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6 Things That May Be Damaging Your Car (And Risking Your Safety)

By Jennifer Crump | Last updated: March 7, 2021
Key Takeaways

Keeping an eye on these six common issues can help you keep yourself, your passengers, and your fellow drivers safe.

Source: MarcBruxelle/iStock

Although driver error still accounts for the vast majority of crashes, vehicle failures — particularly those related to malfunctioning tires, brakes, suspension and transmissions — account for nearly 50,000 crashes every year. This doesn't take into account the thousands more stranded on curb sides and highways due to breakdowns.

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Most of these type of accidents are entirely preventable. Here are six everyday things that may be damaging your car and potentially risking your safety.

Running Your Car While It's Low on Fuel

An empty tank is a common problem with many drivers. Maybe you're running late and don't have time to stop, or perhaps it's too cold or hot or stormy to get out and fill the tank. Whatever your reasoning, keeping your tank on low fuel can cause you a myriad of problems. Less than a quarter of a tank in any weather can allow gas to pick up dirt and contaminants that have accumulated in the bottom of the tank.

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Fuel also acts as both a lubricant and coolant for the fuel pump. Allowing it to dry out can damage it, leading the pump to fail and leaving you stranded on the side of the road. Replacing a fuel pump can also be costly.

In the winter, experts recommend keeping your tank full or at least half-filled. This is especially true for vehicles that run on diesel fuel. Condensation can build up in the space of your gas tank, particularly if it's regularly kept less than half full. Eventually, that condensation turns to water. In frigid weather, that water can freeze fuel lines and stall your car. It can also lead to corrosion in the engine and with steel gas tanks. It's also a good idea to keep your tank full just in case you are stranded in winter weather.

Resting your hand on the gear shift

Remember the "two hands on the wheel" maxim? Experience and laziness sometimes cause us to forget or simply ignore the rules we were taught when we first learned to drive. However, allowing your hand to rest on the gear stick isn't just lousy driving practice — it can also cause damage to a manual transmission car. Your hand's constant pressure on the gear shift can strain the transmission and cause premature wear and lead to expensive repairs. Keeping your hands on the wheel also ensures you control the car and can quickly respond and steer the vehicle away from any sudden threat.

Abusing Your Brakes

There are plenty of ways you can cause long term damage to your brakes, which can eventually cause them to smoke, squeal or even fail. Driving too close is a common cause of collisions, and even without a crash, consistently slamming on the breaks because you are following to close can quickly wear out the pads and discs on your brakes.

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The same is true for riding the brakes as you go downhill. While you will sometimes need to do this on a steep hill, the heat this causes does result in wear and tear on your brake pads and rotors and can cause them to warp or overheat.

To avoid these issues, keep a safe distance between you and the cars in front of you and consider shifting to a lower gear when you go downhill. Using your brakes only when necessary will ensure they are there when you need them.

Ignoring Regular Maintenance and Warning Lights

When your car seems like it is running just fine, it can be tempting to ignore routine maintenance checks and those pesky warning lights — don't. It's easier to prevent an issue or fix something early on than to wait until disaster strikes.

You should also pay attention to squeaks, knocks, vibrations or other strange noises. They could be an indication of a severe problem that might grow worse and could cause your car to break down suddenly. Ignoring your battery, engine or oil pressure lights could also prove costly and leave you stranded. The oil light, for example, could be an indication that you are burning or are low on oil. If your engine runs dry, it will burn out. Your tire pressure light can tell if your tires are underinflated. This potential problem can be easily and quickly fixed but can cause irreparable damage and be a safety concern otherwise.

Hitting Potholes and Speed Bumps

Speed bumps, and potholes in particular, can cause severe damage to your car's tires, alignment and suspension. Potholes can damage tires and even bend rims, depending on how large or deep they are. Much of the tire that connects with potholes cannot be repaired, and eventually, repeatedly hitting potholes can mean replacing tires prematurely.

Hitting potholes can also affect a vehicle's alignment leading to vibrations, wear, and poor steering. It can cause your car to consistently pull to one side, forcing you to correct it. This is a severe safety risk.

Finally, potholes can damage a car's suspension. Eventually, you'll notice the car isn't riding as well as it used to. If the pothole is bad enough, your vehicle can bottom out, and you'll incur possible damage to the undercarriage and mechanical components.

Overloading Your Vehicle

Just because you can fit it all in your car, it doesn't mean you should. Excess weight in a vehicle stresses the drivetrain, suspension and brakes. It also increases your fuel use and possibly your emission output.

Leaving out the unnecessary items and following your car manual's guidelines regarding maximum weight will ensure you avoid unnecessary repairs and breakdowns.

Stay Safe on the Road

No driver welcomes a costly repair, and keeping your vehicle in peak condition is important to avoid that. However, taking good care of your vehicle is absolutely critical when it comes to safety. Keeping an eye on these six common issues can help you keep yourself, your passengers, and your fellow drivers safe.

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Written by Jennifer Crump

Profile Picture of Jennifer Crump

Jennifer Crump is a former freelance journalist and author and now full-time content writer and strategist. She contributes to magazines and blogs throughout North America on issues related to business, training, financing and workplace safety.


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