11 incredibly common driving errors – and how to fix them

Our team give their tips on how to drive better, safer and more comfortably...


We’re afraid to say that you may have been driving the wrong way for all these years. But you’re far from alone. Here’s the What Car? guide to common motoring errors, and how to avoid them:

1. Incorrectly using the ventilation recirculation button

Air recirculation button

You may have a vague idea that this is the button you press (circled above) when you’re trailing behind a 2003 Ford Transit van belching black smoke behind it like it’s the Emma Maersk. And this would indeed be the right thing to do. But you shouldn’t use it in winter after entering your car, because it will take a lot longer to de-fug the windows.

You should, by contrast, use it at least temporarily on hot days at start-up because it will get the temperature down the quickest. And while we're on the subject, on a hot day lower all the windows to allow the hot air out of the car before first setting off; then close them after a few minutes to get the full benefits of your air conditioning.

2. Not using the parking brake with automatics

Automatic gearbox

Even some modern automatic gearboxes don’t automatically engage the parking brake when you engage Park and switch off the engine. But you always should engage it, since relying on the gearbox entirely to demobilise what might be a heavy car on a hill puts it under a lot of stress it could easily do without.

Additionally, when you go on holiday and are driving that Fiat Grande Punto rental car around the hills of Italy, having forgotten the habit of using the handbrake after you park your car could cause you a great deal of trouble.

3. Not allowing a space of 3-4 feet in front of you in traffic

Stopping too close to the car in front

When pulling up behind another car in traffic, always allow a space of around 3-4 feet from the car in front. This gives you enough space to always overtake them when they break down or become otherwise immobile.

4. Not standing on the brakes when you really have to

Emergency stop

If you need to stop quickly, stand on those brakes. In modern cars they're very powerful, and modern tyres are very effective in stopping you, too. Let them do their work; don’t worry about locking-up – all cars sold since 2004 have anti-lock brakes (ABS) fitted as standard, and most have stability control and automatic wheel-brake distribution too, which will also help.

Many accidents occur not only because drivers don’t brake early enough, but also not hard enough. If your car has automatic emergency braking, even better – but don’t ever switch it off.

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