5 Tiny Car Habits that Can Save You Thousands

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Last updated on January 27, 2021 Comments: 1

After a freshman year of bumming rides and hailing Nashville taxis (pre-Uber), my university finally granted me a parking pass for my aging, tan Camry. A family hand-me-down with six-figures on the odometer, broken window motors, and the aesthetic appeal of a CRT monitor, the ol’ Camry was still infinitely better than having no car at all.

Packaged with the car came monthly checkups from Dad. “Are your tires inflated?” “Have you changed the oil?” “Have you checked the brakes lately?”  I begrudgingly spent entire Saturdays at the shop ensuring my answers to these questions would consistently be “yes.”

I’m grateful that my dad, like millions of other dads in the world, drilled basic car maintenance into my head. Little tune-ups are what keep our cars on the road and out of the shop. Timely oil changes alone can mean the difference between cruising down the highway versus bellowing smoke on the shoulder.

Beyond the common “dad-isms,” however, lies a deeper set of basics you can perform to further prolong the life and performance of your car. These seemingly innocuous changes and minimal investments can pay off dividends well past the 100k mark.

Here are five tiny car habits that you can teach your dad to return the favor.

1. Come to a Complete Stop before Shifting from Reverse into Drive

Cost: Free

Potential Savings: $500+

We’ve all done it. You’re backing out of a spot, and your car is going a gentle 5mph backwards, so you shift into drive without stopping and your car clunks forward. It’s not a bothersome jolt, so you develop a bad habit.

Consider this: if your brakes aren’t stopping your car, what is?

The answer is a combination of your clutch, transmission, and the universal joints of your drivetrain–parts that aren’t designed to reverse the momentum of a two-ton car.

Shifting into drive from reverse at low speed isn’t a widely-condemned car sin because it doesn’t cause immediate damage. It does, however, significantly reduce the lifespan of these parts. A single cracked u-joint can cost over $500 to replace, and a clunky transmission can render an older car nearly valueless.

Developing a habit of stopping before shifting can prevent your car from getting arthritis into its golden years.

2. Use Fuel System Cleaners Every 3000 Miles

Cost: $5

Potential Savings: $1000+

Between your gas tank and your engine lie your fuel injectors, which like a sprinkler system, spray a fine mist of gas into your intake manifold to begin the process of internal combustion.

Naturally, over time, the tiny openings in your fuel injectors become partially or even fully blocked by carbon buildup from the additives in gasoline. This results in lower MPG, horsepower loss, and can even lead to you having to replace your fuel injectors, which can cost well over $1000.

To preserve power and MPG, and to keep your little gas sprinklers happy and functioning, you can pour a $5-$20 bottle of fuel system cleaner into your empty gas tank before filling up. Products like BG 44K, Seafoam, and Chevron Techron act like Drain-Ofor your car, flushing out junk and buildup to improve overall performance.

Though we’re fans of Seafoam, we can’t argue with the 6-pack of Chevron Techron Costco sells for $15.

3. Avoid Drive Thru / Drive up Car Washes, and DIY Instead

Cost: $20 and elbow grease

Potential Savings: 20% of your car’s value

For $8, it’s mighty tempting to have someone else (or a robot) wash your car for you. However, if your car could express itself, the site of a car wash service would make it whimper in fear like a dog on its way to the vet.

Avoid, at all costs, any automatic car wash without “touchless” in the name. These car washes use abrasive brushes spun at high speed to dry your car, but by nature, these washes are older and their brushes have gathered grime and particles from hundreds of other cars. Your sensitive clear coat, which protects your underlying paint and provides shine, would be safer driving through a sandstorm.

Likewise, the attendants at a drive-up hand wash service may do an acceptable job of cleaning your car, but no car wash can afford to use five new microfiber towels on each car they dry. Instead, you’ll be sharing a towel with the muddy Jeep Wrangler before you, whose gunk and particles can leave tiny scratches in your clear coat.

Damage to your clear coat can reduce its shine, and less shiny cars sell for up to 20% less than identical but more photogenic models. Do yourself and your car a favor, and wash your car yourself at least once a month.

4. Always Use Your Parking Brake, Even on Flat Surfaces

Cost: Free

Potential Savings: $500+

Leaving your car in P for Park is good enough before hopping out, right? Parking brakes are just for inclines, right? Wrong!

Your parking “gear” is really just a tiny little notch that slides into your gears called the parking pawl. The pawl’s only job is to prevent power from reaching the drivetrain while the engine is running; it is not to keep the car stationary.

Keeping your car from escaping is the parking brake’s job. When you engage the parking brake, a ring of tiny little brakes expands to create friction inside your brake disc, preventing unintentional movement. The power of your car can overcome this friction, however, which is why you can still drive off with the parking brake on, making your car smell like the inside of a toaster.

If you don’t engage your parking brake and only leave it in P, your car’s entire weight rests on the tiny parking pawl, which can erode and break. You’ll know your pawl is broken if you leave it in park, get out, and your car rolls into the street.

To replace a shattered pawl is rarely cheaper than $500, so get in the habit of using your parking brake right away.

5. Drive Your Car Every 3 Weeks

Cost: Free

Potential Savings: $500+

With the emergence of ridesharing and the comparatively cheap costs of riding public transport, it’s easy to let your car sit in the street for weeks, even months, until absolutely needed for a road trip or Target run. However, cars left idle for just a month become vulnerable to a host of issues.

Just a month of disuse can fully deplete a car battery, reducing its longevity and necessitating a jump from your creepy neighbor. Plus, stagnant gas and oil can create buildup, reducing engine health and accelerating the need for a flush. Finally, tires tend to rapidly lose pressure in the winter, and your car’s weight sitting on a flatter tire can create uneven wear.

Thankfully, all three of these automotive afflictions, among others, can be prevented by simply taking your car out for a 10-mile joyride every three weeks.

Wrapping Up

Aside from simply saving you thousands, these simple habits can prolong your car’s lifespan by years, delaying the need for a replacement so you can focus your finances on investments, education, or your first home. Regardless of whether you love or hate your car, it’s undeniably an asset, and one you’ll want depreciates as slowly as possible.

That being said, which of the 5 Tiny Car Habits surprised you? Do you have any to add? Let us know in the comments below!

Article comments

1 comment
Paul says:

I totally agree with this 5 tips