Remember Click and Clack, hosts of the long-running NPR show Car Talk? If you don’t know them, they were Tom and Ray Magliozzi, two boisterous mechanics from Boston who hosted a hilarious call-in radio show about cars and car repair. You don’t have to know who they were to read on. Among the many calls they got regarding actual auto repairs, I was always surprised at how many callers were in the midst of debates, usually with their significant others, about how they drive.
There were questions about clutch wear, gas mileage, brake wear and just about anything else you can imagine two people arguing over on a long car ride. It was always funny to listen to, but at the end of the debate, there was bound to be an answer as to whether the debated behavior was good or bad — somebody has to be right!
So the question appears:
Are You Driving Your Car Right?
Should you be accelerating gradually or with a big burst of power followed by smooth cruising? If you’re in a race, the clear answer is to put your foot in it until you can’t go anymore. But what about every day traffic? A slow, steady acceleration will use less fuel than a fast start, and can be safer, too. Many of the 4-car fender benders you see in commuter traffic happen because heavy acceleration has put cars too close to each other and unable to brake in time when the line is stopping, which results in a multi-car bump.
If your car or truck has an automatic transmission, you aren’t doing any of the shifting, right?
Not exactly! Your car shifts when it thinks you want it to, and it makes this decision based on what you’re doing with your feet. If you’re passing slower traffic, your foot is on the accelerator pretty hard, and the car shifts into a lower gear to make the pass. But if you press the accelerator hard, then back off substantially, it thinks you’re finished and shifts up a gear to save gas. If you weren’t ready for that, you press the accelerator hard again and the whole thing repeats itself. This wastes gas and causes unnecessary wear and tear on your transmission. Steady is the way to go.
People with manual transmissions can drive their cars wrong, too. There are obvious things, like speed shifting or choosing the wrong gear, that can wear your transmission or clutch, but failing to shift often enough can have ill effects, too. If you are slowing down to the point that your engine is below 1000 RPM, you need to shift into a higher gear. Sure, your car may be able to rumble out of it, but by asking your engine to pull the car with such low engine revs you are putting lots of undue stress on its inner mechanical components. You are also likely using more gas than you would if you downshifted! Remember, a car is all about efficiency.
Obviously, every time you use your brakes you’re wearing them out, but that’s not a huge deal because your brakes are made to wear. That said, you can certainly cause premature wear by using them inefficiently, or just plain wrong. Slow, steady braking at a stop light is much more forgiving to your brake pads and discs than a hard stomp. Driving with one foot resting lightly on the brake pedal may seem ok, but that slight pressure can cause your brakes to engage a little bit all the time. Not only does this cause wear, it also causes heat to build up, which in a worst case scenario could lead to sudden brake failure. Two-footed drivers, I’m talking to you!