You’re a master of the road. When you get behind the wheel, you and your car are as one. It’s not your first car, nor is it your second. But after years of trial and error, you firmly believe that you’ve found the vehicular love of your life. You know its little quirks and idiosyncrasies.
You know how it will respond in any given situation. And you make sure that you get it serviced regularly to keep the engine that powers your vehicle in tip-top shape. You keep your car covered when not in use and lovingly wash and wax it to keep your paintwork looking as vivid and lustrous as the day you bought your vehicle.
But despite your diligence, even the best drivers can pick up bad habits. Not just when it comes to our behaviour on the road but when it comes to vehicle maintenance. And if there’s nobody in the cabin to correct us, we could find ourselves making the same mistakes year after year. And this can end up damaging our beloved vehicles in ways that we’re not aware of.
If you care about your car, make sure you’re not harming it in these unintentional but nonetheless damaging ways…
Driving on fumes
It’s something we’re all guilty of from time to time. We see that fuel warning light ignite on our dash and think to ourselves “just a few miles more!”. When we’re pushed for time or are put off by long queues at the petrol station, we can find ourselves pushing our cars deeper and deeper past that red line until we’re essentially running our cars on fumes. You know you’ll be able to give your car a drink soon, what difference will a few miles more make?
More than you may think, actually.
First of all, the dying dregs of your fuel tank are where all the impurities and sediment settle over time. These can creep into your engine through your fuel lines. While your fuel filter will take care of most of them, is it really worth taking the risk?
Furthermore, most furl pumps stay cool by sitting inside the fuel tank. When the fuel in your tank is reduced by more than 75%, more of the fuel tank is exposed, making it more prone to overheating and potentially requiring a replacement. If you’re worried about impurities in your tank, here’s how you can clean out your fuel system.
Making your own windscreen washer fluid
You need a clean windscreen to drive safely. But do you really need to keep paying for that expensive bottled stuff they sell in garages? It’s just water and detergent, right? Surely a homemade solution will do the job just as well?
The thrifty and the eco-conscious have been making their own windscreen washer fluid for as long as there have been cars on the road. But depending on the recipe you use, you could be risking damage to your car. If, for instance, you’re using a simple mixture of water and washing up liquid, this could cause damage to the pipes and the washer motor.
These liquids (as you’ll see from the rim of your washing up liquid bottle) can coagulate if you use too much and clog the delicate pipes causing them to burst. What’s more, this simple formula contains no anti-freezing ingredient. So if you live in an area that gets particularly cold winters, the fluid may freeze in its tank or in the pipes. Thus, attempting to use the pump will blow out the motor. It’s a relatively quick and easy fix, but one that could leave you with a streaky and smeared windscreen which is obviously a safety hazard.
There are lots of recipes for all seasons. But if you’re looking for a good all-rounder use a combination of;
- Castile / liquid soap
- Distilled water
- Rubbing alcohol or vodka
- Food colouring to make it easy to identify in the event of a leak
If you choose to add food colouring, make sure it’s a different colour to your general coolant.
Cutting costs on your tyres
One set of tyres is as good as any other, right? When you fork out for premium tyres, you’re just paying for the name, right?
Unfortunately, buying cheap budget tyres may be a false economy, as we prove in this post. Failing to get a good tyre service from a trusted fitter can be as damaging to your vehicle as failing to get an oil service or a brake service.
Keep in mind that while tyre labels are useful, they’re not quite enough to give you the fill story. Going off these the difference between a set of decent budget tyres and premium tyres like Continentals may be fairly negligible. But in real terms, the grip and stopping distances may be worlds apart. Especially in wet weather. The net result? You’ll inevitably have to brake harder and place more wear on your pads and discs.
And consistent hard braking can be significantly damaging. It can lead to warping or glazing of your rotors, it can place greater pressure on your suspension and your CV joints. It can even put pressure on your drive axles and engine mounts.
Making lots of short trips in a diesel car
It doesn’t seem like so long ago that the government was singing the praises of diesel cars and incentivising us all to buy them. In recent years, however, we’ve seen a massive U-turn from the government and even a new scrappage scheme to encourage owners of older diesel cars to trade them in for newer more eco-friendly models.
But there are many advantages to owning a diesel car, especially if you need to travel a lot of miles for work. Diesel cars largely offer better fuel economy than their petrol-chugging counterparts, and many drivers feel that the greater torque they offer gives them a better feeling of control on the road.
But if your car has a diesel engine, you (hopefully) know that they enjoy long stretches on the open road far more than short trips to the shops or urban driving. In fact, making lots of short trips in a diesel car can lead to damage that necessitates a very expensive repair.
When diesel fuel burns it creates more particulates (soot) that petrol. For safety and ecological reasons, these cars have a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) that prevents these emissions from seeping into the atmosphere. Over time, the accrual of soot can cause the DPF to clog, and you’ll see a warning light on your dash.
This is an indicator that the DPF needs to be “purged” or “regenerated”. Driving on the open road for around 20 minutes at a consistent 2,000-3,000 RPM will usually be enough to purge it. But if you don’t get the opportunity to do this, the DPF could become clogged resulting in a very costly repair.
Whatever you do, however, do not remove your DPF. Doing so may result in a fine of up to £1,000 and invalidate your insurance policy!
Switching from reverse to first while moving
We’ve all done it. You’re reversing out of your parking space, you swing around with precision and aplomb, quickly check that it’s safe to maneuver, and slide into first gear (or drive if you’re automatic) to drive away before your vehicle has slowed to a stop. And while it looks and feels cool, this habit can actually wreak havoc with your drivetrain when you do it regularly.
In a manual car you’ll usually hear the gears crunch, which gives you a pretty good idea of what this behaviour does to the gears. But in an automatic car, the warning signs are less obvious. Shifting gear before coming to a stop will cause disproportionate wear and tear on the transmission band, rather your serviceable brake discs and pads.
What’s more if you have a car with automatic transmission, repairs will inevitably be more labour-intensive, and therefore more expensive. Use your brakes to bring your car to a stop before shifting gears. A wait of jist a few seconds could save you a small fortune.
Leaving your handbrake off when parked
Sometimes we do it by accident. Sometimes we do it because we don’t believe it’s necessary to deploy the handbrake. But leaving the handbrake off when you get out of the car can actually be surprisingly damaging to your beloved vehicle.
When you don’t engage the handbrake, all of your vehicle’s weight is placed on your parking pawl. A component about the same size as your finger. Using your handbrake ensures that the load is distributed more evenly, helping this transmission component to last longer.
Riding the clutch
Finally, many of us get into the habit of riding the clutch when changing gear. And while it may make our gear changes feel smoother, it can result in excessive wear on the gearbox. And because this is a wear and tear item, it won’t be covered by your warranty. Resulting in a poorly car and a costly repair when you do this too often.