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Five ways you may be prematurely aging your car

Flat tire

 (iStock)

Winter is tough on cars, but your bad habits might be making things even worse. A car is the second most expensive item most people will ever buy, and yet we treat our chariots like trash.

Here are five ways you may be increasing wear and tear on your vehicle. They can reduce your costs now, decrease what you'll get for it when you sell it or increase how much you'll have to put into it to do so.

Warming car up or otherwise leaving it idling.

Today's engines have enough lubrication that they don't need to be warmed up. Maybe like me, however, you like the seats and interior a bit toasty before you take off in the morning. That's fine, but keep it to a minimum, as in just a couple of minutes. Engines aren't designed to sit idling for long periods of time. Keep it idling too long and a buildup can develop on your spark plugs, which can make them less efficient, which wastes gas.

Practicing poor tire maintenance. 

Driving a car with improperly inflated tires wastes fuel and wears down your tires' tread. Keep your tires too far under their ideal inflation, you'll be driving on tread towards that outside of the tire, which will not only do the above, it will adversely affect your car's handling and braking. Worst yet, on the highway, this can cause your tire to blow out. AutoMD, a mechanic referral service, recommends testing your tread by inserting a penny – with Abe's head first – into the treads on your tire. If our former president's head is covered at all, you're safe. If there's space above his head, or you can read "In God We Trust," it's time for tire shopping.

Driving too fast. 


It can do far more than get you ticketed, injured or killed. Driving too far over the speed limit forces you to brake hard, fast and abruptly, which takes a toll on your tires' tread, says McKinney Tire Pros on the tire dealer's blog. Few things wear your tires out faster. Allow extra distance between your car and the car in front so you don't have to brake – especially hard – just because the guy in front did so, perhaps unnecessarily. And teach yourself to scan the road far ahead so you can react with plenty of time in an emergency.

Riding the brake or clutch. 

Perhaps years of $3-a-gallon gas taught you to drive more responsibly. Hopefully there aren't too many of you left out there, but for any two-footed drivers of automatic transmission vehicles, it really is time to stop doing that. We can all tell who you are by the frequent flickering of your brake lights when we ride behind you. And along with driving us crazy, you're wearing your brakes down for no good reason. You may not be making us nuts with this other habit, but the same can be said of clutch-riding if you're one of those manual transmission drivers who keeps your foot practically on the clutch while driving. You'll wear that down too, which can require complicated (read: costly) fixes. If you're guilty of either of these near-sins, try this: Plant your left foot on what's known as the "dead pedal," to the left of the brake or clutch. Doing so will brace you during sharp turns and keep you from riding the brake or clutch.

Baking the dashboard.

I always thought those cardboard sunshades – say, the goofy ones that look like sunglasses – were to keep your car cooler inside for when you get in on a hot day. That's part of it, but they do far more than protect your comfort. They also keep dashboards from blistering, cracking, fading or getting otherwise damaged by the harsh rays of the sun. They're a great "investment" (they're often less than $20) unless your car is always in the shade, which seems almost impossible to me. Keep it in the trunk for those time when your car isn't in a garage.

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