Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

10 things you should never do to your car

Stop doing these 10 things to your car

Want your car to last longer and chalk up fewer repair bills? Then read and heed these top 10 things you should stop doing to your car

1) Neglecting the oil dipstick

Your car probably has an oil life monitor that tells you when check oil dipstickto change oil. BUT, the system assumes you’ve used the recommended oil AND you regularly check the dipstick and top off the oil when needed. Most drivers NEVER check the oil level on the dipstick, let alone top it off and that’s a HUGE problem.

All engines use oil between oil changes. The amount of oil used varies depending on the engine design and how much wear it has. Yet, even some new engines can burn as much as a quart every 1,500 to 3,000 miles. So you could easily be driving with a low oil level long before it’s time for your next oil change.

Here’s what that means

If you drive when you’re low on oil, even just a quart low, you stress the remaining oil and dramatically reducing its useful life. Assume for a moment the oil change interval for your car is every 7,500 miles. If you lose one quart of oil in the first 3.000 miles and don’t replenish it, you deplete the anti-wear and anti-corrosion additives in the remaining oil by about 25%. At that rate, you’ll need the next oil change at 5,600 miles instead of the normal 7,500 miles (that assumes you won’t lose any more oil after the first 3,000—which is highly unlikely). If you continue to drive on that depleted oil until you reach the 7,500 mile mark, you’re be running your engine on worn out oil. That worn out oil can turn to sludge and cause major engine damage. With an engine swap costing around $4,000, it pays to check your oil regularly and refill when it’s low. You’ve been warned.

For more information on oil and oil filters, see these posts

2) You overfill car tires to “get better gas mileage”

All your buddies brag about how they improved their gas mileage by tire inflation, inflate tiresover inflating their tires and now you want to try it as well. I’ve got news for you; there’s no such thing as a free lunch. What your friends aren’t telling you is that the over inflation is giving them a much rougher ride. Overinflation also causes premature tire wear, increased stopping distances and faster wear on all suspension components.

The recommended tire pressure for your car is listed on a placard inside the driver’s door frame and it’s based on vehicle weight along with the best possible handling. Over inflating your tires to the maximum pressure listed on the tire is ok for short period when you’re hauling a very heavy load. If you drive on over inflated tires the rest of the time, you might see a slight increase in mileage because over-inflation reduces rolling resistance.

However, over inflation also changes the shape of the tire slightly, causing the shoulders to lift off the pavement. In effect you’re driving on only the center tread. That means you have less rubber in contact with the road, which reduces traction. Less traction means longer stopping distances and that can also cause tires to slip and hydroplane on wet roads.

Since you’re placing the full weight of the vehicle on far less tread, you’ll wear out the center tread much faster. Over inflated tires also transmit more road shock to your entire suspension system, causing more tire bounce and a rougher ride. The additional tire bounce wears out your car’s struts, strut mounts, shocks, springs, ball joints and control arms much faster. Whatever mileage gains you get from decreased rolling resistance are more than offset by decreased safety factor and increased suspension repair costs.

Stick with the car maker’s recommended tire pressure for the longest wear and greatest safety.

For more information on tires and tire maintenance, see these posts

3) You use the wrong coolant/antifreeze in your car

Antifreeze has two jobs; prevent the liquid coolant from freezing coolant, antifreezeand prevent corrosion. Thirty years ago all antifreeze was green. It had a short useful life of 2-years or 24,000 miles. When car makers switched to aluminum engines, coolant formulas had to change as well because many of the anti-corrosion additives were incompatible with aluminum.  If you use the wrong coolant or mix two different types of coolants you can actually cause faster internal corrosion and even gelling and heater core and radiator clogs.

That’s because corrosion inhibitors are designed to be compatible with the specific metals, plastics, gaskets and seals used throughout the cooling system. So coolant type has a corrosion inhibitor package that’s compatible with that particular engine.

If you mix different coolants, the corrosion inhibitors in one type of coolant can not only reduce the effectiveness of the new blend, but can even cancel out the performance of the corrosion inhibitors of the old coolant. They can also damage the plastic and rubber seals and gaskets. The damage may not show until you’ve racked up 5,000 or more miles. But when those parts fail you probably won’t connect the dots and realize they failed because you used the wrong coolant.

If you can’t find the exact coolant for your engine at an auto parts store, buy it at the dealer. You may spend a whopping $10 more than the “universal” coolant stocked at the auto parts store, but at least you’ll get the right coolant for your car. That’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.

For more information on coolants, cooling system service and fixes for overheating, see these posts

4) You mix up brake fluid and power steering fluid

It’s easy to grab a 1-pint bottle of power steering fluid and pour it into your master cylinder because the bottle looks just like  1-pint brake fluidbottle of brake fluid (it happens more often than you think). But if you add the wrong fluid to either your power steering or brake system, the repair can easily cost upwards of $1,000. Power steering fluid will damage the rubber seals in a brake system, causing total brake failure. The shop has to rebuild or replace the master cylinder, calipers, wheel cylinders and proportioning valve. Sometimes they even have to replace expensive ABS components. Pouring brake fluid into your power steering reservoir is just as damaging because brake fluid isn’t a lubricant, so it causes pump and steering gear failure. Always double check before you refill your brake or power steering fluid reservoirs.

For more information on brakes, brake jobs, brake noise and brake service tips, see these posts

5) You use “universal” fluids in your power steering or transmission

Several fluid manufacturers sell universal power steering and transmission fluids that supposedly work in all car makes and models. Not a single car maker recommends using a universal coolant, and their objections aren’t based on greed. Instead they’re based on the incompatibilities between different steering and transmission designs.

There’s simply no way a single transmission or power steering fluid can meet the many different (and mutually exclusive) viscosity and additive requirements for every transmission and power steering system in use today. If the auto parts doesn’t stock the exact fluid, try a different store or buy it at the dealer. It’s simply not worth the risk to use a non-approved fluid in expensive components like your transmission or power steering.

6) You disconnect a battery cable on a running engine to test the alternator

Disconnecting the battery cable from a running engine was

car battery, test alternator, test battery

(selective focus).

a great way to test the alternator back in the days when cars didn’t have computers. If the engine continued to run with the cable off that proved the alternator was working.

But if you try that on a model car with computers, you can fry all the electronics. That’s because disconnecting a battery cable while the engine is running causes the alternator to produce a very short but powerful 25 to 125-volt spike. Modern alternators are built with surge suppression and “load dumping” electronics, but they still take about 40ms to react. By then the damage has already been done. Repairing the damage can cost a small fortune. So forget this old trick and test your car alternator with volt meter. Or, take your car to an auto parts store that offers a free charging system diagnostic test.

For more information on battery and alternator testing, see these posts

7) You drive when your oil light is on

All cars have a “low oil pressure” warning light. If the light comes oil light onon while you’re driving, it can mean that your car is dangerously low or completely out of oil. Or it can mean that your car has a serious internal leak that’s causing a pressure drop. It can also be a sign of a worn engine bearings, a clogged oil passage that’s causing oil starvation or an oil pump that’s failing. Whatever the cause, when the light comes on, pull off the road immediately and shut off the engine. Then pop the hood and check the oil level using the dipstick. If the dipstick shows you’re out of oil or dangerously low, add more oil before restarting the engine.

Driving a car when it’s dangerously low or completely out of oil will destroy your engine in just a few minutes. A blown engine can easily cost you $4,000. And don’t think you can drive it “for just a few minutes” to the nearest store. It’s not worth the risk. Call a friend or family member and ask them to bring the oil to your location (the recommended type and viscosity is listed in your owner’s manual). Add it to the filler port and check the dipstick to make sure it’s full. Do not overfill.

However, if the dipstick shows you’ve got oil, then the problem is even more serious and must be checked out by a shop. There’s really nothing you can do while you’re on the side of the road. If the dipstick shows the engine is full, or you can’t reach a friend to drop off more oil, call a tow truck! If you can’t afford a $200 tow, then you surely can’t afford a new engine.

8) You drive with less than a ¼ tank of gas

The electric fuel pump on fuel injected cars is located inside fuel gaugethe fuel tank. Car makers put it there on purpose so it can be cooled by the gas in the tank. If you consistently drive with less than ¼ tank, you risk overheating the fuel pump and shortening its life. Fuel pump replacement can cost around $700.

This doesn’t mean you have to rush to a gas station the instant you hit ¼ tank on the gauge. The fuel pump can easily handle occasional low fuel level operation. But if you’re like to drive around town with less than a ¼ tank of fuel, don’t be surprised when you’re hit with a $700 fuel pump repair bill.

9) You use the wrong motor oil

Modern engines are designed to more exacting standards wrong oil, motor oilto improve fuel efficiency. As a result, oil specifications are much tighter. Plus, newer engines include high tech mechanisms like variable valve timing (VVT) and turbochargers to squeeze more power and miles out of every gallon of gas. VVT systems work by pulsing pressurized oil into hydraulic passages to advance or retard the camshaft. The pulse timing and associated camshaft movement is based on the oil type and viscosity listed in your owner’s manual. The computer varies the pulse rate based on engine temperature and driver inputs from the accelerator pedal.

But the computer systems that operate the VVT and turbo assume you’ve used the recommended oil. If you substitute your own judgment instead of the engineers who designed the engine, all bets are off. Use the wrong type of oil or the wrong viscosity can cause accelerated wear and even set a trouble code and light the “check engine” light on your dash.

The right oil is just as critical for proper turbocharger operation. A modern turbocharger can spin at rates as high as 240,000 RPM which means the bearings must be constantly lubricated and cooled by the oil. If you substitute a different oil type or viscosity, you can change the flow rate, causing bearing overheating and early turbo failure. Turbo replacement can cost $1,500 to $2,000.
For more information on oil and oil filters, see these posts

10) You use dishwashing detergent to wash your car

Dishwashing detergent is designed to attack and break down car wash soapdried-on food, oil and grease. But car paint, clear coat and car wax contains oil and resins that maintain the paint’s integrity and filter out harmful UV rays. If you use dishwashing detergent to wash your car, you’re actually stripping off the wax and pulling some of those critical oils out of the paint and paint sealants, leaving it bare and exposed to the elements.

If you don’t wax your car after washing with dishwashing detergent, you’ll lose some of that important sun protection. Worse yet, if you regularly wash your car with dishwashing detergent, you’ll degrade the paint and clear coat enough over its life to cause premature fading and even early paint failure.

Car wash soap is designed to remove dirt and grease without removing the surface wax and oils from the paint. It’s also biodegradable, so the wash water runoff is safer for the environment. Find car wash soap at any auto parts store or in the automotive aisle at most big box stores. It’s cheap and it’s better for your car’s finish.

©. 2018 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat

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