The Most Expensive Ways You’re Accidentally Damaging Your Car

Man checks under hood of broken down car
Young man with broken-down car | michaeljung/Getty Images

Even if your car is messy, you probably aren’t purposely trying to ruin your vehicle. But these machines take a lot of maintenance. Unless someone taught you the ins and outs of vehicle care, there’s likely a lot you don’t know. These are common ways people unknowingly harm their cars and lower the resale value.

Not using your parking brake

Using your parking brake (or emergency brake) is not just for very, very steep hills. If you don’t use your parking brake, you risk straining your transmission — a costly repair. It’s a small thing to do to keep your car in good shape for as long as possible.

Putting off repairs

No one likes getting their car repaired. But staying on top of minor repairs can prevent the need for more extensive fixes later. For example, if you don’t replace a dirty air filter, it could stress your heater fan until it fails. Plus, repairs keep you safe. If your car fails, your risk of a wreck goes up!

Not washing your car regularly

Everyone loves a clean car. But it’s far more than cosmetic. Dirt, sap, and bird droppings can scratch your vehicle’s paint. And if you live in a snowy state that uses salt on the roads, it can hurt the undercarriage of your car. Chemicals used on pavement can cause damage and rust, too. So consider this your excuse to get that car wash subscription!

Not paying attention to leaks

If your vehicle is leaking fluid, don’t ignore it. You can quickly determine the source by the color. A brown or black leak is usually oil; red liquid comes from the power steering fluid or transmission; coolant leaks are typically slimy and bright. Leaking fluid often indicates a larger issue, so it’s essential to get your car inspected so you don’t end up with a more expensive problem later.

Ignoring the warning lights

Okay, we’re all guilty of this. But those lights exist for a reason. Afraid to drop the big bucks to take your car to a mechanic? Many auto stores, like AutoZone, will run diagnostics for free so you know what to prepare for.

Hitting potholes

Now and then, driving over a pothole is inevitable. But if you can, it’s best to avoid them or at least take them at a slower speed. Potholes can bend your wheels, throw your car out of alignment, and even break suspension components.

Not regularly checking the tire pressure

We’ve all seen shredded tires on the highway. Keeping your wheels at the right pressure is essential. If your tire pressure is too low or high, you’re at a much bigger risk of a severe accident. The good news is when you complete routine maintenance, they check tire pressure. And if you suspect something is off, you can always add air to your tires yourself.

Parking under trees

Parking under trees is a good way to protect your vehicle from hail and keep your car cool in the hot sun, right? But you’re also potentially harming your car’s resale value because leaves and sap scratch the paint. Try to avoid parking under trees and opt for a sunshade or parking garage.

Smoking in your car

Aside from the stink, the chemicals in cigarette smoke bond with the car’s materials, causing discoloration and making the smell permanent. Plus, Kelley Blue Book confirms smoking in a car decreases the value. If you aren’t going to quit smoking, you can at least consider a smokeless nicotine alternative, like gum or lozenges, in the car.

Not keeping maintenance records

If you keep up with your car maintenance, good for you! You’re encouraging the longevity of the car and keeping yourself safe. But if you don’t save the maintenance records, it does nothing for you when it’s time to sell. So file those papers away so you can show potential buyers how well you cared for the car!

Not getting regular oil changes

Woman looks under the hood of a broken car
Young woman checks oil | grinvalds/Getty Images

You’re supposed to change your oil every 3,000 miles for a regular vehicle. But it’s easy to lose track and go far too long without an oil change. They truly are necessary to run your engine correctly. Otherwise, you’re looking at thousands of dollars to repair an engine versus a little over $100 a year for oil changes.

Tinting your windows

If you want to make the most money when you sell your car, it’s best to keep it as close to stock as possible. While you may love the privacy of tinted windows, not all buyers like it. Plus, tinted-window laws are different in each state. So, it’s best to keep those windows sans tint.

Having the wrong paint color

Consider the resale value of every car color. Kelley Blue Book shares that silver, white, and black cars have the highest resale value. Of course, favorite shades change over time, but neutral colors are tried and true.

Putting too many or not enough miles on your car

If you’re looking to get the most money out of a car when you sell it, it’s essential to know selling milestones. Vehicles typically decrease in value at 30,000 miles, 60,000 miles, and then 100,000 miles. Selling your car before you hit one of these milestones will get you more money than after you pass them.

However, when buyers consider a 10-year-old car with only 30,000 miles on it, they should know that rubber parts and other components weren’t used enough and may need to be replaced. So, consider selling it while the getting is good.