Brian knows a lot about less-than-perfect cars and how to care for them.
For decades now, car manufacturers have been investing in more and more technologically advanced systems for automobile in hopes to gradually minimize the chances for human error.
First, it was the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) then comes the introduction of the Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) and most recently, the radar controlled active cruise controls and even autonomous driving systems that propagated the idea of having an idiot proof automobile.
Given the current trends, it looks like the automobile industry will eventually have the capacity to produce cars with high durability. Still, regardless of how advanced modern cars are and how careful you are when driving, you may unwittingly damage your ride severely if you indulge on bad driving habits.
Are you an experienced driver or a beginner who just got your license? Well, these tips that I am about to share are useful regardless of how long you have been driving. Sometimes, you might not even realise that you are committing such mistakes, in which you think only amateurs do.
For some who driving is a routine, travelling to and from work, you might be prone to commit blunders that you might miss out because it has become second nature to you. Driving is an enjoyable experience, but I reckon a majority only knows how to work the car on the road without bothering about the inner workings of the vehicle itself. Knowing and understanding your car in and out is something that every car owner should pay attention to. This activity can be both exciting and exhausting. It may take up some of your time getting used to practising good driving habits once you know what they are. But all this is worth it, as it will save you the wear and tear and allow you to optimise your vehicle’s performance.
The longer you own a car the more driving habits you will acquire; unfortunately not all of those habits are good. Some of it may actually be the root cause for the frequent visits to the car service centre. Being a seasoned driver may have its shortcomings because the more experienced you are, the harder it is to break the bad driving habits you have.
I have taken the liberty to compile a few of the habits which I believe can save you some bucks and prolong the lifespan of your car. Avoid these unwise driving behaviour and hopefully these tips will help you avoid dangerous situations and unnecessary expenses.
1. Resting your hand on the gear stick while driving a manual transmission vehicle
Many people have the habit of resting their hand on the gear stick while driving a manual transmission vehicle. Are you one of those drivers that are guilty of such habit?
When changing gears, you probably do not give a second thought to what is happening behind the scenes in the manual transmission gearbox. Every time you change gear, a selector fork inside the gearbox comes into contact against rotating parts to select the gear.
Resting your hand on the gear stick while it is in gear may cause you to unintentionally apply pressure to the selector fork and other internal parts. Such small yet constant pressure on the gearbox turns it into a kind of cocktail shaker, displacing synchronizers and gears. This may in turn lead to problems with shifting gears in the long run. This seemingly harmless habit can speed up the wear and tear of gearbox components, leading to noisy or crunching gears or even a possible failure to select a gear.
Whether you own an automatic or manual transmission car, once the gears are not working well, this can cause serious problems under the hood and when you are out on the road. Moreover, transmissions are very complex as it has many moving parts, so this bad habit can easily incur huge expenses for transmission repairs.
Thus, this ought to be a reminder for you to be aware; once you have changed gear, take your hand off the gear stick and move it back to the steering wheel. Although, more recently people have been challenging this notion saying that resting your hand on the gear stick actually makes no impact on the manual transmission gearbox. Anyways, the right way to drive is to have both your hands on the steering wheel instead of one.
2. Driving with low gas in the tank
If you have not known it yet, let me emphasise it here that it is not good practise to let the tank run low until it is almost empty before refuelling. Almost all modern cars have fuel pumps located in the fuel tank; the idea is to submerge the pumping fuel on the bottom of the fuel tank which will help cool down the pump and allow it to work more efficiently.
Driving with a dangerously low tank will contribute to breaking your fuel pump as it is not cooled down by the fuel. This will inadvertently cause the fuel pump to quickly heat up which can cause it to break. When the fuel pump is burned out, you will not be able to start the car. As a result, you will be looking at a pretty hefty repair bill to undo this.
When your car is in a static state, mechanical impurities may accumulate in the fuel tank and sediment will form at the bottom of the tank. You risk sucking the ‘dregs’ into the engine when your car is in motion, possibly resulting in poor running performance and potential damage to the car in the long run. This goes to show that it is unwise to leave your fuel tank almost empty when you still intend to drive around on a regular basis.
During winter months, be sure to always leave the tank at least half-filled with fuel to avoid the formation of large amounts of condensation. In freezing conditions, the presence of water in the fuel tank can lead to its deformation and other related problems.
3. Frequent braking
Keeping your distance from the car in front and going along with the traffic will help to avoid this habit. Do not forget that the brake lights are being activated whenever you press the brakes. This means that you are not only ruining your brake system, but you also risk confusing the drivers behind you if you keep pressing on the breaks constantly, which may cause an accident.
If you keep braking unnecessarily, you better be ready to set aside a hefty sum for regular brake pad and brake disc replacements. There is no fixed standard or benchmark on the duration your car brakes should last. It ultimately depends on the quality of the installed components and the handling of the car by the driver. To avoid unexpected accidents, remember to promptly change the brake hoses when you detect that it is no longer functioning at its optimal level. Also, remember to keep your eyes on the brake fluid level and get it refilled as and when necessary.
Bear in mind that braking is a skill to be mastered and it takes a certain skill level to do it correctly. Appropriate braking will make the driving process less stressful for both driver and also passengers. Be a considerate driver to contribute to a pleasant experience on the road.
Here are some instructions for proper braking techniques:-
- Place the heel of your right foot on the floor.
- Your foot should be close enough to the pedal and the ball of your foot should touch the centre of the brake pedal.
- Remember that most of the weight of your foot should be on the floor while giving the pedal light pressure.
- Cautiously increase the pressure until the car is almost at a complete stop.
- Ease up the brake pedal a bit before coming to a complete stop.
- This action will help to keep the vehicle from bouncing back too hard.
4. Skipping regular maintenance session
Just because there is nothing wrong with the car does not mean that you should skip the regular maintenance. The key to a vehicle’s lifespan and dependability requires exactly that; a regular and thorough maintenance such as oil filter change, brake maintenance, examining the undercarriage of the car, and so on. All these should not be considered as unnecessary expenses. Having your car serviced according to the manufacturer requirements will help you tremendously in the long run and probably save you money by reducing the tendency for repairs.
By adhering to a regular servicing schedule, not only will you have a safe and dependable vehicle, it could also minimize the chances of nasty surprises and breakdowns. Of course, a well maintained car with full services record will also get you a significantly better price when you eventually decide to sell it off.
5. Ignoring suspicious sounds
Does your car start to make suspicious sounds after some time? If you answer ‘yes’ to this, have you taken the car to the service centre for a check? If you have not, then you should do it right away. Slight creaking sounds and other unusual noises may indicate a malfunction.
Many drivers tend to ignore these signs and dismiss it as something inconsequential. As a result, such cars often breakdown in the middle of the road when its’ drivers least expect it. This will be a nuisance if the driver finds himself on a deserted road or on the highway, with no help in sight. A worst case scenario, the car could breakdown in a busy highway and endanger not only the driver but other road users as well.
If and if your car should breakdown on a highway, do not panic. Immediately follow these steps to safely move your vehicle away from possible danger. First, pull over to a safe spot. Immediately when your car stops, remember to switch on the hazard lights to make other road users aware of your situation. If the car is completely broken down and you cannot start it, just push it to a safe place. Do not hesitate to ask for assistance to move your car, because the process might not be as easy as it seems. Once your car is out of the danger zone, try to diagnose the issue. If you cannot figure out the problem, call the police or roadside services to get proper help.
After reading this, I believe you would not want to take a chance in letting any usual sound go unchecked. Therefore, if your car starts emitting unnatural sounds, be sure to run proper diagnostics to identify the problem and deal with it in a timely manner.
6. Neglecting to use the hand brake
This principle applies generally for cars with automatic transmission. When you park your car on a slope, the entire burden falls on the lock gear of the output shaft of the gearbox. To successfully park on an incline, hold the foot brake and shift into park, then pull the handbrake and only then do you slowly release the foot brake. Albeit being more relevant for automatic transmission vehicles, it does not really matter if your car has a manual or an automatic transmission. Most car manufacturers will recommend the use of the parking brake to immobilize any parked vehicle.
7. Running a cold engine at high rev
Most modern engines do not need warming up. However, it is worth remembering that until the gauge indicates operating temperature, one should not run the engine at more than 2000 revolutions per minute (RPM).
You cannot simply jump in the car on a cold morning and rev it to the red line. In doing so, you will damage the piston rings or your engines valve train which could massively shorten the engine life. It is worthy to note that an engine change does not come cheap, especially if your car is on the premium end such as a Benz or BMW.
The reason for not committing such act is simple; just after the start of the engine, most of the movable parts are not yet properly lubricated or warmed up. So, if you rev it vigorously when your car has been static over the night, metal parts will rub against each other creating friction which will damage the engine internals. Even on a hot day, you should wait until the engine gets up to working temperatures before pushing at a high RPM.
In freezing conditions, it is advisable to keep the engine running for one to two minutes before pulling away. All you need to do is start the car and let it idle for a couple of minutes to keep the engine working. During this time, you can clean your windows, adjust the mirrors and your driver seat, before starting your drive.
8. Keeping your foot on the brake while driving downhill
Many drivers tend to keep their foot on the brake pedal while driving downhill to be ready to stop at any moment. This is the common practise amongst many drivers as it is thought to be a precautionary measure to avoid losing control when the car slides down the slopes. This seemingly innocuous gesture may actually lead to the brake system overheating and wear out your brake pads and discs.
Instead, the proper thing to do is to shift to a lower gear and initiate engine braking which helps to reduce the use of normal brakes. This works by reducing the speed of the engine which subsequently reduces the speed of the vehicle as well. The aim of this action is to prevent the vehicle from gaining speed too fast, especially while going downhill. Do not get scared of the noise that you will hear when you use this method of engine braking as it is pretty normal. As an assurance that this is a legit method, car racers often use this trick of downshifting to slow down the car before another turn.
Hopefully these tips and tricks will help you in your journey of being an educated driver and maintain your car in tip top condition. Last but not least, remember to drive carefully and safely.
Do you know any other bad driving habits? Please share them in the comments section below.
Brian (author) on February 21, 2021:
You're most welcome, Liz. We humans are a creature of habit. Most of the time, we tend to do what we are most comfortable with, at times innocently not knowing that it may be harmful. Hopefully, these tips will be a good reminder of what to avoid doing when driving.
Liz Westwood from UK on February 21, 2021:
After reading your article, I shall pay more attention to my driving next time I am in the car. I especially appreciate your clear explanations of how these habits can cause damage.