Generally speaking, after your housing, your car is your biggest financial investment and responsibility. Whether you're using an old beater or have a brand new model fresh from the dealer, virtually everyone wants to make the most of their vehicle and keep it in reasonable shape for as long as possible. Unfortunately, however, there is a laundry list of bad habits that drivers regularly do that can needlessly strain and even damage aspects of the vehicle. Although there's no way of ensuring a vehicle will be completely safe all of the time, there are a few things to keep in mind whenever you're behind or around your driver's wheel.
It's possible that you subscribe to the "stop and go" technique when it comes to braking. This is incredibly common in areas that tend to get traffic overflow; drivers will accelerate, only to brake a second later when the traffic holds up again. This results in premature front-end wear to the brakes. Whether in the context of a traffic jam or otherwise, it is good form to learn how to make this technique smoother.
If you're needing to brake a lot, you are likely working the gas pedal more than it needs. Fixing this problem will also have a positive boon to your fuel efficiency while driving. Moreover, if a traffic jam is bad enough, a full engine brake can often be more efficient and smooth than regular foot braking.
Pushing the brake and gas pedals simultaneously (called "riding the brakes") is an easy way to strain your brake system without gaining anything positive in return. Having these two features work against each other will wear out your brake pads and fuel efficiency. This usually happens when nervous drivers are trying to regulate their speed down a hill. Brakes alone are a more reliable way of handling one's speed.
When the car is being parked, it's also a good idea to put on the parking brake, even if there isn't an incline to worry about. The parking brake alleviates a lot of the burden from the regular brakes. Because the parking brake isn't used for anything else, balancing the burden as such will increase your brakes' longevity.
Steering and suspension
Suspension is typically designed so that vehicles can take on inordinately large burdens if need be. However, the fact remains that carrying around unneeded weight places a strain on the suspension. This is even true for whatever weight you may be towing behind you in a trailer. Although you shouldn't worry about exact weight ratios, it's a good idea to know how much your vehicle has been reported to safely handle. Going over the limit may seem fine at the time, but the strain can result in lasting damage.
Proper use of the gearshift system is paramount if you want to reduce wear on your vehicle. For starters, abrupt shifts or shifting between drive/reverse without stopping can damage the transmission senselessly. Keep your hand off of the shift stick whenever you're not using it; if you're using an older manual transmission vehicle, the same applies to the clutch. Even a small amount of pressure may unwittingly strain the transmission system. These components are designed to be sensitive, so keep that fact in mind when you're using them next.
Although it should go without saying, avoiding erratic driving will do wonders for your vehicle's longevity. Although there's a great exhilaration to be felt in whipping your Camry around the bend like an F1 special, your steering and tires may bear the brunt of it. Extra care should be taken around potholes and speed bumps. Running too fast over a speed bump can wreck a car's transmission, so keep your eyes on the road and slow down to a 5mph whenever driving over them.
Check your fires frequently. Refilling them with air regularly or changing them as needed can save you and your vehicle a ton of hassle down the road. Deflated tires can decrease gas mileage by up to 15%. Gauging the air pressure in your tires about once a month is a good habit to pick up. In addition, make sure your tires are suited to the kind of terrain you'll be driving in. If you're living in a rural area with largely gravel roads, city tires will degrade at a much faster rate than tires suited for the conditions. The same applies to weather conditions, like snow. A right choice of tire can have significant advantages with regards to safety.
Make sure your tires are clear of obstruction when parked. If your tires are up against a curb or against parking concrete, back up a bit and give the tires some space.
Body and frame
If there's a dent on your car that's begun to rust, repair the rust hole as soon as possible. Allowing surfaces to rust will gradually degrade a vehicle's body. This can be slowed down considerably by painting over the surfaces with paint and a sealant. At-home touch-ups can be a good band-aid for the time being, but you should take it to an autobody repair shop if you want the issue solved for good.
Cleaning and washing the car regularly will help improve longevity. On top of being unsavory, bird droppings have acidic properties that can damage a car's coat of paint. It's a good idea not to wait until your next date night to get those splotches away for good.
As with the suspension and tires, take care in dealing with obstructions like potholes and speed bumps. Blazing over a pothole or speed bump can result in significant damage to the vehicle's exhaust pipe and underbody.
Leaving electronics (such as the stereo and headlights) on while the engine is off will gradually sap away the battery until it runs out. If this is the case, the car will need to be jolted to life again with the help of another car battery. If you need to use the stereo for a while, don't forget to turn on the engine every 15 minutes or so.
If the car is going to be out of use for a long-term period (such as the winter months) make sure you turn on the engine at semi-regularly, at least a couple of times a month. This will keep the battery was petering out on its own. Car batteries are expensive and it's unfortunate to wear down such an expensive component through sheer negligence.
It's a good idea to address OBD-II (Onboard Diagnostic) trouble codes as soon as they're logged in your vehicle's computer. This applies to every aspect of the vehicle - not just the electrical components. Besides driving carefully, getting problems under control as fast as possible is your best bet in limiting damage.