You’re driving down the highway when you notice the gas needle creeping toward empty. Do you pull off at the next rest stop, or do you push your luck and see how far you can go?
If you’re a fan of “gas-gauge chicken,” consider this: It may actually be damaging your car.
True, modern cars are more dependable than their predecessors, but some common behaviors can put unnecessary wear and tear on a vehicle. “A car is an investment,” says Richard Reina, product training director at CARiD.com. So not only should you perform regular maintenance, he says, but you should also avoid the following.
Forgetting the Parking Brake
“With automatic transmission cars,” says Reina, “people presume that they don’t need the parking brake.” But that isn’t so. Putting the car in park engages the parking pawl, a small metal pin that disengages the transmission’s output. This can put (literally) tons of weight on that little metal pin, especially on an incline—an unintended distribution of pressure that can cause premature wear on the pawl. The job of the parking brake is to immobilize the wheels, easing the burden while also providing a measure of protection for the pawl.
Letting Your Tires Get Low
Each new vehicle today must, by law, have a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), which alerts the driver when one of the tires gets low. Some drivers assume they don’t have to check their tires unless the TPMS light goes on. But this is a mistake, says Reina. Before the threshold for the TPMS is even reached, driving with an underinflated tire can affect your vehicle’s performance. “Even being a few pounds off,” says Reina, “can affect your fuel economy, as well as how the car handles and brakes.”
Keeping the Tank Near Empty
Reina says he used to run his fuel tank down near empty before he learned how much it was damaging his fuel pump, an electric tool designed to remain immersed in the car’s fuel. When gas runs very low, the fuel pump can be exposed and begin to overheat. It cools again when the tank is full, but over time, that cycle of cooling and heating can cause damage. “I try to refill my tank when I get to one quarter or one eighth of a tank, to extend the fuel pump’s life,” he says.
Ignoring Your Windshield Wipers
Failing to change your wiper blades can result in diminished performance and even in scratched windshields, which in inclement weather can pose serious safety risks due to distorted visibility. “I recommend changing your wiper blades once a year,” says Reina. “Just before winter, when you want the blades to really clean the windshield well.” Consider changing them sooner if your car usually sits outside, or if you live in a warm climate.
Shifting Abruptly from Reverse to Drive
Have you ever noticed the way your car lurches when you shift from reverse to drive without coming to a complete stop? This abrupt change in direction puts unnecessary strain on your transmission and driveline components, and it can cause that uncomfortable shudder. If you’re not in the habit of coming to a complete stop before changing gears, give it a try—your transmission will thank you.
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