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. Old Man Johnson says

    DOES NOBODY DRIVE A STICK SHIFT ANY MORE? BACK WHEN I GREW UP THEY WOULDN”T EVEN LET YOU TAKE A DRIVING TEST ON AN AUTOMATIC AND THEY DEFINITELY WOULDN”T LET YOU JOIN THE MILITARY IF YOU COULDN”T DRIVE A STICK. KIDS THESE DAYS, I TELL YA…

    • Nora McClure says

      I love a Stick shift. They do not make many any more. You have to order one if you want it. It is sad people do not know how to drive one.

    • Stickler says

      Oldman Johnson, did you ever consider the fact that pretty much all cars these days are automatic. Even if you want to learn to drive a stick pretty much nobody has one. Are they supposed to just go out and buy a stick shift car just from learning purposes? What do you expect.

  2. Barbara Jane Casella says

    Awesome info been a customer 22 years love geico. You as an insurance company Rocks. Just love being a part of a great family.

  3. JD Wilson says

    I thus far have enjoyed paying my monthly insurance premium to Geico – trust me …..THAT’s a FIRST ! Thanks for the useful tips ! One more perhaps ? “ Don’t tip before you drive – that can really help you and your car !

  4. T Jones says

    Thank for the tips, a few of them I always knew, but I wasn’t exactly should, now it’s confirmed & I will continue they good habits for my vehicles.

  5. Vonnie Rasmussen says

    Even though I already knew these things I still enjoy reading to reasure I’m doing the right thing I need to be better on using the parking brake it was a sure thi hs when I had a stick shift I need to begin with my newer car gerring back into the habit.
    I thank you for the advice.

  6. B Freland says

    I was told over three years ago by a contractor to always engage the parking brake when parked. I thought like most individuals that when you’re in the park position that was all that was necessary. So since then, “I ALWAYS” remember to engage my parking brake.
    The other tips I practice, too, because good maintenance is essential to safety.

  7. Michelle Humphrey says

    Thanks for the Tips, when I purchased my first car almost 40 years ago in NYC my first job was in Washington, DC. This is another good tip for gas my Uncle was a mechanic he instructed me coming to DC to never let your gas go under a quarter tank the dirt settles to the bottom . That can also cause issues to the fuel pump and other issues . I left NY going south bound and always listened to my Uncles advise and never had to change a fuel pump. GEICO would love this one, my Uncle also said if your coming up at your exit and can’t get over in time just get off at the next and turn back around. Thank you Uncle Ivan for your advice he’s in Heaven.

    • Ryan says

      The tips are helpful but, a fuel pump always draws off the bottom of your tank. It is stationary and dosent move with the fuel, therfore it makes no difference if empty or full as far as keeping it from sucking dirt. Your best bet is to keep as much dirt and debris away from filler neck and a good sealing cap. Also fuel pumps have a sock to prevent most debris from coming through and if some does make it past pump hopefully the fuel filter will grab it before it enters your fuel system.

      • Frank says

        Not only that, but the gas is constantly being mixed and sloshed. Nothing settles when the engine is running. Tyne return line and vehicle motion keep all debris and gunk evenly disbursed throughout your tank.

  8. Mrs. Patty says

    Thank you for these tips! For over 20 years I have let my gas tank go to empty before I filled up. But no more!