No one means to damage their car. It’s a major investment – intentionally damaging it would be a waste of money. It’s also the key to living your life. It allows you to get back and forth to work, to pick up the kids after school, and to get away for the weekend. However, unintentional damage is pretty common. It can stem from a number of things, including a lack of maintenance, bad driving habits, a lack of knowledge about automotive technology and more. 

Learn More about Your Car

One of the most important tips to help ensure that you’re able to avoid unintentionally damaging your vehicle is to learn the basics. 

  • Learn why oil changes are important to your engine
  • Learn why rotating your tires will extend their life
  • Learn how a dirty air filter will decrease your fuel economy
  • Learn why harsh braking can not only eat through brake pads, but damage your rotors

Looking after your car properly is an important consideration for many reasons. One of those is to ensure reliability.

  • Taking care of your car helps avoid unexpected breakdowns and other problems
  • Maintaining your car correctly will also help improve the resale value. While devaluation will still occur, the condition of your car plays a major role in the price you can demand when selling it.

In this article, we’ll cover 10 ways that you’re unintentionally killing your car, helping you to preserve your vehicle, maintain its condition, improve its reliability and avoid expensive repairs and unexpected breakdowns. 

1. Avoiding Regular Maintenance

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No, maintenance is no fun. It’s time that you could be using for something else. However, it’s vital to your car that you keep up with regular maintenance. What sorts of maintenance services are needed? These are the basics:

  • Oil changes
  • Tire rotations
  • Oil and air filter changes
  • Transmission checks
  • Differential checks on rear-wheel drive vehicles 
They’re inexpensive, do not take a lot of time, and have a major impact on the overall lifespan of your vehicle. However, they’re also easy to put off. Because they are not major services, it’s easy to forget that they’re due, or to think that you can push your car just a little farther without harming it. Eventually, all that will catch up with your vehicle, and it will leave you in the lurch when you need it. 



2. Not Checking Tire Pressure 

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Your car’s tires are actually the only point of connection between your vehicle and the surface on which you’re driving. That makes their condition incredibly important. Yes, regularly rotating and balancing your tires is vital, but you need to do more than that. 

Tread condition is an essential consideration, but there’s more affecting tread life than just how often you rotate your tires. The proper tire pressure has an impact on everything from handling capabilities to fuel economy to how long your tires last you. And, chances are good that you spent a pretty penny putting new tires on your car, so you want them to last as long as possible. 

Know what your vehicle is rated for in terms of tire pressure (note that front and rear may be different – check the placard in your driver front door frame or your owner’s manual).

  • Use an accurate pressure gauge
  • Check your tires when they’re cold (not driven)
  • Connect the gauge to the valve stem and read the pressure
  • If it is low, add air
  • It’s best to do this at least once per month, but once per week is even better
  • If one tire is consistently low, have it checked for a slow leak

Note that most cars today employ an onboard tire pressure monitoring system, or TPMS. This system uses built-in pressure-reading devices with radio transmitters in each wheel to communicate with the car’s computer. The goal is to ensure that you are alerted to a low pressure condition early on. All systems use a dash light as a warning icon – it looks like a tire with an exclamation point. Many systems do not identify which tire is low, though, meaning you’ll still need to check them all.

3. Ignoring the Check Engine Light

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You’re driving down the road, minding your own business when it happens – the check engine light comes on. You listen carefully, gauge how the car is handling, and realize that everything seems normal. That means there’s nothing wrong and you can continue driving like normal, right? Wrong.

  • If your check engine light has come on, there’s a reason for it
  • If there’s nothing obviously wrong with the way your car is operating, it could be something as simple as a loose gas cap. However, it could also be something as important as a misfire that you just didn’t feel when it occurred. It could relate to an oxygen sensor, or to the catalytic converter. 
  • Have the code checked and the situation resolved
  • Don’t put it off, or your car could leave you stuck on the side of the road

4. Using an Unqualified Mechanic

We all know one or two people with a bit of mechanical aptitude and a set of hand tools. You might have even turned to them for basic automotive help in the past to save money. That’s the wrong way to go. Look for:

  • ASE certification
  • A professional shop with appropriate tools
  • Experience with your vehicle brand
  • Experience with your make and model

Unqualified mechanics often lack: 

  • Proprietary tools
  • Vehicle/system specific knowledge
  • Advanced training needed to handle all but the most basic of maintenance tasks
That means taking your car to a backstreet shop to have a problem diagnosed could lead to serious issues. You could be charged for a problem your car actually doesn’t have, costing you money and then more time when the issue isn’t resolved. Working with a qualified mechanic ensures the best outcome for you, your car, and your bank account, ultimately.

5. Using Generic Replacement Parts 
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Today, there’s a generic version of most automotive parts on the market. They’re: 

  • Cheaper than OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts made to manufacturer standards, or made by the manufacturer
  • They’re more readily available in some cases, too
  • They’re rarely the right answer to your car maintenance needs
  • They lack the lifespan of OEM parts
  • They lack the exact fit of OEM parts
  • They lack the durability of OEM parts

Whether you’re replacing your floor mats, or you’re replacing an oxygen sensor, using OEM quality parts is an essential consideration. Yes, you’ll pay more upfront, but you’ll get a longer lifespan and better performance, reducing your overall costs. 

6. Driving on Empty

Once upon a time, you were wise to keep your gas tank at least a quarter full just to avoid running out of gas. Today’s cars feature sophisticated low-fuel warning systems, though, and can go a lot farther on “fumes”. However, that doesn’t mean that running your car on empty is a good thing. In fact, it can lead to serious problems and expensive repairs. 

The primary problem here is your fuel pump. This pump: 

  • Moves fuel from the tank to the engine, keeping you going
  • Uses fuel to cool itself and to lubricate moving parts

If the fuel level runs low, then the pump is not being cooled or lubricated properly, leading to damage and potential failure. There’s also the fact that running on empty means: 

  • The pump is picking up debris and dirt from the bottom of the tank
  • This will clog your fuel filter more quickly, and potentially lead to problems with your injection system (particularly in diesel engines)

7. Not Changing Your Oil

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Oil changes are part of your regular maintenance schedule, and we’ve covered that already. However, they’re so important that they bear closer examination. Severe driving conditions – long periods driving at highway speeds, driving in high-heat conditions, towing loads, and other situations that put extra strain on the engine can also shorten the oil’s use life. Oil is the lifeblood of your engine. It:

  • Lubricates moving parts
  • Helps to keep the engine cool during operation
  • However, it degrades over time

As it is heated and used, problems develop:

  • It loses its ability to lubricate
  • It also picks up impurities and debris from within the engine
  • It thins and can no longer help cool the engine
Eventually, it must be removed and replaced to ensure that your engine is not damaged. By pushing too far beyond your schedule oil change interval, or skipping the service altogether, you’re running a major risk of causing serious damage to the engine, up to and including causing damage so severe that the engine seizes and needs to be replaced.

When having your oil changed: 

  • Use the oil weight recommended by your manufacturer
  • Stick to the oil change schedule specified in your owner’s manual

As a note, the standard interval with conventional oil is every three months or 3,000 miles, but synthetic oils and synthetic blends can go for longer periods. Many modern vehicles have 6,000 – 10,000mile oil change intervals because of this.

8. Driving with a Dirty Air Filter 

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Your engine needs air in order to operate:

  • It mixes with fuel in order to combust and move the pistons that turn the engine
  • The air used is pulled from outside the car
  • However, air is filled with dust and dirt, as well as other debris, such as pollen
  • An air filter prevents those contaminants from reaching your engine, where they would cause serious damage

The problem is that your air filter clogs up over time, eventually needing to be replaced. Depending on where and how you drive, it’s recommended that you change your air filter roughly ever 15,000 miles or so (more frequently if you drive in dusty conditions, or use your car heavily). 

A clean air filter: 

  • Ensures proper air flow to the engine
  • Boosts fuel economy
  • Helps your engine run smoothly

It’s also something that you can usually replace on your own with basic hand tools.

The same concept applies to your fuel filter, which is responsible for preventing harmful contaminants in your gas tank from reaching the engine. However, depending on your make and model, you may not be able to change your fuel filter on your own, and you’ll need a trusted mechanic to handle that task for you.

 9. Going It Alone 

Today’s cars are as much computer as they are automobiles. This presents a wide range of problems. Even if you’re an experienced mechanic, handling some repairs on your own is a bad decision. You might be more than capable of basic tasks, like:

  • Changing your own oil
  • Replacing air filters 
  • Replacing fuel filters
  • Checking transmission fluid

However, more in-depth repairs will require access to an advanced computer system to connect to your car’s OBD II connector and interface with the onboard computer. This may be important for everything from checking the timing to monitoring exhaust output. 

Today’s advanced cars are not universally able to be worked on. They may require: 

  • Special tools
  • Specific techniques
  • Specific knowledge

Attempting to go it alone here could actually mean causing more damage, and incurring higher costs in the end.

10. Driving While the Engine Overheats

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Overheating is incredibly dangerous and damaging to your engine. Driving while your engine is overheated is:

  • A sure way to destroy it
  • The primary cause of engine replacements

The engine creates heat during normal operation. Usually, coolant and engine oil will help to keep that heat within the normal range. 

However, problems ranging from low coolant level to a stuck thermostat can cause your engine to overheat. To help prevent this problem, or to ensure an overheating issue doesn’t destroy your engine:

  • Keep an eye on your car’s temperature gauge
  • If you see the readout/needle starting to edge out of the normal range and into the hot range, find somewhere to pull over and turn off the car
  • Let it sit long enough to cool down
  • Take it to a mechanic to have the issue diagnosed
  • If you cannot drive without the engine running hot, have the car towed to avoid further damaging your engine

In Conclusion

In the end, preventing unwanted damage to your car is as simple as being an informed driver and realizing that some of your own habits and behaviors might be killing it. If you want to maximize your investment, ensure that your car is as reliable as possible, and maximize your resale value, you’ll consider the 10 issues we discussed above and how you might be responsible for damaging your own car. Taking action to change your habits now can have a major impact on the longevity and usability of your vehicle. 


Categories: Service, Body Shop