5 Surprising Ways You May Be Hurting Your Car

car-shaped adhesive bandageYou’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.

Have you downloaded GEICO Mobile yet? Check out the new Vehicle Care section, where you can view your car’s service history, open recalls, maintenance schedule and more. Download GEICO Mobile for free from the App Store or Google Play.

Read More: What’s it sound like when a car cries for help? See if you recognize any of these 7 Car Noises You Should Never Ignore.

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  1. L. leTendre says

    You will be happy to know that I have practiced all the recommended safety precautions you describe and await my certificate of 100% compliance with great anticipation.

  2. frank says

    Fuel Pump-
    The overheating of the fuel pump is not only from the cooling effect of the fuel but more importantly the pump speed. When it is Not under “load” pushing fuel the pump will free spin and cavitation.This causes it to run hotter and can cause damage to pump.
    Running low also causes internal failure of the side walls and leads to blow outs…its a hidden danger no one thinks about

  3. Thomas A. Panfil says

    The necessity of keeping the fuel pump immersed in gasoline to cool it was news to me. I rarely let my car’s gas tank get very low, but now I’ll try to refill it as son as it gets to 1/4 tank. My 1991 Dodge Spirit’s Fuel Pump failed in January. It was only a bit over 26 years old.

  4. Salem says

    My last car was totalled, because a driver failed to use their parking brake on an incline. Car rolled down their driveway, hit mine which was parked across the road. Just glad the kids who were playing behind it moved just seconds before it started rolling

  5. Paul says

    The parking pawl is not a little pin. I have taken apart automatic transmissions and the parking pawl is generally about 3/4 inch by 1/2 inch in a rectangular shape. It is more than strong enough to withstand putting the vehicle in park with the vehicle moving. The reason to use the Parking brake is to ensure that you can get it out of the Park detent easily. Setting the parking brake will also keep the car from lurching though many new cars require using the foot brake to get the transmission from Park to another gear.
    By the way, fuel pumps are designed to run for extended periods unsubmerged. If that were not true the new fuel pumps (from the mid-19902 to the present) would be failing in the heat of summer when the temperature exceeds 95F. The gasoline today is recirculated back to the tank, so on hot summer days it can get to underhood temperatures. Then the fuel pumps should be failing but they don’t. This is another urban legend.

  6. aprolifer says

    My husband thinks it’s perfectly fine to use “Park” as a parking brake on an incline. I don’t. Thanks for winning the argument for me!

  7. I. PATTERSON says

    Wow, this was helpful and very interesting knowledge.
    5 Surprising Ways You May Be Hurting Your Car and the 5 Spooky house noises you shouldn’t ignore (both)
    Important tips are great reminders!

  8. REKHA KHATRI says

    Practical points, which one tends to overlook in the day to day driving. Yes we need to pause and keep these important tips in mind.