Five ways you may be prematurely aging your car

Follow these steps to keep your car feeling fresh and new

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 purchase, and yet some of us treat our chariots like trash.

Here are five ways you may be increasing wear and tear on your vehicle. These practices can increase your current maintenance costs, decrease what you'll get for your used vehicle when you sell it, or increase how much you'll have to put into its refurbishment in order to sell it.

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 you should keep it to a in just a couple of minutes. Engines aren't designed to sit idling for long periods of time; idle too long and a buildup can develop on your spark plugs, which can make them less efficient. And that wastes gas. If you insist on a comfortable interior during the winter months, consider heated seats in your next car or truck purchase. They provide a quick dose of warmth, without the inefficiency of running the engine to warm the entire interior.

Practicing poor tire maintenance.
Driving a car with improperly inflated tires wastes fuel and wears down your tire tread. If keeping your tires too far under their ideal inflation, you'll be driving on tread towards the outside of the tire, which will not only do the above but will also adversely affect your car's handling and braking. Worse yet, on the highway this can cause your tire to blow out. Tire Rack, a leading tire retailer and info provider, 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 much above the speed limit forces you to brake harder, faster and more 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 (or $4-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 riding your clutch if you're one of those manual transmission drivers who keep your foot practically on the clutch while driving. You'll wear that down, also, which can require a complicated (read: costly) fix. 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 sun shades – 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, as they're often less than $20. Unless your car is always in the shade, which seems almost impossible to me, it's imperative that you use one whenever the sun and temps are high. Keep it in the trunk or hatch for those times when your car isn't in a garage.

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