Most people want their car to last as long as possible and have few problems as they drive it. But the reality is that most people don’t take care of their car. They seldom clean it and they give little thought to the vehicle as long as it gets them where they are going. Unbeknownst to most of us, there are things we do unintentionally to inadvertently destroy our car and take years off its usable life. Some of these are little things and others are big. Realizing that you are hurting your car in the following ways is the first step to protecting your car from harm. Consider the following list a helpful warning.

12. Not Giving the Car Enough Time to Warm Up

This one falls into the “small” category and most people are guilty of it. We’re talking about not giving the car enough time to warm up once you start it before jamming it into gear and taking off. This is hard on the car’s engine in any environment, but it is especially bad in cold climates. The oil in a vehicle does not lubricate the engine nearly as well when it’s cold, and all the other parts in an engine are designed to operate within a certain temperature range. Starting the engine and driving the car right away stresses the items under the hood. The good news is that newer model cars warm up much faster than older ones, though you should still wait at least a minute or two before driving off.

11. Using the Wrong Engine Oil

Another common mistake people make is using the wrong engine oil for their vehicle. Believe it or not, there is a difference between 5W-30 and 10W-30 engine oil. The thickness of the oil, known as the “viscosity,” effects how the oil does its job under the hood. Each car engine was designed for a specific viscosity. For this reason, it is important to adhere to the manufacturer’s recommendation when it comes to engine oil. This is conveniently found in the owner’s manual of the car. Check the type of engine oil that the car takes, remember it and stick to it. Your car will thank you with miles of problem-free driving.

10. Shifting Into Drive While the Car is Rolling Backwards

Any time a vehicle goes from reverse into forward, or vice versa, it should be done while the car is at a full stop. Yet most of us are guilty of switching from reverse to forward without fully stopping. We may not give this action much thought, but it hurts the engine. At less than five miles per hour, the average car on the road today exerts more force than a bullet fired out of a gun, and you’re asking the engine to stop it immediately. The bottom line is that this action is one of the quickest ways to ruin a car’s transmission. Transmission repairs are among the most expensive on any vehicle, so avoid doing this at all costs.

9. Not Slowing Down for Speed Bumps or Avoiding Pot Holes

Let’s talk shocks, suspension and wheel alignment. Nothing will destroy all three of these quicker than hitting a speed bump too fast or carelessly running over a pot hole. Slowing down for a speed bump or swerving around a pot hole may sound obvious and seem like a no brainer. But most people don’t do these simple things. And it ends up costing them a fair amount of cash for new shocks, a suspension repair and a wheel alignment. If the steering wheel on your car vibrates when you’re driving on the highway, chances are it is because you hit a pot hole and the wheel alignment on your vehicle is screwed up. Fortunately, these costly repairs can be avoided by simply taking the time to avoid pot holes and slow down when approaching speed bumps.

8. Defrosting the Windshield With Hot Water

This is an old and convenient trick for people who live in winter climates. However, as more than one person has discovered, when you pour hot water on ice cold glass it breaks. Shatters would be a more accurate description. Trust us, this can happen and it is both shocking and embarrassing when it does. Do not be in such a rush. Take the time needed to let the car warm up and have the defrosters clear the windshield. Better yet, take the time to scrape the windows on the car. If you can, always park your car in a garage during the winter. If that is not possible, park the car facing the sun and let nature warm the windshield in the morning. These are the best ways to keep your windshield free of ice.

7. Driving With Winter Tires on the Car All Year Long

This one is potentially dangerous. Winter tires were made for winter driving. Keeping them on the vehicle throughout the year is never a good idea. This is because the tires wear down super fast in summer temperatures. The tires actually start to melt if driven on highways in July and August. This reduces the treads quickly and means that the tires will not be effective once winter rolls around again and you have to rely on the tires to bring you to a stop on ice and snow. If you are tempted to keep your winter tires on your vehicle throughout the whole year, avoid them altogether and buy all-season tires instead. These are tires that can be driven on in all weather and temperatures, including winter. This is the best option for people who do not want the hassle of owning two sets of tires.

6. Using Water Instead of Coolant in the Radiator

Water is readily available and a lot cheaper than buying coolant, so, not surprising that many people opt to pour plain water into their car radiator rather than a mix of water and coolant as recommended by the manufacturer. But during summer, untreated water can approach its boiling point given the pressure of most cooling systems and cause a radiator to overheat and blow. In winter, if that same water freezes, it will expand and cause major problems such as cracking the engine block. Be smart and use a 50/50 mix of water and coolant as recommended by everyone who knows anything about cars.

5. Using the Wrong Cleaning Products

If you are one of those people who likes to clean and detail their car by themselves, take note that you may be using the wrong cleaning products. For example, cleaning tinted windows with Windex will cause them to discolor due to the ammonia in that particular product. In fact, Windex can turn tinted windows the color purple. Many of the cleaners sold for car upholstery can also be problematic and lead to discolouration or cause vinyl and leather seats to fade. The truth is that the best (and safest) cleaner to use on the exterior and interior of a vehicle is water. You cannot go wrong with plain old fashioned water. It removes most dirt and debris quickly and easily, and it will not damage the interior or exterior of a car.

4. Not Using the Parking Brake

Another one that may seem obvious. However, studies show that the majority of drivers in North America do not use the parking brake on their car. In fact, many people wrongly assume that the parking brake is optional and for use when parking on a steep hill or incline. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is not just drivers in San Francisco who need to use their parking brake. Parking brakes actually lock the wheels on a car, ensuring that it does not roll or move when parked. It also protects the transmission when the car is parked. The vehicle is not meant to be held in place by the transmission. That is what the parking brake is meant to be used for. So do yourself a favour and use the parking brake whenever you park your car. Just remember to release the parking brake before driving off.

3. Ignoring Those Weird Sounds You Hear

Everyone knows what their car sounds like, or should sound like. When a noise starts—whether it is a knocking under the hood or a grinding sound at the rear tires—we hear it. Yet most people choose to ignore those noises as long as the car still starts, drives and gets them where they want to go. Mistake! That knocking in the engine and the sound of grinding metal or squeaking brakes is typically a warning to the driver. It usually means that there is a problem, or metal-to-metal contact, which is never good. Ignoring these sounds will only end up costing you more money in repairs in the long run. The engine, brakes, rotors, or other parts of the car will eventually break altogether and the car will end up in a garage and you will end up with an expensive repair bill. Or, worse, you will cause an accident.

2. Running on Empty

Are you one of those people who only fills up their car once the gas warning light comes on the dashboard? If yes, you need to know that this is a problem. Drivers should never run their car on empty, or close to empty, before filling up at a gas station. This is because the fuel in the gas tank helps to cool down the fuel pump and engine in a vehicle. While you may tell yourself that you are saving money by fueling less often, the truth is that what you are actually doing is setting your car up for major problems over time. The general rule of thumb is to keep a fuel tank at least a quarter (1/4) full at all times with gasoline to avoid fuel pump and engine issues down the road. This rule will also ensure that you do not get stranded on the side of the road with no gas in your car.

1. Ignoring Dashboard Symbols When They Come On

Most people don’t know what the symbols on their dashboard mean. When one comes on, they usually have to consult the owner’s manual to see what they mean. And, as is usually the case, if the car still works, people ignore those pesky symbols on the dashboard—even the one that means check or service the engine soon. Most of us just hope the dashboard symbol goes off on its own eventually. Yet people ignore these symbols at their own peril. Those symbols are letting you know that there is an issue with the car and that it needs to be checked and fixed. And the problem is not likely to go away with wishful thinking. Ignoring the dashboard symbol and continuing to drive the vehicle will eventually lead to big issues and costly repairs. Listen to the car and respond. Take the car into a garage and have it checked, or investigate potential problems yourself. This is the best way to protect the investment you have made in your car and to stay safe on the roads.