Looking after your car properly doesn’t necessarily mean you need to know the purpose of every nut and bolt. What matters, though, is acknowledging the role that certain components play, and understanding they can only withstand a certain level of abuse.
Cars are built to withstand a fair bit of punishment from uncaring operators, but they deserve to be nurtured, and in the words of racing legend Jackie Stewart, “You don’t have to be an engineer to be a racing driver, but you do have to have mechanical sympathy”.
I couldn't agree more. If you've been nodding your head up until this point, most likely you have a little thing called mechanical sympathy, and it is not easy to live with.
When I did a quick whip around the office, I discovered it’s far more common than I had thought, and my email was greeted with many annoying things that grind the gears of my colleagues.
This story was first published in July 2019.
Let’s start with service intervals. If the oil or filters aren’t replaced, or anything else that needs attention for that matter, you are slowly killing your car. I’m sure you would’ve seen videos of a mechanic draining oil from the sump that is so thick you could carve it.
Don’t be like Homer Simpson and stick black tape over the warning light either, because the problem won’t go away.
Incorrect tyre pressures can be the difference between a supple or harsh ride. I’ll never forget after getting four new tyres installed on my 2000 hatchback, the tyre shop put 40psi in all of them. They were over-inflated by around 15psi more than what the manufacturer recommended.
Every few weeks it pays to check tyre pressures when you fill up the car. Seriously, it’s not that hard.
And if you need to replace tyres, make sure you choose the correct branded tyres for the car. Manufacturers spend time and money testing the right tyres for the right car, and putting shoddy tyres onto especially a sports car, seems like a kick in the teeth to those people.
We’ve all been guilty of running the fuel gauge to almost empty, but it is doing damage to your car. Not only does more fuel evaporate the emptier the tank is (your money is essentially disappearing into thin air), but it can also wear down the fuel pump motor quicker as the petrol acts as a coolant for it.
The damage bill could end up costing you more than it would’ve to fill the car up. Playing cat and mouse with the fuel range meter is not such a great idea.
Yes, we all know petrol is expensive, but please don’t be a tight-arse and use 91RON in a car that requires 95 or more RON. It could prove more expensive fixing the car than it would’ve been to use the correct octane rating in the first place. Not sure what your car takes? Look in the manual or on the inside of the petrol flap.
Have you ever rested your hand on the manual gear knob because it’s comfortable and cool? Yeah, don’t do that. The weight of your hand is slowly burning out the synchro.
Speaking of resting, please don’t use the clutch as a footrest. It’s only used for changing gears, and you are very lightly wearing away your clutch plate. And while we are at it, when you’re stopped in traffic, don’t sit there with the clutch to the floor to get a quick getaway, because it can cause damage to the release bearing and arm.
Probably the most infuriating one for me is people using the brake pedal as a footrest, or slightly touching it as a result of left-foot driving. The brake light remains on even when the throttle is being used, which increases the risk of someone rear-ending you, and not to mention wear and tear to your brake pads. Whenever I find someone doing this, I get as far away from them as possible, as I never know when they start braking.
Another way of quickly wearing down your brake pads and rotors is slamming on the brakes at the last minute. Sure, there are times when it is needed in an emergency stopping situation, but for god's sake, look ahead in traffic and use sufficient time and distance to brake. Your passengers will love you for it.
Riding the brakes downhill is also a fast way of wearing the brakes. You don’t want to receive a speeding fine, but there are other ways of slowing the car down: touch the brakes intermittently, or use your gears.
Excessive acceleration between traffic lights – why? Every now and again it’s fun, especially if you have a fully sick exhaust, but you will see your fuel gauge go down and the fuel consumption go up very quickly, and you’re placing a heavy load on the drivetrain. In the end, you’ll meet that same person who was beside you before at the next red light anyway. I always enjoy waving to them.
I was in a taxi last week on a quiet 80km/h freeway and the driver was on and off the throttle. My neck muscles got a workout, and I was screaming inside to “use the damn cruise control” while the fuel consumption was rising.
It is quite easy to maintain the right amount of throttle pressure to keep it at a constant speed, or just use cruise control when it is safe to do so.
Probably the second habit that sends my mechanical sympathy meter off the scale is revving a cold engine as soon as the car has been started (*shudder*). The little temperature gauge that is found on your dash usually reads just under halfway when warm. It's measured off your coolant temperature, but also gives a good indication of when your oil is at the right operating temperature.
You are pumping cold oil around your engine by revving it too early, and in broad terms cold, less viscous oil may not offer the same protection. The same can be said for revving it to redline. While it might be cool to show off to your friends, it is best to do this when the car is in gear and on the move.
As much as many people would like to believe, cars were not designed to do burnouts. Not only do they rip through your tyres and your wallet, but it puts immense pressure on the engine from constant high RPM, stress to the clutch, pressure on the differential and potentially your suspension.
Oh, and not to mention, you’re breaking the law if you choose to do it on public roads. Just don’t be an idiot, because it’s the quickest way to kill your car.
Here’s one to tear the hair out of a person with mechanical sympathy. Lugging an engine. This is when you might drive up a steep hill in top gear, or you plant the throttle in low RPM to overtake a vehicle. Doing this will increase engine temperature, and mess with the timing of the engine. Do a The Fast and the Furious move and downshift that baby.
What about changing gears from drive to reverse or vice-versa while the car is still moving? Well, it depends on the age of your car. Do it in older cars and it will most likely clunk or jerk, putting stress on the drivetrain.
New cars are equipped with technology to help with people who are too impatient to let the car come to a complete stop, with electronic solenoids that help to control hydraulics. Still, it’s not such a great idea.
Power steering can make life easy, but when you have hydraulic steering, it doesn’t mean you need to sit on full lock. You’ll start to hear the power steering pump groan, while the pressure relief valve will start screaming. Maybe stop turning the wheel just before full lock, or come back a few degrees to let it breathe a sigh of relief.
I’ve got to say I’m guilty of the next one. It’s a bit similar to revving the engine when cold. I used to drive my car 1.3km to work, which in the country was a two-minute drive. The little blue temperature gauge symbol never went out, and the temperature dial never really moved. The colder the engine, the thicker the oil, which increases wear on the engine. Yep, my bad.
Windscreen wipers are used for wiping off water, not dirt. So, when it is no longer raining, turn the darn things off. It is easier now with automatic wipers on modern cars, but it irritates me so much when someone in an older car still has the wipers on long after the rain has dissipated.
Or even worse is when someone doesn’t realise their rear wiper is on and the glass is dry and dirty. It almost sounds like nails on a chalkboard as it scratches the glass. Gah.
While we are on washing, don’t use an old sponge that you’ve had for years to wash your car. So much grime and dirt gets caught in those, and that’s how those yucky swirl marks appear on your car's paint.
And that bird poo or tree sap you’ve been meaning to wash off? Don’t put it off one minute longer. The longer that stuff is burnt into your paint if parked in the sun, that acidity is harder to get out, and it will leave a water-like stain on the paint. If I see a car with bird droppings all over it, I am ever so tempted to wash the poor thing myself.
Another one we are probably all guilty of is kerbing wheels, which happens when a wheel brushes the gutter and leaves a scratch or, even worse, a chunk of metal missing from the wheel. Kerbing a wheel is probably the worst sound in the world. Believe me. There is also something sad about seeing a beautiful or valuable car with gutter rash to every wheel.
There are a few ways to decrease the chances of wrecking your wheels. If a solitary parallel park presents itself, don’t drive in, reverse in every time, lower the side mirror and use cameras and sensors if you have them. They’re your best friend. Otherwise, it can cost over $100 to repair, depending on the type of wheel or amount of damage. Ouch.
Slamming doors. There’s no need. Sure, it depends on the type of car (my Beetle is airtight, so it requires a good slam), but most are happy with a gentle push. Some people slam a car door so hard that I’m surprised the glass doesn’t shatter.
The door assembly is designed to withstand a certain level of abuse, but if you slam your door hard every single time, it’s only a matter of time until something will break. Have respect for a door, man. Oh, and please don’t force a power-operated tailgate open or closed. Look for that little boot button first before the motors will start whingeing and whining.
How many times have you seen a Toyota Avalon towing an old caravan and the nose is pointing to the air? That’s what you call shitty weight distribution and bad choice of a tow car. Depending on the load weight, towing with a front-wheel-drive car isn’t exactly safe, as the steering will be lighter and there will be less traction.
Also, if you’re fitting a stack of accessories to your 4WD or ute, this is only going to add considerable weight to the car. Those massive front steel bars can look good and serve a purpose, but they can be heavy things, with some weighing up to 90kg.
If the front spring rates aren’t adjusted, the car could sag. It’s technically like driving around all the time with an adult sitting on the bonnet. Not a bright idea.
So, if you’re one who has mechanical sympathy, my deepest condolences. It truly can be a double-edged sword. While it’s applaudable to have respect for mechanical things, it can also enrage you when you see people disrespecting them. I feel if we have stopped at least one person from doing any of the abovementioned, our job here is done.
Cars were built to either be a mode of transport or to bring joy to enthusiasts. If you look after your car, it will look after you.
MORE: Car advice at CarAdvice