These 8 Bad Car Maintenance Habits Are A Mechanic’s Nightmare


Car maintenance can be a tedious exercise. Finding time to change oil or rotate and align tires isn’t always easy. However, if something potentially terminal is happening with a vehicle, there may be warning signs ahead of time that could be corrected with regular car maintenance. To help prevent minor issues from becoming major ones, Family Handyman even compiled a list of some of the worst habits your mechanic wants you to stop doing.

1. Ignore your car’s check engine light

Inspect car engine under hood | Sergei Chuzavkov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Image

The dreaded check engine light is one of many lights that can appear on your car’s dashboard. Although it can cause panic, a survey shows that nearly two-thirds of drivers ignore their check engine light. A quarter of respondents said they had never even looked into the problem.

However, the light can indicate maintenance issues with almost anything, so Family Handyman recommends having it checked as soon as possible. It can be scary, but waiting for serious damage to occur can drive up repair costs by hundreds to thousands of dollars. The good news is that many repair shops will tell you why the light is on for free.

CarMD’s Vehicle Health Index tracked the most common repairs related to check engine lighting in 2020. The top repair was a new catalytic converter with an average cost of $1,383. Remaining maintenance included replacing oxygen sensors ($243), ignition coils and spark plugs ($389), mass airflow sensors ($336), and tightening or replacement of a fuel cap ($25).

When it comes to brands, CarMD reports in 2020 that Mitsubishi is the least likely to have an illuminated check engine light, followed by Mercedes and Volkswagen. Meanwhile, Kia cars had the lowest average repair cost at $322.

2. Waiting too long for routine maintenance

Similar to checking engine lights, routine maintenance of your car can go a long way to keeping it running smoothly on the road. In fact, routine car maintenance can benefit your vehicle in many ways.

Family Handyman uses engine coolant as an example. Yes, engine coolant helps keep your engine from overheating, but it also prevents internal corrosion. Skipping routine coolant changes can lead to problems down the line, including water pump, heater core and/or radiator failure.

3. Ignore unusual noises in your car

If your car is in good condition, it will sound like this. As Family Handyman says, that means no squealing, squealing, squealing, rumbling, clicking, or popping. Every sound can mean something is wrong.

Squeaks when starting, whining while turning the steering wheel and groaning may indicate a failing power steering pump. Strange car noises such as clicking while turning may be a worn CV axle. A squeal or squeal when braking means your brakes may need some attention. A high-pitched squeal could be a sign of a faulty drive belt which could lead to engine failure.

4. Ignore Bad Smells or Unusual Smells

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Just like ignoring sounds, ignoring smells can lead to high car repair and maintenance bills. Everyone has a different potential culprit. Family Handyman reports low fluid levels if you can tell there is an oily burning smell. Often this can mean a leak and damage to the engine, power steering or transmission.

A sweet smell is a sign of low coolant or a problem in your heater core. Burnt paper is also a bad sign; your clutch may fail. If your car smells bad after turning on the air conditioning, it may be a sign of mold in the air conditioning system. Ignoring any of these odors could lead to serious system failures.

5. Buying a used car without a professional maintenance inspection

Buying used cars from an online private seller or local dealership can be overwhelming. It’s even worse with fewer new cars on the market due to shortages of labor and semiconductor chips. However, checking the gauge or taking a test drive may not be enough to find potential hidden issues.

Having the vehicle checked by a professional can cost hundreds of dollars, but could pay dividends. Family Handyman recommends agreeing with the seller on a price conditional on a certificate of good health after an inspection.

This used car inspection can check for recently cleared trouble codes, physical belt, suspension or tire wear issues, and computer data entries during a test drive. You can get a full report with the results and take them into account when finalizing your sale.

6. Shift from reverse to reverse when your car is rolling

It is easy to do. You’re in a parking lot, you’ve backed up and you’re in a hurry to leave. You put your car in reverse without coming to a complete stop. However, this can damage your vehicle over time and lead to high maintenance costs.

In a car with automatic transmission, Family Handyman says there is a transmission selector that gives a signal to the computer. The ECM then sends more signals to the sensors to engage the drive. In a manual car, this can lead to damaged shift cables or ill-fitting linkages. This can ultimately prevent the reverse gear from locking up when changing gears.

7. Driving with worn tires

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It makes sense that people drive with worn tires. They can be quite expensive and time-consuming to select and install on your car. However, driving with worn tires has maintenance and safety implications at both high and low speeds. When riding fast, Family Handyman notes that stopping distances are longer; a stopping difference from 70 mph on tires with 2/32 inch tread can take 100 feet longer than tires with 4/32 inch tread. At low speeds, you can easily slide into a curb, and if it’s raining, you may also skid.

If you’re not sure if your tires are worn, the penny test is an easy way to find out.

8. Concealment of information

If you’re going to a mechanic to get your car repaired or checked for needed maintenance, withholding information can be detrimental. Simply put, they need all the information they can get to figure out what could be wrong under the hood or in a system. Family Handyman recommends writing down all information about signs of trouble and providing it to your mechanic.

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