An open hood of a vehicle showing engine and other components, with a mechanic's hands holding a tool

Driving Habits That Hurt Your Vehicle (and Your Wallet).

October 07, 2016 / Mathieu Rainville

Most of us give little thought to what goes on under the hood of our cars, or anywhere outside of our air-conditioned bubble, really. We push the go pedal with our right foot and, in the eternal words of Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson, “witchcraft happens and you go faster."

Still, it should come as no surprise that the way we drive has an effect on the reliability and lifespan of a car’s systems and components. This explains in part why some people are able to rack up several hundred thousand kilometres on their vehicles with little more than regular oil and tire changes, while others need to have their engine rebuilt, or transmission replaced, before they even reach the 100,000 kilometres milestone.

Not sure what you’re doing wrong to your car, if anything? Well, if you do any of the following, stop it right now.

Forgetting to Change the Oil.

The single most important thing you can do to maintain your car is to change the oil and filter according to the manufacturer’s specifications. If you change the oil yourself, make sure to use the right viscosity for the conditions – your owner’s manual will specify which oils are best for your car. In any case, if you drive a lot and dread frequent oil changes, use a good quality synthetic oil, which can withstand longer oil change intervals.

Riding the Brake Pedal.

It takes very little pressure on the brake pedal to have the pads come in contact with the brake rotors. If sustained, this little bit of pressure quickly builds up heat, which makes both your pads and rotors wear down a lot faster.

When driving down a hill, try to brake in short spurts instead of riding the brake pedal to limit your speed. Letting go of the pedal for a moment allows your brakes to cool down just enough to avoid premature wear.

Revving Your Cold Engine in the Winter.

When an engine is cold, the thick oil has trouble circulating to all the critical parts of the engine. So it’s best to not stress the engine further by revving it needlessly. What you might gain in warm-up speed, you lose in long-term wear. Let your engine idle its way up to operating temperature instead – it’ll be all warmed up and ready to go in a minute or so.

Forgetting to Use the Parking Brake (on an Automatic Transmission).

We’re all guilty of this to some extent – in a rush to be somewhere, we park, set the shifter to "P", turn off the ignition and step out of the car as it inches forward or backward before coming to a rest. Who needs a parking brake, right? Wrong. Parking this way stresses your transmission, even more so if you’re parking on a hill. The much gentler way to park is to shift to neutral (with the foot brake on), apply the parking brake, release the foot brake to let the car rest against the parking brake, then shift to "P".

Driving with the Gas Tank Nearly Empty All the Time.

The bottom of your gas tank is full of crap. No really. That’s where sediments and assorted debris settle, so when you let your gas level run low, you’re forcing your car to drink all that filth, which can clog your fuel filter and even mess up your engine’s combustion chambers. Keep your tank at least half full to avoid these risks.

Using the Curb to Parallel Park.

If you’re one of those drivers who like to briefly ride the curb when you parallel park, stop it now. Unless your daily driver happens to be an off-roader, you’re going to mess up your wheels along with their alignment, which will in turn cause all sorts of driveability issues.

Avoiding these bad habits is actually pretty easy and it can go a long way toward keeping your beloved car in top shape for years to come. Plus you’ll likely save some serious cash that would otherwise have gone to cover replacement parts and expensive hourly rates at your local garage. 

For more info on safe driving habits, read CAA’s Driving Safely guide.