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13 Ways You’re Shortening the Life of Your Car

Put the brakes on these common mistakes to help keep your car on the road and out of the shop

deep potholes in the road make driving hazardouskoontz/Shutterstock

Banging through potholes

“Your car’s suspension is great at soaking up imperfections in the road, but it has a breaking point. Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid potholes, but driving through them at any speed faster than a crawl can bend wheel rims and brake struts.” —Matt Smith, senior editor at Car Gurus. Learn 34 secrets car dealers don’t want you to know.

Gas pump nozzle in the fuel tank of a bronze car.Tonographer/Shutterstock

Using cheap gas

“Penny-pinching by using less than top-tier-rated fuels can result in expensive engine damage down the road. Filling with regular grade when the engine requires premium can create drivability problems and warning lights.” —Richard Reina, product-training director at CARiD. Using premium even if your car doesn’t require it? You’ve fallen for one of the 12 myths you need to stop believing about your car.

Filling air into a car tire sumroeng chinnapan/Shutterstock

Not driving it enough

“Too much time without exercise will kill your car’s battery, misshape its tires, and can leave it with a tank full of stale gasoline. If you want to store a car for a long period of time, be sure to find a suitable (and preferably indoor) location. Then give it a good wash to protect the paint, overfill its tires to help keep them round, use some peppermint-oil-soaked mothballs to protect it from rodents, and hook the battery up to a trickle charger to keep it alive.” —Matt Smith. Be sure you never do these 10 things to your car.

Stack of brand new high performance car tires on clean high-key white studio backgroundl i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock

Driving on improper alignment

“This commonly neglected issue can wear down your tires, increase your chances of an accident, and hurt your car’s fuel economy.” —David Ambrogio, a consultant with Superior Honda in New Orleans, Louisiana. Here are the signs you should watch out for to know if your car is about to die.

a silver car is washing in soap sudsOlga Kuzyk/Shutterstock

Not washing it

“It’s easy to wonder why you should keep your car’s exterior clean. After all, it’s just going to get dirty again, right? Well, washing your car regularly will protect its paint and reduce the likelihood of rust. Giving your car’s underside a good spray is particularly important in the winter, when salt can quickly eat away at your chassis’s bare metal.” —Matt Smith. Try these 13 weird tricks to clean your car.

A fragment of the engineSergey Kohl/Shutterstock

Not cleaning under the hood

“We tend to focus on keeping our car’s exterior clean, but not under the hood. This is a mistake. Periodic cleaning of your car engine’s exterior can remove built-up sludge and debris that is shortening the life of your engine.” —David Ambrogio. Keeping your engine clean is incredibly important, unlike the worst car tips mechanics have ever heard.

Manual gear shift lever in the new car.vpilkauskas/Shutterstock

Holding the shifter

“This one’s for those few remaining manual-transmission drivers: Don’t rest your hand on the gear shifter! While it may feel natural to keep your hand on the stick shift, doing so will result in premature wear to the transmission’s components.” —Matt Smith. Read about 13 weird car features you may not realize you have.

Auto mechanic holds an old spark plugVolodymyr Burdiak/Shutterstock

Using incorrect or discount parts and fluids

“You might be keeping up with maintenance, but going cheap by using substandard or incorrect parts and fluids is bad. Regular oil changes require the use of the correct-viscosity oil, not just the least expensive stuff you can find in a big-box store. Spark plugs should have the correct heat range. Fuel and air filters should be name-brand, original-equipment-equivalent or better, not just the lowest-priced item you can find.” —Richard Reina. You are also going to want to avoid doing these common things to maintain your car.

A technician in the workshop exchanges oilajlatan/Shutterstock

Not changing the oil often enough

“Changing your oil more often than recommended keeps corrosive materials out of the engine and helps you keep your car on the road longer. This is especially true if you mainly do city driving.” —David Ambrogio. Take a look at the wackiest cars ever built.

Color close up image of a car's snow warning symbol lighting up on the dashboard.Alexandru Nika/Shutterstock

Driving your car cold

“A cold engine needs time to get up to temperature. Avoid full-throttle acceleration until the temperature gauge reads ‘normal.'” —Richard Reina. You’ll have to worry about maintenance a lot less if you take note of the cars you should—and shouldn’t—buy used.

Brake and accelerator pedal of automatic transmission carNor Gal/Shutterstock

Slamming the brakes too often

“A heavy foot on the brake pedal creates abnormal wear to pads and rotors, resulting in more-frequent replacements.” —Richard Reina. Have a chuckle over the strangest things mechanics have found in cars.

Fuel gauge dash board close upEnsuper/Shutterstock

Running on empty

“Running your car until the fuel light comes on—and then driving another ten miles—moves debris and dirt that has settled to the bottom of your tank through your engine.” —Valerie Coleman, sales director at 5miles. Check out 74 car maintenance tips to extend the life of your car.

Drag racing car burns rubber off its tires in preparation for the raceToa55/Shutterstock

Putting the pedal to the metal

“Repeated brisk acceleration and braking is hard on suspensions and tires.” —Richard Reina. Now check out the 9 most reliable cars that rarely need maintenance.

Joe McKinley
Joe McKinley is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest, covering cars, careers, tech and more.