10 Ways You’re Sentencing Your Car to an Early Grave

Broken taillight lens on a minivan

A broken taillight lens on a Sedona minivan | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Don’t you hate it when you try to fix a problem or attempt a little preventive maintenance with your car, only to find that you’ve made matters worse? While protecting your car from the strains of summer is commendable, the chances of something going horribly awry and you permanently damaging your ride can be high if you don’t know what you’re doing, so be sure to do some research before jumping in.

It’s not that we think that everyone out there is incompetent. It’s just that good intentions don’t always guarantee favorable results. If you aren’t an experienced DIY guy and feel like winging it under the hood one day, chances are you’ll muck things up royally before the day is done. But don’t feel dissuaded either. We were once noobs, too, and to this day many of us are still fixing the mistakes we made years ago, when our younger, far less competent selves decided to take on a little project one afternoon.

A rusted bolt that has seized to a car's fender well

A rusted bolt that has seized to a car’s fender well | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

But neglect, ignorance, and poor driving habits can also cause a car to crumble like a cookie in milk. While many might prefer to remain car-free in order to save money and avoid the dreaded morning commute, this sort of lifestyle decision is hard to maintain unless one resides in an urban environment. This means commuter cars are often put on the same pedestal as the blender in the kitchen, and mistreatment and neglect can be commonplace.

Fixing a car can be costly, and the mental anguish of knowing that it’s all your fault makes it all the more burdensome. So take it easy out there, consult trusted friends or family members who are reputable car buffs, and remember the following 10 tips if you want that ride to last.

1. Improper inflation

Checking tire tread with a quarter or penny is a crucial part of car ownership

Checking tire tread is a crucial and simple part of car ownership that should be done regularly | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

According to FOX News, not having enough air in your tires has been linked to a poor fuel economy and uneven/accelerated tire wear, which over time can cause wheel and alignment issues. On the other hand, over-inflation can also be damaging. Even though the sidewall says that a tire can hold 50 pounds per square inch, this doesn’t mean you should fill it up to that point. A harsh ride, uneven treadwear, and less traction are all side effects of over-inflation, so always mind the recommended tire pressure within the owner’s manual or in the driver’s side doorjamb. And don’t get overzealous when it’s time to air-up, as a lot can go wrong when the rubber hits the road!

2. Don’t wait too long to brake

A close-up of the OEM Brembo Brakes on a Porsche

A close-up of OEM Brembo Brakes | Brembo

This is a simple and completely avoidable issue: Waiting until the very last moment to hit the brakes can do a damaging number on your car, and unless you have a big brake kit, your ride is likely reeling from this kind of abuse. Your pads, rotors, and calipers are all going to wear faster if they are regularly subjected to heavy braking. Mechanics recommend planning ahead if a stop is imminent, and using a coasting technique where you are on and off the pedal in two second increments at higher speeds in order to avoid “cooking” your brakes. Also, it’s just generally not safe.

3. Haulin’ ass and burnin’ cash

A Subaru BRZ in yellow accelerates aggressively, smoking the rear tires

A Subaru BRZ in yellow accelerates aggressively, smoking the rear tires | Subaru

On the other end of the spectrum is over-throttling every chance you get. Overworking an engine unnecessarily puts all kinds of added strain on powertrain components, as everything from fuel pumps to valvetrains tries to keep up with the tachometer. Even high performance sports cars will eventually begin to show signs of premature wear if thrashed regularly, so take it easy and choose your throttle time wisely. Sure, wearing out your tires may be a bit pricey, but it’s the loud “pop” from your engine that’s going to really end up damaging your pocketbook.

4. Coolant conundrums

Add antifreeze to keep your engine from overheating in the summer and from freezing in the winter

Add antifreeze to keep your engine from overheating in the summer and from freezing in the winter | PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil via Facebook

As mandatory as coolant is, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about what to use and why. While all-in-one jugs of antifreeze are OK to use in a pinch, following the automaker’s recommended fluid choice is always the best way to make sure you aren’t damaging your car’s cooling system. Be sure to keep the water to coolant level mixture as close to 50/50 as possible, too. While pure straight water cools better than pure coolant, it can cause corrosion issues over time, and the last thing you need is a busted radiator when it’s hotter than the hinges of Hades outside.

5. The light, it burns!

Mazda CX-5

A Mazda CX-5 sits in the sun, the UV rays slowly but surely fading the SUV’s clear coat and crystal clear paint job | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

This one can be hard to avoid, but there are ways to navigate around it. While exposing a vehicle’s hardened shell to winter’s wrath for extended periods of time is not advisable either, it’s the sun that can do a really damaging number on a car’s interior. Cracked dashes, split seats, and faded upholstery can hurt the car’s value and be pricey to fix. Our advice? Buy yourself a sunshade, keep that moonroof closed, and look for some shade.

6. Filthy minded individuals

Car going through a car wash

Workers spray a car with water at Ducky’s Car Wash on July 29, 2015 in San Mateo, California | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

While not washing your car may just seem like an aesthetic problem, the toll it can take on your car over time is pretty consequential. Neglecting a car by not washing and waxing it regularly is like refusing to take a shower and then neglecting to put sunblock on before heading outside. Faded, flaking, rusted, and rotting, the build-up of road grime and UV rays are one hell of a way for a car to bite the dust. Only the owner can prevent this premature plague from spreading.

7. Oil change issues

A Jiffy Lube service blanket on a customer's car

A Jiffy Lube service blanket on a customer’s car | Jiffy Lube via Facebook

This is one that can do more damage in a short period of time than anything else listed. Regularly, people add the wrong weight of oil to their cars, fail to change it on time, drive long periods on low levels, use synthetics when they shouldn’t, or overfill the engine with the stuff. Following what is recommended in the owner’s manual is step one toward reaching prolonged automotive longevity. Step two includes regular level checks, changes, and making sure that any of America’s five most damaging auto service stations don’t cross-thread your oil drain bolt with an impact wrench.

8. Tuneup neglect

A typical automobile tune up includes everything pictured here, plus a fresh air filter

A typical automobile tune up includes everything pictured here, plus a fresh air filter | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

While not putting fresh spark plugs, air and fuel filters, and wires on a car at recommended service intervals certainly hurts engine efficiency, refusing to do so in a timely fashion means that you might be damaging your ride in a big way. Misfiring, sputtering, shaking, and stalling are all signs that it’s about to be tuneup time — and the longer you wait, the worse it’s going to get. Your engine might not blow up, but melted spark plug wires, clogged fuel filters, misfiring coils, and cracked distributor caps are all gateways to bigger problems. So nip that damaging detonation in the bud and keep that car finely tuned.

9. Skipping spring cleaning

Road salt, snow, grime, and exhaust soot cling to the dual-port exhaust on the Hyundai Veloster Rally Edition

Road salt, snow, grime, and exhaust soot cling to the dual-port exhaust on the Hyundai Veloster Rally Edition | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

This one goes out to all the northerners who have to deal with their cars being coated in damaging road salt for six months out of the year. When the weather clears in the spring, we strongly suggest taking your car to a DIY car wash where you can get down under the vehicle and really blast its underbelly. A pressure washer on a low strength setting is also a useful way of removing this cancer-causing corrosive from your car’s undercarriage. We recommend spraying your vehicle liberally once a couple of hard rains wash away most of the salt on the roads.

10. The wrong fill-up

A recent study by AAA shows that while most Americans think there's a difference between TOP TIER fuel and cheap stuff, only 12% of drivers are willing to spend the extra cash on a higher grade gasoline

A recent study by AAA shows that while most Americans think there’s a difference between TOP TIER fuel and cheap stuff, only 12% of drivers are willing to spend the extra cash on a higher grade gasoline | AAA

Saving a few cents on a gallon of gas could cost you big time, and as AAA recently discovered, it remains one of the most common ways people are damaging their cars. Deposits and corrosion are far more likely to develop in cheap gasoline that has not been fortified with the appropriate detergents and additives, ingredients that make TOP TIER fuels slightly pricier and far superior. You might save a couple bucks filling up with the inexpensive stuff, but in the long term, it’s going to cost you a lot more. Don’t believe us? Check out our full report on the dangers of using cheap gas.

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