In general, people like to think they’re good drivers. What makes a good driver, however, is often up for debate. With driver’s education classes often years behind most people, it’s also easy to develop bad habits over time. Popular Mechanics recently consulted a number of experts and came up with a list of the 10 most common mistakes drivers make.
1. Not Paying Enough Attention
When you’re piloting a 4,000-pound land missile on public roads, a lot can go wrong if you’re paying attention. If you aren’t paying attention, the potential for disaster is considerably higher. Sending text messages, taking phone calls, conversing with friends, yelling at kids, daydreaming, and pondering the meaning of life are all wonderful activities, but they seriously distract from driving. Distracted driving makes you a danger to yourself and others, and while it may prove impossible to remove every single distraction, the more you pay attention, the safer your driving will be.
2. Paying Attention to the Wrong Thing
Even if you’re paying attention to the road, some parts of the road are more important to pay attention to than others. If you’re too focused on road signs, for example, you may not notice that you’ve drifted out of your lane. If you’re paying attention to the Ferrari in your rear-view mirror, you may not notice cars slowing down in front of you. If you’re looking too far ahead, you may not see a large pothole or piece of debris in the road until it’s too late.
3. Letting Tire Pressure Get Low
Tires are the only parts of your car that connect it to the road, and for that, they’re incredibly important. For most people, tires are the last thing on their mind until they get a flat or the tire pressure light comes on. A tire needs air before the light comes on often before it looks flat to the naked eye. Ideally, you should be checking your tire pressure regularly. It will not only help your car handle better and keep you safer, but also get better gas mileage.
4. Not Improving Poor Parallel Parking Skills
For many people who don’t parallel park regularly and even some who do, the act of doing so is extremely stressful. If you haven’t ever been taught how to parallel park, it can be confusing and often leads to a lot of curb scraping. Unfortunately, regularly bumping and scraping the curb harms your tires and increases your chances of getting a flat. Practicing parallel parking in a low-pressure situation and improving your skills will go a long way towards making it easier to do it smoothly in public.
5. Unnecessarily Buying Premium Fuel
Some cars really do need premium fuel, but for the vast majority of modern cars, premium fuel is unnecessary. A car that isn’t designed to run on premium won’t perform better if you use it. On the other hand, a lot of cars that call for premium are perfectly capable of running on regular fuel. They might not make as much power, but for everyday driving, it will be fine. Be sure to check your owner’s manual to find out. You may not save more than $0.30 a gallon by switching to regular, but over the course of the year, those savings really add up.
6. Ignoring Recently Wet Roads
Even if you’re in a hurry, failing to slow down in the rain can be dangerous. It’s not just about not being able to see or the potential for hydroplaning either. Rain makes the roads slick, which reduces grip and lengthens braking distance. Roads are at their slickest during the first 10 minutes of rain, as well, when the oil that’s accumulated on the road since the last rain storm is still there. Driving more cautiously in the rain may slow you down, but it will also keep you safe.
7. Aggressively Using the Pedals
Your grandmother might not know much about cars, but the more you imitate her driving style, the better your gas mileage is going to be. Light on the accelerator and light on the brakes isn’t particularly exciting, but how you drive has a huge effect on your car’s fuel economy. Some cars have Eco modes that encourage this type of driving, but even a Prius can return disappointing fuel economy if you drive it hard enough.
8. Changing Your Mind About Turns
It’s probably been a while since that time you accidentally left your turn signal on for ten minutes, but changing your mind in the middle of executing a maneuver can still be dangerous. Even if you are about to get off at the wrong exit, it’s often safer to go ahead and do so. Getting back on the highway is only a short delay, but swerving back into your lane leaves you at risk of hitting other cars. When you’re driving, it’s best to clearly signal your intentions and make sure other drivers know exactly what you’re going to do.
9. Improperly Adjusting Your Car
Unlike tube socks and baseball caps, one size does not fit most. Mirrors, seats, seat belts, and steering wheels, and adjusting them to fit your body proportions is important for driving safety. You will be more comfortable, able to see better, and better able to respond to emergency situations if your driving position is properly adjusted. In the event of a crash, you’ll also be safer. That includes how you sit to the steering wheel. You don’t want to sit much more than 10 inches back, but you also don’t want to be closer than eight inches from the steering wheel so that you minimize your risk of injury if your airbag deploys.
10. Not Being Prepared For Routine Maintenance Costs
It should come as no surprise to drivers that their cars need oil changes, new brake pads, and new tires every now and then, but few drivers prepare for the cost of routine maintenance by budgeting for it. Setting aside $25 a month, on the other hand, will make it sting a lot less when it’s time to replace all four tires and get new brakes. If something much more expensive, like a new timing belt is needed, you’ll probably still be able to pay your rent on time. Saving for maintenance and repairs may require a little bit of sacrifice, but it will be totally worth it in the long run.