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If you’ve been driving for years, chances are you’ve had to bring your car to a service station for repairs — maybe expensive ones. These costly repairs go well beyond basic car maintenance, and they’re often the result of bad habits drivers may not know they have. We asked mechanics to share some of the most common things drivers do that can damage a car’s engine, transmission, brakes and other vital automotive components.
Here are some bad habits to avoid:
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1. Avoiding routine maintenance
On today’s cars, delaying oil changes causes carbon buildup, says Frank Leutz, founder of Desert Car Care in Chandler, Arizona, who hosts the Wrench Nation Car Talk radio show and podcast.
Leutz describes carbon as a “black, broccoli-like substance” that is a by-product of engine oil and gas. “Over time, if this carbon builds up from the lack of oil changes or the lack of fuel system treatments to clean it, that carbon will destroy miles per gallon and introduce subtle but annoying hesitations like hard starts,” he says. Leutz says he has seen cars that need expensive repairs due to carbon buildup on engine valves.
Putting off an oil change for 1,000 miles after it’s recommended can damage car components, says Demeny Pollitt, owner of Girlington Garage in South Burlington, Vermont.
“Oil serves as a barrier between two metal pieces to keep them from rubbing against each other,” she says. If you wait too long, the oil starts to break down.
“Then, that barrier is no longer effective; there’s metal-on-metal contact that can wear it down and send more metal through the system” Pollitt says.
2. Ignoring strange noises
Generally, if a vehicle is in tip-top shape, drivers shouldn’t hear any screeching, clunking or grinding noises.
“I wish people would stop ignoring the sounds their car is making,” says Andrea Dello Russo Campbell, owner of Andrea’s Auto, a repair shop in Edgartown, Massachusetts.
“That little squeak is an indicator, so don’t just turn the radio up and ignore it, because the squeak becomes a grind, and the grind becomes a problem,” she says. “Then, it just gets more expensive the louder the noise gets.”
Leutz adds that noises can be related to safety issues: A clunking sound might mean a suspension problem, while a loud screech could mean a failing fuel pump. If you hear rumbling, it could mean your wheel bearing is too worn, and a grinding sound may indicate brake issues.
3. Ignoring odd smells
Think you smell something burning? Don’t assume it’s nothing, Pollitt says.