Driving Habits You May Not Realise Can Damage Your Car

Most drivers develop habits and driving styles they may not be aware of, such as driving at a particular speed, braking slowly or at the last minute, and even resting their left hand comfortably on the gear stick.

While few of us are 100% perfect drivers, these seemingly harmless behaviours can cause damage to our vehicle, affect performance, and increase the costs of regular servicing and MOTs.

Let the online Porsche oem parts specialists Design911 run through our tips on what to avoid and how a little mindful driving can improve the longevity of your car, help your fuel tank last longer, and even prevent breakdowns.

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Waiting Until Your Tank is Empty to Refuel

Petrol and diesel are expensive, and it might make sense to leave your fuel tank to run down to empty before you fill up. Some drivers also perceive that this helps the fuel last longer – similar to how a battery works better when it has been fully recharged.

However, the opposite is the case. When you resort to the fumes at the bottom of your tank, you introduce dirt from the residue into your engine.

Fuel doesn’t solely power a car but cools and lubricates the pump, so when you are driving almost on empty, this begins to damage the pump. Over time, that will mean you need a replacement pump and could break down and require a recovery vehicle.

Braking at the Last Minute

We’ve all known a driver who slams on their brakes just as they get a little too close for comfort. This habit isn’t particularly safe and relies on impeccable braking performance, which may not be a given in an older vehicle.

Emergency stops are a very different scenario and mean you need to stop your vehicle urgently, but this should only be a last resort.

Late braking puts additional pressure on brake pads and discs, which will need replacing sooner, and uses more fuel than gradual braking. Driving too close to other vehicles is the second most common cause of accidents and collisions.

Resting a Hand in the Central Console

If you drive a manual car, you likely find yourself resting your left hand on the gear stick. Many automatic drivers do the same out of habit!

The issue here is that it can damage your vehicle’s transmission and, as a general driving safety principle, we should keep both hands on the steering wheel.

Your gear stick connects to the gearbox with a control rod, with selector forks that make momentary contact with the rotating collar when you need to move up or down a gear or put your car into reverse. The pressure of your hand means you are putting weight on the selector forks, causing them to wear down.

Some car manufacturers specifically talk about resting your hand against the gear stick in this way since it is a typical reason a newer model vehicle needs repair work while still under warranty.

Ignoring Warning lights or Service Reminders

Getting your car serviced while it seems to be running perfectly can be easy to ignore, as can a small red blinking light on your dashboard. However, those warning lights appear as soon as a problem develops, and it could be substantially cheaper to visit a mechanic before it evolves into something more serious.

Service history can prolong and protect your warranty, prevent a breakdown, and be an affordable way to keep on top of car maintenance. Straightforward tasks such as flushing burnt oil and sludge from the engine can mitigate a multitude of disasters.

Neglecting a warning light about a bulb could also mean being pulled over by the police or highway patrol, and forgetting to top up empty washer fluid might mean exposing yourself to a greater risk of an accident if your windscreen becomes dirty and dusty.

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General Driving Habits to Avoid

  • Keeping your foot on the clutch: while it might be an obvious place to rest your foot, if you put even a slight amount of pressure on the clutch when you’re not changing gear, you reduce the lifetime of the clutch plate.
  • Revving a cold engine: this doesn’t help the car warm up faster! Instead, it causes wear and tear when the oil is cold and forced to circulate too quickly.
  • Sitting in high gear: conventional wisdom says that lower revs mean better fuel consumption. However, if your gear is too high for your speed, it can damage the cylinder heads, which can be costly to repair or replace. The same applies to driving in low gear. Aside from the unpleasant noise, this also puts strain on your engine.
  • Overloading: having everything you need to hand is convenient but keeping heavier objects such as bikes or roof boxes permanently attached isn’t economical. The extra weight means your suspension, drivetrain, and brakes must work harder, increasing emissions and fuel consumption.
  • Using gears to slow down: shifting down a gear to reduce your speed is less than optimal and can cause damage to the clutch and transmission. It is far better to use your brake pedals, even if you need to moderate your speed just slightly.
  • Aggressive acceleration in high gear: your car may have an indicator light on the dashboard or gear stick that tells you when to change gear, and these, by default, are normally set to economy. If you accelerate in high gear, you put excessive strain on the motor, especially if you are driving uphill or have a full passenger load.
  • Putting the car in reverse too soon: you should only put your car into reverse once you have stopped. If you adjust the gears while the vehicle is still moving, you cause deterioration of the transmission band – an item that is not serviceable. This problem is prevalent in automatics, although crunching the gears in a manual car has the same effect.

Finally, avoiding potholes or driving too quickly over a speed bump is wise. Around 30% of vehicle damage is down to deep potholes, which can crack your alloys, buckle your wheels, or even burst a tyre.

Follow these tips, and you’ll ensure you don’t inadvertently find yourself in an emergency repair shop or body shop sooner than necessary.

Jasper has been an enthusiast of the automotive and IT industries since the age of 16. He independently writes on the auto industry's recent happenings.