Most people want their car to last as long as possible. Ideally, they will only encounter a few small problems as they drive it. The reality, however, is that most people don’t take great care of their car. They seldom clean it. They drive it a little rough. Basically, they give little thought to the vehicle as long as it gets them where they are going.

Unbeknownst to most of us, there are things we do unintentionally that inadvertently destroy our cars. These bad habits can take years off its usable life. Some of these are little things, while others are bigger deals. Realizing that you are hurting your car is the first step to protecting it from any more harm. Consider the following list a helpful warning.

Not Giving the Car Enough Time to Warm Up

This one falls into the “small” category. Most people are guilty of it. We’re talking about not giving your car enough time to warm up once you start it. You just jam it into gear and take off. This is hard on the car’s engine in any environment, but it’s especially bad in cold climates.

The engine oil doesn’t lubricate nearly as well when it’s cold. All the other parts in an engine are designed to operate within a certain temperature range too. Starting the engine and driving the car right away stresses the items under the hood. The good news is that newer model cars warm up much faster than older ones. However, you should still wait at least a minute or so before driving off.

Using the Wrong Engine Oil

Another common mistake is using the wrong engine oil for your vehicle. Believe it or not, there is actually a difference between 5W-30 and 10W-30 engine oil. The thickness of the oil, known as the viscosity, effects how the oil does its job. Each car engine was designed for a specific viscosity.

For this reason, it’s important to adhere to the manufacturer’s recommendation when it comes to engine oil. This is conveniently found in the owner’s manual. Check the type of oil that your car takes. Remember it (write it down if you have to) and stick to it. Your car will thank you with miles of problem-free driving.

Shifting Into Drive While the Car is Rolling Backwards

Any time a vehicle goes from reverse into forward (or vice versa), it should be done while the car is at a full stop. However, most of us are guilty of switching from reverse to forward without completely stopping. We may not give this action much thought, but it hurts the engine.

At less than five mph, the average car on the road today exerts more force than a bullet fired out of a gun. Then you’re asking the engine to stop that force immediately. The bottom line is that this action is one of the quickest ways to ruin a car’s transmission. Transmission repairs are among the most expensive on any vehicle, so avoid doing this at all costs.

Not Slowing Down for Speed Bumps or Avoiding Pot Holes

Let’s talk shocks, suspension, and wheel alignment. Nothing will destroy all three quicker than hitting a speed bump too fast or carelessly running over a pot hole. Slowing down for that speed bump or swerving around that pot hole may seem like a no-brainer. However, lots of us don’t bother. It ends up costing a fair amount of cash for new shocks, a suspension repair, and a wheel alignment.

If the steering wheel on your car vibrates when driving on the highway, chances are it’s because you hit a pot hole and the wheel alignment on your vehicle is screwed up. Fortunately, these costly repairs can be avoided by simply taking the time to avoid pot holes and slow down when approaching speed bumps.

Defrosting the Windshield With Hot Water

This is an old trick for those who live in winter climates. However, as more than one person has discovered, when you pour hot water onto ice cold glass, it breaks. Shatters, actually. Trust us, this can happen. It’s both shocking and embarrassing when it does. And costly. Don’t be in such a rush!

Take the time to let your car warm up. Let the defrosters clear the windshield. Better yet, take the time to scrape the windows yourself. If you live in a place that experiences winter, you need to have an ice scrapper scrapper under your seat.

If you can, always park your car in a garage during the winter. When that’s not possible, try to park the car facing the sun. Let nature warm the windshield in the morning. These are the best ways to keep your windshield free of ice. You can also buy a product like the Frost Guard to help.

Driving With Winter Tires on the Car All Year Long

This one is potentially dangerous. Winter tires were made for winter driving. Keeping them on throughout the year is never a good idea. The tires wear down super fast in summer temperatures. The tires can actually start to melt if driven on highways in the hot months of July and August. This reduces the tread quickly. It also means your tires won’t be very effective once winter rolls around again.

If you’re tempted to keep your winter tires on for the whole year, avoid them altogether. Just buy all-season tires instead. These are tires that can be driven on in all weather and temperatures, including winter. While they aren’t quite as reliable as true winter tires, they are the best option for anyone who doesn’t want the hassle of switching tires twice a year.

Using Water Instead of Coolant in the Radiator

Water is readily available. It’s a lot cheaper than buying coolant, too. So it’s not surprising that many people opt to pour plain water into their car radiator instead of water/coolant mix as recommended by the manufacturer. Here’s why it’s bad idea. During summer, untreated water can approach its boiling point given the pressure of most cooling systems. That can cause a radiator to overheat and blow. In winter, if that same water freezes, it will expand and cause major problems. It could even crack the engine block. Be smart and use the correct mix of water and coolant as recommended.

Using the Wrong Cleaning Products

If you are one of those people who likes to clean and detail your car yourself, take note that you may be using the wrong cleaning products. For example, cleaning tinted windows with Windex will cause them to discolor due to the ammonia. In fact, Windex can turn tinted windows a strange purple shade.

Many of the cleaners sold for car upholstery can also be problematic. Cheap ones can lead to discoloration or cause vinyl and leather seats to fade. The truth is that the best (and safest) cleaner to use on the exterior and interior of a vehicle is water. You cannot go wrong with plain old fashioned water. It removes most dirt and debris quickly and easily. Plus, it won’t damage the interior or exterior of a car.

Not Using the Parking Brake

Here’s another one that may seem obvious. However, studies show that the majority of North American drivers don’t use their parking brakes. In fact, many drivers wrongly assume that the parking brake is optional. Or that it should only used when parking on a steep incline. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s not just drivers in San Francisco who need to use their parking brake.

Parking brakes actually lock the wheels on a car, ensuring that it doesn’t roll or move when parked. It also protects the transmission. The vehicle is not meant to be held in place by the transmission alone. Especially against the force of gravity. That is what the parking brake is for. Do yourself a favor and use the parking brake whenever you park your car. Just remember to release the parking brake before driving off.

Ignoring Those Weird Sounds You Hear

Everyone knows what their car sounds like normally. Or what it should sound like, at least. When a strange noise starts — whether it’s a knocking under the hood or a grinding sound at the tires — you’ll hear it. However, most choose to ignore those noises. As long as the car still starts, drives, and gets them where they want to go, how bad could it be? Huge mistake!

That knocking, grinding, or squeaking noise is a warning to the driver. It means that there’s a problem. Ignoring these sounds will only end up costing you more money in repairs in the long run. The engine, brakes, rotors, or other parts of the car will eventually break altogether. Your car will end up in a garage and you’ll be stick with a costly repair bill. Or, worse, you will cause an accident. It’s always better to bite the bullet and pay to fix the problem early, before it mutates into something worse.

Running on Empty

Are you one of those people who only fills up your car once the gas light comes on? If yes, you need to know that this is a problem. You should never run your car right on empty. Or even close to empty. Fill it up regularly!

The fuel in the gas tank actually helps to cool down the fuel pump and engine in a vehicle. While you may tell yourself that you are saving money by fueling less often, that’s false. The truth is that you’re actually setting your car up for major problems over time. The general rule of thumb is to keep a fuel tank at least a quarter (25%) full at all times. It will help you avoid fuel pump and engine issues down the road. This rule will also ensure that you do not get stranded on the side of the road with no gas in your car.

Ignoring Dashboard Symbols When They Come On

Most of us don’t even know what all the symbols on our dashboard mean. How many of us need to check the owner’s manual (or Google) when it happens? As is usually the case, if the car still works, many drivers just ignore those pesky symbols on the dashboard. Yes, even the one that means check or service the engine soon. Most of us just hope the dashboard symbol will go away on its own. However, you should only ignore these symbols at your own peril.

Those symbols are letting you know that there is an issue with your car. Yes, it needs to be checked and probably fixed. The problem won’t just go away with some wishful thinking. Ignoring the check engine light and continuing to drive will eventually lead to big issues and costly repairs. Listen to your car and respond appropriately. Take your ride to a mechanic and have it checked. Or investigate potential problems yourself, if you’re handy with a wrench. This is the best way to prolong the life of your car and stay safe on the roads.


This article was worked on by a variety of people from the Autoversed team, including freelancers, editors, and/or other full-time employees.