Driving tips to help your car last longer

Cars are a major investment. In fact, for many of us, our first car is also our first big purchase. (I loved that pretty blue $500 Skylark!) Learning to take good care of your car is important, and there are plenty of ways to increase its longevity — wash your floor mats, touch up paint asap, keep to your maintenance schedule, etc. (See our article on tires to learn how to make those last!)

But did you know that the way you drive can have a big impact on how long your car lasts and how well it performs? Here are some tips that you can easily implement the next time you get behind the wheel:

an elderly woman wearing sunglasses and a pink scarf driving a dark blue convertible

Start ‘er up

  • Skip the warm-up. Don’t idle your car in the driveway to let it “warm up” before you leave. The engine isn’t operating at its peak temperature or pressure when it’s idling.
  • Don’t rev your engine. You’ll add wear this way, especially in cold weather.
  • Lighten your keychain. If your car has an ignition switch (versus a “start” button), don’t put drag on it with a heavy keychain. A lot of keys/trinkets hanging from the ignition — especially as the car bounces down the road — can wear out the ignition switch. (Ideally, you would drive with just the car key in the ignition.)
  • Don’t turn on the A/C right away. It’s easier on your engine if you drive your car for a couple of miles after starting it, then turn on the air conditioner. If the car is hot, open the windows to let the hot air escape during those couple of minutes; this will make it easier on the A/C when you turn it on, too.
  • Plan your trips. When possible, run errands during low traffic times, and group them together. You’ll save time, fuel, and money.
  • Keep your weight in check. Heavy loads (on your roof rack or in your trunk) will stress your drive train. Every hundred pounds of weight can increase your fuel consumption by 2 percent.
  • Use the right racks for luggage, bikes, etc. (These will prevent items from damaging the paint on your car.) Remove the racks when not in use, though, because wind resistance can increase your fuel consumption significantly. 
A green classic car in front of a white building

On the road

  • Take it slow. It takes more horsepower to travel at higher speeds, which means more drain on your engine. Check the manual when you buy a new car. It may tell you to keep your speed under 55 mph or so during the “break in” period. Do the same whenever you get new tires, to break them in.
  • Take care not to rub your tires against (or over!) curbs
  • Avoid potholes and debris in the road. 
  • Avoid stopping or starting very abruptly. You don’t have to start super slowly, just don’t tear away. And don’t slam on the brakes at every stop. Your brakes will last longer if you go easy on them. (Your passengers will be grateful, too!)
  • Don’t crank your steering wheel severely to the left or right for more than a second or you’ll strain the power-steering.
  • Shift to neutral when you’re stopped for some time. Some people even do this at red lights, but I save the shift for longer periods, such as railroad crossings with endless coal cars in sight. Your car is resting in neutral; in drive it’s working to move forward.
  • Don’t drive with two feet. Never drive with your foot on the brake and accelerator at the same time. You’ll waste gas, and you’ll wear out your brakes.
  • Avoid the gravel. I love taking the road less traveled, but those dirt and gravel roads are much harder on your car than the nicely paved highway. The dust particles in the air filter will greatly increase wear on your engine, and your tires will work harder, too.
  • Make sure you’re at a complete stop before shifting gears (from drive to reverse, for example). If you don’t, you can damage the driveshaft and other parts. 

Be picky about parking

  • Park in a garage when you have the option. If a garage isn’t available, park in the shade to prevent the sun’s UV rays from damaging your car paint and interior. If you must park in the sun, use a car shade to minimize the sun’s impact on the interior. (You’ll also appreciate the cooler car!) 
  • Consider a car cover. If you must park in the sun regularly, or in a shady spot where bird droppings land on your car, consider covering it with a car cover. A cover will protect your car from moisture, sun, droppings, dirt, and even scratches from small tree branches (most covers come with a cushioning layer).
  • Park facing downhill if possible when parking in the street. It will be less of a load on the cold engine when you start it up and drive off again. 
A woman wearing a pink sweater and scarf driving a car with a black steering wheel

Getting unstuck

  • Call a locksmith. Don’t try to unlock your door with a wire hanger or other object. It’s easy to damage the weather stripping in the window/door, which can result in leaks later.
  • Never drive on a flat tire. Pull off the road at the first safe spot and change the tire. Driving on a flat tire will irreparably damage the rim. 
  • Stock up on weather-appropriate supplies. If there’s a chance you might get your car stuck (on a muddy road or in snow, for example), be sure to carry supplies to help get yourself out. A shovel and some gravel, sand, or cat litter can help you get traction, which is much better for your car (and your dilemma) than revving your engine and spinning your tires. 

So there are some ways to save money on gas, repairs, and car replacement just by driving more thoughtfully! Do you have any tips to add? What was your first car investment?

You might also enjoy:

Cleaning the interior of your car

What’s the best way to wash your car?

7 ways to make your tires last

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