.

The effect: Over-revving the engine when it’s cold causes abrupt temperature changes that can damage components as well as causing undue wear on parts of the engine that haven’t been lubricated by the thorough circulation of oil. This problem is compounded when it occurs in cold weather.

The consequences: While there’s little chance of any components being damaged on a one-off occurrence, there are a great many components that can be damaged if this is something that is being done on a regular basis. There are far too many to list here, but take it from us, it’s a good idea to let your engine idle for a few seconds before you hit the gas.

Switching from ‘Reverse’ to ‘Drive’ (or ‘First’) before coming to a stop

When turning in the road or maneuvering into a parking bay, many of us shift from reverse to a forward moving gear while still rolling backwards, little knowing that this can have disastrous consequences for the drivetrain.

The effect: Forcing the drivetrain to move in the opposite direction places a great deal of strain on it, and while the damage that can be done depends on the age of your car and existing wear on the drivetrain, the results are seldom good. Even if the gears don’t clunk or crunch in protest it could still result in severe or even catastrophic damage.

The consequences: Worst case scenario, your drive shaft could fall out, although this is usually something that only happens in particularly older vehicles. Nonetheless, it can cause some pretty serious issues with your transmission, none of which are cheap repairs.

Running on low fuel

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When you spend a lot of time on the road, it’s all-too-tempting to leave it right up to the last minute before stopping to gas-up. Nobody welcomes the interruption of their journey, especially when time is of the essence. Unfortunately, this can lead to some nasty consequences that will cause far more disruption than stopping for a few minutes (you should be stopping every few hours anyway).

The effect: Most fuel pumps are cooled and lubricated by being submerged in fuel. By driving without enough fuel in the tank to fully submerge the pump, you run the risk of overheating it, causing it to wear more quickly. Over time, the sediment and dirt in your fuel tank sinks to the bottom and driving while low on fuel can cause blockage of the fuel filter or the dragging of dirty fuel into the engine.

The consequences: Most likely your fuel pump will fail, resulting in an imbalance of the fuel / air ratio in the car’s engine. This will result in difficulty starting, misfires, massive reduction in fuel efficiency and persistent stalling. The fuel pump will need to be replaced. While you may be able to limp through a few days or even weeks, we would recommend replacing the fuel pump as soon as possible to avoid further damage. If dirty fuel gets into the engine, it can result in blockage of the injectors which may also need to be cleaned or even replaced (also not a cheap repair).

Riding the clutch

When waiting at lights, a great many enthusiastic motorists drop the clutch partially, holding the car at it’s ‘bite point’ ready to dash away when the lights change. This is known as ‘riding the clutch’. My driving instructor used to absolutely chew me out for this (which surprised me as I thought he’d be impressed by my clutch control), and now that I know more about cars, I understand why.

The effect: This behavior isn’t too damaging when done once in awhile but, again, if you’re doing it every day then it can put added pressure on the clutch plate creating additional friction and causing it to wear out quicker.

The consequences: All clutches are finite but when they wear out, it can make gear changes difficult and eventually impossible, which can have serious safety consequences. The clutch will need to be replaced (possibly along with the plate and even flywheel), at a sizeable cost to yourself.

‘Dragging’ the brakes on a steep decline

If you’re navigating a steep decline, it’s perfectly natural to want to control your speed, but too many of us are doing it the wrong way. Controlling your descent solely with your brakes is a surprisingly wasteful way of doing this that can cause disproportionate and unnecessary wear that you’ll inevitably find yourself picking up the tab for.

The effect: By slowing your descent solely with your brakes you will cause strain and heat build up that will cause excessive wear on the brakes and rotors. Your brake discs may also become warped by the heat if this is prolonged. To take the strain off the brakes, drop into a lower gear to slow your descent through ‘engine braking’ which is just as effective and far less demanding on your brakes.

The consequences: Fortunately, the consequences are fairly minor, although nobody likes having to pay for replacement discs and pads any more often than they have to. However, if by virtue of moving house or job you find yourself traversing steep hills and mountains regularly, you’ll be surprised how quickly the mounting costs of repeatedly replacing your brakes mounts up!

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Ignoring the warning signs

Remember that episode of The SImpsons where Lisa alerts Homer to the blinking red light on his dash that says “check engine”? The lovable patriarch reasons that the tape must have fallen off, retrieves a patch of electrical tape and puts it over the light, triumphantly declaring “problem solved”. While it’s doubtful that any of us have ever done that, we can all relate to the experience of ignoring potential warning signs of problems to come, be they warning lights, strange noises or subtle changes in how the car feels when driving.

The effects: Car trouble never goes away by itself. Letting intermittent noises or warning lights go unchallenged again and again will only exacerbate the invisible problem, often with disastrous consequences. If your car sounds or feels different, get it looked at by a trained professional.

The consequences: There are too many to name, but chances are that they will present themselves at the worst possible opportunity. Don’t let them be the reason you missed a job interview or weren’t able to pick the kids up from school. The only thing you’ll have to show for your inaction is a huge bill!

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