The Four Most Common Ways People Destroy Their Cars

Every year over ten million vehicles are sent to wholesale auto auctions throughout the United States.

Trade-ins. Off-lease vehicles. Repossessions. This market of nearly a half trillion dollars in assets is possible thanks to one brutal reality of car ownership: Bad owners.

Some car owners are simply not up to the task of owning and maintaining their car over the course of years. By slowly destroying their car, they also destroy their own wealth in the process.

A few of the vehicles that find their way to the auctions are rolling cream puffs, but the bulk have physical damage and mechanical issues that could have been easily avoided if the prior owner had taken care of the little problems before they became big.


A new car will quickly become an ugly four thousand pound paperweight in a matter of years due to the mistakes I put in four distinct categories. Call them “NARC:” Neglect, abuse, rust, and the one I see all too frequently in the car business — crap.


Photo: Dave7 via Flickr

Crap: Let’s start with crap since this one is by far the most common ingredient in the wasted money equation. Crap begins in your engine bay where many owners try to opt for the cheapest parts at the cheapest possible prices. In earlier times certain auto parts, such as alternators, window switches and fuel pumps, were given lifetime guarantees. Today though, those replacement components typically have a one-year to two-year guarantee from a discount parts store that offers a limited guarantee for an important reason.

The deal you just got from that low price stems from cheapness, and it has a domino effect of increasing your repair costs over time. Cheapness is a disease when it comes to cars and it often shortens the life expectancy and enjoyment of what you drive.


Photo: ktesh via Flickr

It isn’t just what’s under the hood that can hurt you. Down the road, cheap tires that last only 30,000 to 40,000 miles can result in expensive suspension repairs and usually wear out twice as quick as a quality replacement than can last 65,000 miles or beyond. Behind those tires, cheap brake pads squeal with abandon and eventually increase your overall costs due to the multiple labor hours it takes to replace two to three sets versus only one.

Neglect: Neglect is far more than just being a slob and treating the interior like a personalized trash bin. It’s the attitude of ignoring small problems that eventually become expensive ones.


Photo: Forrest Rowell via Flickr

An example of neglect is ignoring the fact that your oil (or coolant level) is low and doing absolutely nothing about it. Or, ignoring a small bit of engine noise that just doesn’t sound right. A lot of folks don’t want to go to the shop and open up the checkbook, even though that may be the temporary speed bump needed to get that car back in near-excellent condition. So, they ignore it in the hope that it will go away. It’s just as likely to get far worse, and far more expensive, to fix.

Abuse: Yes, there are some owners that are true human hurricanes when it comes to car ownership. But just driving aggressively or eventually scratching up every panel on a car is not the abuse that destroys a car.


Spark plug photo: Jim Hutchinson via Flickr

Abuse is a mindset. It’s a belief that a car can handle whatever you can throw at it because it’s a machine. Revving a car when the engine is cold is a lot like asking someone to run sprints when they just got out of bed. When you step on it all the time, you also put a load on your motor, transmission mounts, and your suspension system. Eventually they get loose and begin to degrade and fall apart.

Don’t go all OJ with your car. Chill out. Let the car warm up by driving it reasonably, and save that hard acceleration and braking for when you really need it.


Photo: Harry T via Motoramic group/Flickr

Rust: This is often seen as an issue if you live in the rust belt or the northeastern United States. But when it comes to how a car looks, everyone has to deal with rust at some point. And very few people do anything about it.

Ever see a front of a hood that looked like a thousand specks of brown decided to congregate together? Ever see a deep scratch, or a scuff, get a brown tinge to it and start spreading all over the body?

This is how rust affects the overwhelming majority of cars. Minor cosmetic issues such as paint chips and small scratches eventually become cancerous ones as the surrounding paint begins to flake off. In time, that once cherished chariot of yours becomes a beater that is not worthy of your investment.

Over 99% of what made you fall in love with a car is usually still there. When it comes to wasting money with cars, the question really boils down to whether you are willing to make the right investments instead of taking the lazy way out.

You are the one who makes the difference. The wealth and joy of car ownership is only wasted when you willingly let your car suffer the death of a thousand cuts. Although a few cars are truly defective from the inside out, it’s usually not the car that makes the difference when it comes to wasting money.

The owner determines the quality of a car. When it comes to wasting money, it’s the cheap person who always pays the most in the long run.