Do You Make These Mistakes With Your Car?

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

Ever do something you shouldn’t have — with a car, that is? Here are some of the best “Don’t Do’s” I’ve come across — and a few I’ve even done myself. Read, laugh… and learn!

1) Using regular rubber fuel hose in a fuel injected car.
Major Don’t Do — unless you like engine fires. Unlike older cars with carburetors, the pressure in the fuel lines of a fuel injected car can be as high 40 psi (vs. 5-8 psi in a car with a carburetor). Use the wrong type of hose — such as the cheaper to buy standard fuel hose instead of the higher cost, high-pressure line specifically designed for FI cars — and you’d better have a fire extinguisher handy. Or just not much like the car you’re driving right now.

2) “Splicing” damaged brake lines.
This Don’t Do is even more fraught with danger than the use of low-grade (low pressure) rubber fuel hose in a high-pressure, fuel-injected car. Because at least with an engine fire, you’ll probably be able to stop the car, get out — and flee.

But if the brakes fail due to hydraulic problems caused by a cheesy spliced-in section of line — well, you can’t just open the door and get out at 60 mph. If a steel brake line is damaged or rusty, the proper repair is to replace the entire section with a new steel line. Never patch in a section like you were trying to fix a leaky kitchen sink. Unless you’re looking to try an unusual form of assisted suicide.

3) Jack up the car on grass or dirt… and get underneath it.
More people — by far — are maimed and even killed each year as a result of dumbo Don’t Do car jacking techniques (not the stealing kind) than are mauled by sharks or killed by lightning. Even hard-packed dirt can give once the weight of a 3,500 lb. car is hoisted on it; gravel shifts — and grass is soft.

Always, always, always raise the car on a level, hard surface such as a concrete driveway pad (or similar). If you haven’t got access to that, find or buy a flat board at least 2×2 to use as a floor for the jack. It will spread the load out and help prevent the jack from sinking or slipping. And don’t even think about crawling underneath the car before the frame is properly supported by fixed jack stands. Not just the jack.

4) Drive around on less than all your lug nuts.
Most cars have either four or five lug nuts securing each wheel to its hub. None of the individual lugs are superfluous or optional. It’s a serious Don’t Do to drive around with one (or more) lug nuts not secured because you sheared off the stud or something like that. The wheel can come off (trust me) while you’re toodling down the road – and when it does, the car will likely suffer violent loss of control as the weight shifts suddenly and unexpectedly.

At the very least — if you’re lucky — all you’ll be is seriously stuck and looking at a fat tow bill. More likely, you’ll have wrecked the car or caused it serious damage. All because you were too cheap (or too lazy) to fix a $5 wheel stud — or replace a 75 cent lug nut.

5) Ignore your “check engine” light.
Since about the mid-’90s new cars have come with On Board Diagnostics (OBD), which means the computer that controls the engine “self checks” its various systems and, when something’s amiss, lets you know by triggering the amber “check engine” light on the dash. Typically, the fault is emissions related.

However, because the car often seems to be running just fine, people will sometimes just ignore the light and keep on driving that way for weeks or months. Problem? If the engine is not running the way it ought to (such as an incorrect and overly “rich” air-fuel mixture), driving it for an extended period can kill your car’s catalytic converter(s) and other key — and costly – emissions related parts. Instead of a $150 tune-up/service you might end up with a $1,000 bill for new cats and related equipment. That makes ignoring the “check” light a Don’t Do that you do at your own peril.

6) Drive normally on a Space Saver tire.
Many new cars no longer come with full-size spare tires. Instead, they have so-called “space saver” tires that are typically much smaller than the normal tire they are stepping in for and which are designed only to let you gimp to the next available tire store or get you home. That’s it. They are not intended for high-speed driving and almost always they will negatively affect the way your car handles and brakes.

If you don’t want to wreck, don’t drive on the space saver for more than about 50 miles or faster than about 50 mph. (Your owner’s manual will have specific warnings and cautions applicable to your particular vehicle.)

7) Overload your pick-up.
Who hasn’t been tempted? You don’t want to have to make two trips to the store; so instead of doing the right thing, you do the wrong thing and have the forklift guy put a load of bricks in the bed that makes it sag so bad the shocks seem like they’ll explode at any moment.

They won’t actually explode, of course. But they make be so overloaded that you ruin them. And the evil handling/braking that will result from loading your vehicle beyond what its rated to carry could result in a lot more than damage to the vehicle or an accident.

It could result in criminal charges — and a huge personal injury lawsuit — in the event you hit someone else. Not to mention you might have to live with the knowledge that you crippled or killed another human being.

That’s about as big a Don’t Do as there is.


Image Credit: dave_7

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