Costly Car Maintenance Mistakes That Are Killing Your Bank Account

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: RyanMcGuire/pixabay

It’s so exciting when you purchase a new car. But then, you have to think about how to take care of it and everything that could possibly go wrong. That’s not to mention all of the money you end up spending to run it. All of this can be very overwhelming.

But don’t worry. It's all about preventing damage by avoiding harmful, unnecessary habits that cause wear and tear to your car and taking care of minor issues before they become big problems.

Constantly Resting Your Hand on the Gear Shift

Although manual cars aren't as common anymore, people who still have them should know that they’re risking damage to their vehicles when they rest their hands on the gear shift.

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Changing gears involves the selector fork and rotating collar briefly touching each other before moving the car into the new gear. When you rest your hand on the gear shift, it can cause these two components to make contact, even though you aren't changing gears. This can lead to damage due to wear and tear, ultimately requiring you to replace your transmission.

Not Checking Fluids

Engine oil, coolant, power steering fluid, brake fluid, transmission fluid and windshield washer fluid are things you need to be mindful of to take good care of your car. The most important of those are engine oil and coolant, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore the others.

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Photo Courtesy: IgorShubin/Pixabay

But they don't need excessive monitoring, either. Once or twice a year is usually enough, depending on how much you drive. Just to be safe, check before and after long road trips. If you see an indicator for a fluid light up on your dash, tend to it immediately.

Slamming on the Brakes

If you’re trying to avoid an accident, you slam on the brakes to avoid the collision. But when you’re just driving around, try to avoid hitting the brakes too hard. You can do this by paying attention to fast-changing traffic lights and being aware of your surroundings.

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When you slam on the brakes, this creates excessive heat, which will wear down the brake pads. This is not only costly, but it’s also dangerous to be riding around with brakes that don't work properly. Try to let your car coast instead of riding the brakes constantly, too.


Driving With Low Tire Pressure or Not Checking the Tire Pressure

When tires aren't inflated properly, they’re more likely to wear down faster. When that tire pressure light comes on or when you suspect that your tires aren’t inflated properly, take care of it immediately. Check the pressure using a gauge when the tires are cool, not when you’ve just finished driving somewhere.

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Go to your local gas station and fill them up using the air compressor. You just unscrew the cap and secure the air hose firmly, and the machine should beep when it has reached the right air pressure level. Try to check your tire pressure once a month, particularly in the winter when cold temperatures can alter it.

Not Using Your Emergency Brake

Sometimes, only people who drive manual transmission vehicles use their parking brakes regularly, but really, everyone should. Using the emergency brake when you park relieves pressure on your transmission, drive shaft joints, parking pawl and the clutch (if you’re driving a manual vehicle).

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Photo Courtesy: Martin Katler/Unsplash

Try to get into the habit of using the emergency brake, because doing so can prolong the functioning of all of these other mechanical components on your car. This lets you get more use out of the car and saves you money.

Ignoring Strange Sounds Coming From Your Vehicle

Weird noises coming from your vehicle are your car's way of telling you that it’s "sick." It most likely needs "treatment" in the form of some kind of repairs before even more serious issues have a chance to develop.

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If you hear weird noises while shifting gears, then there’s probably something wrong with the transmission. If you hear knocking or grinding under the hood, then that’s likely an engine issue. If there’s a squeaking noise when you hit the gas, then chances are there’s a loose fan belt. If the car rattles, then there’s something going on with the exhaust.


Using the Entire Gas Tank Before Filling It Again

Playing guessing games and pushing the gas tank to its limit aren’t things you want to do. Not only could you end up stuck somewhere with no gas, but there’s also an even bigger problem that you want to avoid.

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The gas in your car is also used as a lubricant and a coolant for the fuel pump. Running the car until the tank is bone-dry can lead to a damaged fuel pump. Get into the habit of filling up when you have a quarter-tank or so left.

Riding the Clutch

Do you drive a manual? Please don't forget to release that clutch pedal when you change gears. Riding on the clutch causes the clutch disk to slip, which damages it. Clutch replacement is quite costly.

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One reason why this may be a bad habit of yours is because of your driving position. You may not have the right seat adjustment that allows you to completely pull your foot off the clutch pedal. Not sure if you're riding the clutch accidentally? If there’s a burning smell coming from the clutch, then that means you’re probably riding it.

Loading the Roof Like You're in a Cartoon

While it was always funny to see cartoon characters or people in comedy shows overload their cars by putting ridiculous numbers of things on the roofs (and even though it was funny when those items subsequently broke free of the straps and tumbled off the roof) if that happened to you, you wouldn’t be laughing.

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Putting excessive weight on the roof of your car means that you’re more likely to damage your vehicle with dings and scrapes. Plus, it really is a safety hazard if the straps break.


Putting Water Instead of Coolant in the Radiator

If you have no other option, it’s fine to temporarily put water in the radiator so that you can drive to the store to get coolant. But don't think you can just let the water be and wait to change it back.

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Water can either overheat or freeze, neither of which are good for your car. If the water did freeze, you might have to replace the cylinder head — not a cheap proposition. Only use water if you have no other options, and replace it with proper coolant as soon as you can.

Putting Off Scheduled Maintenance

It’s not always pleasant to realize that, after you buy this expensive machine, you have to keep spending money on it to maintain it. But it is money well spent. You know the saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? You’re investing some money to keep yourself from having to spend an even larger amount of money later on.

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Oil changes are a crucial part of maintenance, but you also need to get tune-ups and inspections to catch small issues before they turn into big problems. When you sell the car, having this detailed track record of maintenance means that you may be able to sell it for more money.

Ignoring Those Dashboard Warning Lights

It’s not a good feeling when those lights turn on. You start to panic about the possibly huge bill you’re about to get from the repair shop. But ignoring those signs only makes those bad feelings even worse.

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Sometimes those lights come on because you’ve already been putting off repairing something, and now it's a real issue. And if it's not obvious, driving a car that has a problem is not safe in any way. Take the time to get your car repaired — or give it the fluids it needs — before you get into serious trouble.


Putting the Wrong Oil in the Car

Keeping the oil levels up in between changes is essential, but don't just guess at what kind of oil your car uses. Check your owner's manual. Every type of car has a specific viscosity of oil that it needs.

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When you use oil with the wrong viscosity for your vehicle, it can lead to the car getting much worse gas mileage. The wrong oil can also lead to leaks and sometimes even burn, which damages the engine. In some cases, the wrong oil can prevent the engine from starting.

Not Washing Your Car Often

The general rule of thumb is to wash your car every two weeks, depending on how often you drive it. That may sound extreme, but it’s especially important if you live in an area where your vehicle is constantly exposed to harsh elements. This can include everything from snow, sand and tree sap to bird droppings and salty air.

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When your car is exposed to these elements for prolonged periods of time without a wash, it can lead to rusting. This is especially bad for your car’s undercarriage. It’s also not good for the clear coat on the car, which protects the paint from chipping.

Driving Through Deep Water

It looks impressive on TV and in commercials when the speeding car driving through the mountains hits that big puddle of water and splashes it everywhere. But it's not that cool in real life.

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First of all, your car could hydroplane and you could lose control of your vehicle, ending up in a collision. Second, even if your car manages to get through the puddle, if the water levels are too high, you could be looking at some serious damage to your engine.


Putting Off or Skipping Oil Changes

Oil for a car is like blood for a human being. You need blood to live, and you need that blood to flow freely through your body, just like the oil in a car needs to be full and flowing freely. The only way that happens is if you get your oil changed when you're supposed to.

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Otherwise, the oil degrades. Your car may start emitting white smoke, which means you may have blown a head gasket after an oil leak. That repair can cost thousands of dollars.

Shifting Into Reverse When the Car Is Still Moving Forward

We’ve all had those days when we’re running late and are having trouble finding parking. Then, a spot opens up on the street. We try to parallel park as fast as we possibly can. This might lead some of us to accidentally put the car in reverse when it is still rolling forward.

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A lot of newer cars have been mechanically engineered to better handle this action without breaking down. However, older cars and especially manual cars can suffer excessive wear and damage if this happens to them too much.

Defrosting the Windshield With Hot Water

Scraping the ice off the windshield in the winter is not a fun job, but it’s a necessary one. If you’re in a hurry, it can seem like a waste of time, leading you to try out seemingly faster options. But pouring hot water on your windshield isn’t going to defrost the window any faster. Hot water isn't actually that effective at removing the ice.

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If the temperature difference between the icy car and the boiling hot water is too drastic, it could crack the windshield. Forget the ice; after that, you still won’t be able to see out the glass. You’ll end up needing to replace it.


Pumping the Wrong Fuel Into Your Car

Pay close attention to the type of fuel you’re putting in the car. If you have a diesel-fueled vehicle, don’t ever put gasoline in it. If you do, the damage will be almost immediate and result in repairs in the thousands of dollars.

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If you do the opposite and put diesel in a gasoline-fueled vehicle, the damage can be just as severe. Using the wrong octane gas (regular vs. premium) is not really an issue though, especially in newer cars. In that situation, the gas mileage probably just won’t be as good.

Not Reading the Owner's Manual

The first thing you should do — that not a lot of people bother to do — when you purchase a new vehicle is read the owner's manual. Reading the owner's manual of a car is like learning how to keep the car from falling apart.

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At the very least, you should know what the dashboard alerts mean, how to operate the defroster and other controls, what oil and fuel to use and what tire pressure your tires require. Knowing how to take care of your car is simple. Just take the time to learn what you need to know early on so you’re prepared for any trouble that comes your way.

Forgetting to Change the Interior Air Filters

Mechanics usually take care of the engine filter, but you need to be aware of the filters in the cabin of the car. Air filters keep out dust, dirt, allergens, bad odors and anything else that's funky and coming from the air outside the car.

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Air filters aren't that expensive. They’re easy to replace, though, and they’ll make driving in the car a more pleasant experience. They can also keep the car looking and smelling good, which helps it maintain some resale value. It's an investment for both your nose and your wallet.


Keeping Winter Tires on the Car All Year

There’s a reason why they’re called winter tires. They’re effective and helpful during winter, but they’re terrible for the rest of the year. Due to their composition, they’re squishier and not very good at maneuvering in dry weather. They also don’t last as long and get poor fuel economy (which means you’re spending more money on gas).

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It’s cheaper to swap the tires twice a year than to keep spending the money to get new tires at shorter intervals. Take the time to make the swap when the weather starts to chill — and thaw.

Speeding Over Potholes and Speed Bumps

In total, potholes cost Americans $3 billion in damage every single year. Most of that damage happens when bulging tires roll over these road hazards. Next is damage to the wheels, exhaust, suspension and, for cars that are low to the ground, the undercarriage.

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The same risks apply to speed bumps. When you go too fast over a speed bump, the shocks on the car aren’t able to absorb the impact. The shocks then get worn down and damaged, which can cost you big time. Take it easy on those bumps on the road; your car will thank you.

Using Unqualified Shops to Fix Your Car

You wouldn't allow someone who didn’t go to medical school to perform surgery on you, right? So why would you let an unqualified mechanic work on your car?

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Even if it's cheaper to use the unqualified mechanic, it’ll be more expensive in the long run. An unqualified mechanic could botch the repair, break something else or not know to check a part of the car. When that piece breaks later, it’ll cost you more money. It's much better to pay a more expensive bill to get a fully qualified mechanic.


Paying for Services You Can Do on Your Own

There are complex services your car requires that are best handled by a professional. But there are also simple tasks that you can do yourself to save some money.

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It’s pretty simple to replace your windshield wipers and air filters, and there’s no sense in hiring someone to do something that you can handle yourself. But be sure to draw the line at complicated services, like those involving anything electrical or anything else that's potentially dangerous.

Using the Wrong Cleaning Products

Make sure to get cleaning products that are actually meant for cars. There’s a reason why they’re sold in auto-supply shops. Don't think you can use dish soap from the kitchen and get it to do the same job.

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If you’re going to use a car wash service to clean your car, use a DIY one. Although it’s easier to use an automatic drive-thru, those put the car finish and paint at risk. They might even contaminate your car with gunk from the vehicles that went through before you.

Neglecting Tire Rotations

Taking care of your car tires is very important for overall car maintenance. One part of tire maintenance that people often forget to handle is rotating the tires. It’s important because rotating the tires ensures that the tire treads wear down evenly, keeping you safer.

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The weights on the front and rear axles are not the same. So, you need to rotate the tires to even out the wear they receive. It’s recommended to rotate the tires as often as you change the oil in the car — roughly every 5,000 miles or every six months.


Forgetting to Lubricate Hinges on the Trunk and Doors

The hinges on both the trunk and the car doors require grease to work properly. It’s recommended to apply grease to all of the hinges at least once a year.

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When you get a squeaky sound coming from any of the hinges, apply lubricant right away. If left unattended, your doors could come loose or hang off-center, which makes it hard to open and close the door. Or, the hinges could bend or break. Greasing this hardware can also prevent rusty or sticky hinges from becoming a huge annoyance in your life.

Driving the Car Too Hot or Too Cold

Newer cars are better at adjusting to cold temperatures, but until the engine is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, either wait it out or drive slowly to give the engine a chance to warm up.

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On the other side of the coin, driving an overheated engine is an even worse idea. It could lead to a blown head gasket. How do you know if your car is overheating? Watch your temperature gauge and check your coolant levels. If you find these showing that your car is too hot, pull over and let the engine cool down.

Not Doing At-home Inspections

Even if none of the above tasks are things you can remember to do right away, try to at least do regular at-home inspections of your car. The best way to take care of your car is to find problems and fix them before they become even messier — and more expensive.

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Your inspection checklist should include looking at: the tire pressure, fluids (oil, coolant, brake fluid), air filters and the battery. After you inspect all of those components, take notes on what needs to be fixed soon. Make plans to fix whatever already needs attention. That way, you can stop car problems before they start.