75 Tips to Keep Your Car (and Wallet) Happy
Use your E brake on hills
When you put your car in park on a hill, it rolls back and rests on the transmission stressing the components. The loud "Thunk" when you put your car back in gear is your transmission. So before you put your car in park, set your parking brake to avoid potentially expensive repairs.
Don't run your car low on gas
Your fuel pump relies on gasoline to cool and lubricate it. If you run your car low too often expect to replace the fuel filter before long.
Avoid topping off your gas
As tempting as it is to round off our fuel, overfilling a car can cause the excess fuel to damage the EVAP system. If too much gas gets in, it's a few hundred dollars to repair.
Don't put your car in drive while rolling backward
Another good transmission saver. Simply be at a complete stop before putting your car into drive.
Keep your keys light
Too much weight on your car keys can cause problems with your ignition. As cute as they are, keep your beanie babies off your keychain.
Check your tire pressure
If your pressure is off it can wear down your tires unevenly and cost you money in miles per gallon. Grab a cheap tire-pressure gauge at a gas station for a couple bucks and check your pressure every few months.
Clean your steering wheel and turn-indicator switch
Scratch your turn indicator with your fingernail and chances are you'll scrape off a layer of grime you've thought was the normal color.
Check your spare tire
Not only do you want to make sure your spare tire has enough air to function as a replacement, but water likes to pool under spare tires in the trunk, deteriorating the rubber and making your interior smell musty.
Check your air filters
Staying with smelly interiors, an old interior air filter can also get musty and require replacement. If you have a bad smell in your car you can't source, start there.
Know what puddles under your car mean
If it's clear, that's just water from the A/C. Black is motor oil, a bright yellow or green is radiator fluid, a tan to orange color is brake fluid and red to brown is power steering or transmission fluid.
Recharge your A/C
If your A/C isn't blowing cold air anymore, it doesn't mean there is a problem, it might just need some fresh Freon.
Wash your car
As dirt and grime attaches to your car, it damages the paint over time. No need to break out the detail brush, but you should try running it through a touchless car wash once a month.
Don't ignore bad signals
If your car shudders, shakes or makes any noise you'd rather not hear, don't ignore it. Those are signs something is not working right and if you're lucky you can fix it before it gets expensive. If you want to learn more than just the bad signs, look at our guide to learning about cars.
Don't let salt stay on your car
Salt corrodes through paint over time, your car will appreciate a clean every now and then. Make sure your undercarriage gets sprayed too.
Don't be afraid to use your brakes
If you stop slowly over longer distances you can potentially "glaze" your brakes as prolonged braking can heat up your pads more than stopping harder over a shorter distance. Glazed pads have poor braking performance and will need to be taken to a shop to be fixed.
Give your car an "Italian tune up"
Driving "normally" will build up carbon deposits in your engine only cleared out by heat. To get that heat, drive around in lower gears to let your car rev higher than normal for a bit. It's not exactly an Italian tune up, but the end result is similar.
Don't use cruise control in the rain
This is actually more of an old wives tale, if your car hydroplanes and traction or stability control turns on, your cruise control deactivated. It doesn't shoot you into a tree like many people thought. Regardless, if your vehicle downshifts in cruise control it can possibly slip the tires as it doesn't know there is water on the road, so there is a grain of truth in the advice.
Keep your battery corrosion free
Removing the corrosion keeps the battery living longer. Some baking soda, water and a toothbrush gets the job done.
Look at your service intervals a few times a year
You don't need to have these memorized, but peeking at what needs to be done every once in a while will put you leagues ahead of the average car owner.
Clean your wiper blades
These can wear out causing your wipers to smear water instead of clearing it and making a lot of noise in the process. Wipe them down with a paper towel and some rubbing alcohol to bring back some of their effectiveness. But if that still doesn't work...
Replace your wiper blades
These are consumables and wear out as they clear your windshield thousands of times. Don't put these off as you will inevitably be driving in a storm with crappy wipers, wishing you had already replaced them.
Keep jumper cables in your trunk
Even if you don't need them, someone else might and you can be the hero.
How to jump a car
With both cars off connect a red connector to the dead battery, then the other red one to the good battery. Connect a black cable to the good battery and put the last black cord onto an unpainted and clean part of the dead car under the hood. Start the dead car and take off the batteries in reverse order, it's that simple.
Check your oil periodically
After your car is warmed up, park on a flat surface with the car off and pop the hood. With a rag in hand, pull the oil dipstick and clean it, reinsert it and pull it out again. If the oil level is around the higher circle you're good to go.
Press the tab on your mirror to avoid rear car lights in your eyes
Most of you probably know this, but this is a great tip for those that don't.
Drive with your lights on
It reduces accidents by up to 10%, probably the easiest way to be safer in your vehicle.
Check every direction at intersections
Most accidents occur at intersections. You look both ways before crossing the street, just apply that habit to driving through intersections too.
Just hit the deer
It's safer to hit the brakes and hope for the best when a deer jumps out in front of your car. Swerving might cause you to hit something worse, roll your car or the deer might decide the way you swerved was their escape direction too. Just hit Bambi.
Set your headrest
Ideally you want the middle of the rest at your eyes and ears so it may best protect your head if it gets whipped back.
Set your seat settings so you see right in the middle of the glass and you have a bend in your knees when touching the pedals. You also want to have a good bend in the elbows when touching the steering wheel. You'll have more control over your vehicle and avoid injuries in an accident by not having locked legs.
And also your steering wheel
With your spine against the seat, extend your wrists so they can rest comfortably on the top of the steering wheel. This gives you better control and like your legs, you don't want locked arms either.
Remove your excess cargo
If you weigh your car down you'll sacrifice your fuel economy, braking and acceleration.
Don't put premium gas in your car if it doesn't need it
If it's not required don't use it, premium gas doesn't make your car run or perform better. Yes, it is for higher-performance cars, but if your engine lacks the compression to utilize the gas you may be losing performance as the fuel is harder to ignite.
Get a lightly colored car
An autolist article quotes a study done in Australia that found that white cars are 12% less likely to get into an accident compared to black cars. Other light colors are statistically safer too.
Get a sun shade
It's one of the cheapest ways to protect your interior, plus it keeps it cooler in scalding temperatures.
Tint your windows
A sunscreen only blocks from one direction, if you live in the heat, get some light window tint to permanently keep your car cooler and protect your interior.
Stay easy on the A/C
Running your air conditioning can cut your fuel efficiency by up to 20%. Recirculate your air to maximize your A/C's effectiveness.
Roll your windows down to stay cool instead
Having your windows down still hurts your fuel economy by creating drag, but it affects your efficiency less than running your A/C
Record your vehicle's maintenance
It not only is a great way to track what has/hasn't been done on your car, but handing over complete service records when selling your car will increase its resale value.
Keep your receipts
Along with tracking your maintenance, keeping receipts is a way to backup what was on the record sheets you're now keeping.
Don't skimp on tires
Tires are the only thing connecting you and the 3,000+ pound metal box you're on to the road. Good tires will increase your fuel efficiency, reduce tire noise and improve your handling in all conditions. If there's one thing to not skimp on, it's tires.
Rotate your tires
Depending on your car and driving style, your tires are not going to wear evenly. Roughly every oil change you should rotate your tires to get the most life out of them.
Have an emergency kit
A waste of money and space until it isn't. An emergency kit might be the difference between you spending a long night in your car and getting to your destination.
Leave an old blanket in your car too
It's not only great to throw down to keep muddy shoes and apparel off your interior, it can also be a part of that emergency kit you should be assembling.
Clean your hands after pumping gas
Gas station pumps are filthy and touched by dozens if not hundreds of people each day. Keep a small hand sanitizer bottle in your car for after you fill up.
Fix cracked windshields
What could be fixed in your driveway with some resin might turn into needing a new windshield if ignored for too long.
Wax your car
Your clearcoat does the majority of the work protecting your paint, but it needs some help from wax. There's some debate on how often a car needs wax, but try to get it waxed once a year for decent protection.
Check your radiator hoses
Just look at your hoses occasionally and make sure they are pliable and firmly in place. If they feel hard to the touch, think about replacing them before you get stranded on the side of the road.
And your belts
Do the same thing with your belts. Check to make sure they aren't frayed or damaged when you pop the hood. If they are, the only driving you should be doing is to the mechanic.
If your turn signal starts going faster it needs to be replaced
Nothing is broken, but your turn-signal light will go out soon.
Fix lights yourself to save money
Unlike changing the oil, you don't need to crawl on the ground to change a blinker or brake light. Go to an auto-parts store and spend 30 minutes in the driveway to save $50 and the time waiting at a dealership.
Get jack stands
If you crawl underneath your car with any regularity get jack stands. It's not worth saving $50 to bet your life on the cheap scissor jack that came with your car.
Look at your drain plug after changing your oil
There is a magnet on the bottom of the plug designed to catch metal shavings from your engine. As alarming as that sounds, a little bit of metal is normal, if there's enough metal to cover the magnet you may have a problem.
Make sure your check-engine light turns on after turning the key
If the cord is damaged and the light doesn't illuminate, you could do some real damage without knowing it.
If an oil light comes on, fix it ASAP
An oil light means your engine is in serious jeopardy. Don't ignore this one, get it fixed ASAP.
Blowing hot air cools down your engine
If your engine temperature starts to rise you can take on some of its suffering by cranking the heat. Chances are it's a hot day outside and the interior of your car will feel like a microwave, but it's better than your radiator fluid boiling over.
Let your car cool down before opening the radiator cap
If it's hot it's also pressurized and will shoot scalding fluid in every direction. If you can touch the radiator with your hand comfortably, it's okay to open up.
Leave a plastic bag in your car
For dirty shoes, a motion-sick passenger or messy napkins, it's never a bad idea to have one on hand.
Don't use high beams in the fog
High beams reflect off the water droplets in the air making it harder to see. Use only your low and fog lights for the best visibility.
Clear your roof of snow
Snow on your roof can become a hazard to other drivers as it can come off in clumps or spray onto rear drivers' windshields making it harder to see things like your brake lights.
Keep valuables out of eye sight
You may think nobody would break your window to steal the dollar you left on your seat, but why even risk it. Put your valuables out of sight.
Practice changing a tire
Figure out the kinks of changing your car's tires at home with a beverage and time, not in the dark on the side of a busy road. It's a good opportunity to ensure your spare is filled up and in good condition too.
Squeaky brakes are a warning
Those aren't your brake pads making the noise, it's a built-in wear indicator rubbing on your discs making that horrible sound telling you they are growing thin.
Turn off traction control in slush/mud
You need your tires to slip a bit to get some grip in crappy conditions. With traction control it's going to stop any progress you make.
If you start sliding in the snow let off the brakes
You want your tires to be rolling when you slide so they may start gripping and get you back in control. If you hit the brakes in a panic, you'll be using all your tires' grip to brake instead of getting control. If you need some guidance on what car to use in the snow, look at our buyer's guide here.
Don't let a battery go completely flat
Batteries don't like to be empty of charge. If you are not driving a car for a while, leave a trickle charger on it to keep the battery in tip-top shape.
The penny trick
It's an old method, but still holds value today. Put a penny in your tire upside down. If you can see all of Abe's head, time to get some new tires.
Two bucket method for washing cars
If you wash your car in the driveway, every time you dunk your sponge in the bucket, all the grime and dirt you just wiped off is going to get right back onto your sponge and scratch your paint. To avoid this, use two buckets, but fill one with water. Before reapplying soapy water to the sponge, dunk it in the fresh water to keep the grime away from your soapy water.
Don't use dish soap to wash your car
It may seem a frugal option to use dish soap, but unlike car soap, dish soap will strip away protectants making your paint more susceptible to damage.
Gas can go bad
Despite watching survivors in zombie shows siphon gas out of cars that have been abandoned for years, the gas likely went bad after just six months of sitting in the tank. Put some fuel stabilizer in the tank to extend its lifespan to a couple years if you need to store a vehicle.
You don't need to warm your car up before you drive
If it's fuel injected, just start it and go. However you should keep the revs low while everything is getting up to temperature.
Use your floor mats to get out of mud or snow
Slide them under your driven wheels and gently accelerate out. Mashing the pedal will only dig you deeper.
Get a free OBDII engine-light test
Stop by an auto parts store if your engine light comes on. They'll give you a free scan in hopes you can fix it with your parts. If not, you know what the problem is and can take it from there.
Check for recalls
Put your VIN in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website and see if you need to get something fixed. Manufacturers don't like sending out recalls, so when they do take them seriously. They are free and only require some of your time.
Clean your headlights with toothpaste
If your headlights are dirty and blocking some light, rub some toothpaste on a cloth and scrub them with a splash of water for a few minutes. That should remove some of the stains on them.