34 easy car hacks every driver should know

a hand cleans off a car seat
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We spend a lot of time in our cars. We spend a lot of money on them, too, from regular maintenance work to detailed cleaning — because if you’re going to be in the car a lot, why not make it as pleasant (and safe) as possible?

Here are some simple hacks for keeping your car in tip-top shape that may even save you a few bucks along the way. Save this list as your go-to guidance on how to easily clean, repair, organize, heat up and cool down your car.

1. Clean Headlights With Toothpaste

To see things more clearly, clean your cloudy headlights with toothpaste. There are mild abrasives in your toothpaste (which is how it gets the plaque off your teeth) that clean the headlight without damaging it. Plus, using this trick is simple:

  1. Clean the headlight of debris.
  2. Dry the headlight.
  3. Apply a thick layer of toothpaste over your headlight and allow it to sit for three to five minutes.
  4. Using light, circular motions, buff the toothpaste off the light with a scrubbing brush or toothbrush.
  5. Wipe away excess toothpaste, rinse with water and dry.

Of course, if you really want to get the job done (and avoid wasting toothpaste), there are always headlight restoration kits like one from 3M.

2. Defog Your Car by Turning On the Air Conditioning

air conditioning button in car
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It sounds crazy, but there is a reason your air conditioner can defog your car. Essentially, you’ll switch between heat and air conditioning. When you do that, you suck the moisture out of the air and aid in defogging. To use this trick:

  1. Turn the heat on full blast to eliminate moisture in the air.
  2. Turn on the A/C to make it more arid.
  3. Switch back to heat, and switch off the air recirculation button (the one with the arrow twirling around the inside of the car).
  4. Open the windows. Not a lot, since it’s clearly cold outside, but enough to let cold air come into the car, drying it even more.

3. Cover the Windshield During Winter

In the summer, a sunshade prevents the smoldering sun from heating up your car’s interior. In the winter, you can do the same thing, except put a blanket, tarp or plastic tablecloth over the outside of your windshield to protect it from snow and ice — a big help when you’re rushing off the following morning.

This also keeps your windshield wipers from sticking to the glass, so you’ll be up and running like normal even when it’s still snowing.

If you live in a place that snows a lot, it may be worth investing in purpose-built protection like this FrostGuard Plus Winter Windshield Cover:

Frost Guard Plus windshield cover on black truck

$35 at Amazon

4. Use Clear Nail Polish to Slow Windshield Cracks

You know the old trick of putting clear nail polish on pantyhose to stop a run from going all the way down your leg? Well, the same theory works on small cracks in your windshield. Instead of waiting for the windshield to completely crack, put some nail polish on it as soon as you notice a small fracture. Here’s how:

  1. Park your car in a shady spot. The sun’s warmth will make the nail polish dry too quickly to help.
  2. Give the crack a quick wipe-down with whatever you’ve got on hand. A little hand sanitizer is fine.
  3. Fill the crack or chip completely with the clear nail polish on the outside of the car. Go from end to end and use a generous amount of nail polish.
  4. Repeat the process inside the car. Keep fresh air circulating when you work on the interior to vent the polish fumes.

Just remember that this is meant to be a stopgap measure. You’ll still need to get your window fixed, unfortunately.

5. Try This Weird but Efficient Way to Cool Down Your Car

Instead of blasting the air conditioning (or if your A/C doesn’t work), try this instead:

  1. Roll down the driver’s side window.
  2. Go to the passenger side, and open and close the doors a few times.

This forces the hot air out of the car, cooling your car faster than simply relying on the air conditioning to cool down your hotbox.

6. De-Ice a Frozen Lock With Hand Sanitizer

The alcohol in hand sanitizer will melt the ice right off your car door handle. Alcohol’s freezing point is much lower than water’s, so it melts the ice as it mixes with water.

Rub sanitizer on the key and gently wiggle it into the lock, if needed.

Other ways to de-ice frozen locks in a pinch include breathing warm air onto the door handle or warming your key with a lighter.

frozen car door
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MORE: The expert trick to defrosting your car windshield fast

7. Keep Your Pizza Warm on the Ride Home

No need to frantically rush home before your takeout gets cold. Why not use your seat warmer or heated seats to heat up the large pizza sitting next to you?

8. Borrow the Kids’ Pool Noodles for Your Garage

Do you hit the garage wall every time you open your car door? Attach a pool noodle along the side of the garage and it will protect your car from getting dinged on a daily basis. Replenish your kids’ pool noodle stash with this Oodles of Noodles 6-pack.

colorful pool noodles

$29 at Amazon

9. Remove Dents With a Plunger

If you have a minor dent, you may be able to repair it on the cheap with boiling-hot water and a plunger, as seen in this TikTok video:

@barstoolsports

Auto shops after seeing this 👁👄👁@chicks (via:marcolivierblack/ig)

♬ original sound – Barstool Sports

This one’s trickier than it looks, though: Family Handyman tested it out with zero success until they roasted the bumper with a heat gun. And even then, the area of the dent was still obvious.

Might be worth a shot if you’re in a pinch, though!

10. Don’t Buy Any More Air Fresheners

Instead of shelling out good money for those car freshener trees that you hang from the rearview mirror, simply use an herbal tea bag. Wrap it in a breathable cloth, and hang it on the mirror. Tea bags are much cheaper to replace, and there are plenty of soothing scents to choose from.

11. Use Cooking Spray to Fight Bugs

Removing bugs that have met their demise on the front bumper and grill of your car can be tough. Some savvy car owners have found that using a cooking spray like Pam helps them wipe off easier. Others swear that applying a good coating of cooking spray or car wax before taking off on a bug-filled journey will also help. You just have to remember to have your car washed after your trip, since keeping a layer of cooking spray on also attracts dirt and dust.

Some products like 3D Bug Remover promise to make bug-cleaning a breeze, as well — and help with other gunk, like tree sap.

12. Keep Your Cup Holders Clean With Cupcake Liners

Add some cupcake liners to your cup holders, and when they start to get dirty, remove and replace them! Try using silicone liners so you can pop them into the dishwasher when they’re in need of a cleaning.

This set of 12 Figment silicone baking cups from Target provides plenty of liners for your cup holders, with some left over for making muffins or cupcakes!

silicone baking cups

$9 at Target

13. Put Zip-top Bags on Your Side Mirrors During Winter

If you park outside during winter, place Ziploc bags over your side-view mirrors and you’ll have two fewer surfaces to clear snow and ice from in the morning. If you don’t have a Ziploc-style bag handy, you could use a single-use plastic grocery bag — just tie it as tightly as you can to keep the snow and ice at bay.

14. Tame Your Mess With a Remote Control Caddy-Turned-Organizer

If you’re tired of finding pens, toys, books and other odds and ends all over your car, get a remote control caddy like this Joywell version from Amazon and affix it to the side of one of your seats. Tame that clutter!

armchair caddy with pockets for organizing things

$15.49 (was $120) at Amazon

15. Get a Paintbrush for Your Air Vents

The Family Handyman uses an unlikely tool to clean out those dusty car vents: a small paintbrush! Spray the brush with just a touch of furniture polish, then wipe the bristles along the vents to push out all that dust. Give the brush a quick wipe with a rag, then hit the next vent. Genius, right?

16. Clean Your Car Seats in a Snap

Want a quick and inexpensive way to clean fabric car seats? Try Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda and warm water.

  1. Make a quick mix of 1/4 cup washing soda and 1 cup of warm water, ensuring the soda dissolves completely. You can use regular baking soda, too.
  2. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle, then spritz on the fabric you want to clean. (Get it wet, but not soaked.)
  3. Let it sit for about 30 minutes.
  4. Scrub with a toothbrush or other cleaning brush in a circular motion.
  5. Wipe off any excess with a damp cloth, and let dry.

Arm and Hammer super washing soda

$5 at Walmart

The Washing Soda has other uses around the house, too, so buying big will come in handy for various cleaning and deodorizing tasks.

17. Know How to Clean Those Little Crevices

No need to pay someone to detail your car. Do it yourself! Car and Driver recommends purchasing a bristled crevice-cleaning brush to get the nasty bits out of your car’s many nooks and crannies.

peston hard bristle cleaning brush

$5.99 at Amazon

You can then spray a cleaner or natural cleaning agent — such as vinegar, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice — on a microfiber cloth for further freshening. (And definitely be gentle with any electronic displays or devices you encounter.)

18. Get an Organizer for Your Trunk

The trunk can quickly become the place where we toss things without thinking and then slam the door shut — out of sight, out of mind! To save space back there and bring some order to the chaos, consider adding an organizer to your trunk. There are plenty of options for these helpful bins online, including some that sport a cute print, like this one from Amazon.

organizer for car trunk

$16.99 (was $19.99) at Amazon

19. Use Dryer Sheets as Air Fresheners

Traditional car air fresheners can have an overwhelming scent. Dryer sheets make an ideal air freshener, and you can attach one to the heating/air-conditioning vents if you want to circulate the smells. You can hide them under the seats or floor mats, or in the glove compartment, for a cleaner look.

20. Use Club Soda to Clean Your Windshield

Got some tough-to-remove sticky spots on the windshield? Trying scrubbing them off with a rag and club soda. You’d be surprised what those bubbles can do — the fizzy bevvie’s chemical makeup includes cleaning superstars like carbon dioxide and sodium bicarbonate to help lift dirt away.

woman cleans car windshield with rag
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21. Prevent Your Wipers From Freezing and Cracking

Not only is it tricky to pry frozen wipers from an ice-covered windshield, doing so can actually cause the blade to crack or rip. You could buy wiper protectors, but if you want to save some money or need blade covers in a pinch, look no further than your sock drawer. Slip a sock over each blade to keep them from sticking.

MORE: Why you shouldn’t put your windshield wipers up when it snows

22. Use These Tips When You’re Low on Gas

When you see your gas tank nearing “E” for empty, it may be tempting to speed up to find the nearest gas station. Don’t! Instead, keep calm and engage in gas-saving measures.

  1. Pull over and look up the closest gas station, and the fastest route to getting there, to avoid wasting fuel on a wrong turn.
  2. Watch your speed. Unless you need to keep up with interstate traffic, 35-45 miles per hour is ideal for fuel efficiency.
  3. Turn off the A/C and all accessories to reduce stress on the engine. Sadly, not the best time to crank “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
  4. Rolling up the windows, if you can stand it, will reduce drag.
  5. Choose a downhill route to your gas station if at all possible.

Fuel warning light on, gas gauge is near empty
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23. Fix a Missing Wiper Blade Quickly

If you can’t make it to the mechanic to get a new wiper blade or happen to lose one on a long-distance drive, here’s a temporary solution for you: Wrap pantyhose tightly (key word: tightly!) around your windshield wiper, as this can offer a quick fix in a storm and prevent a bare wiper from possibly scratching your windshield.

24. Tackle Dog Hair With Rubber Gloves

If you’re a dog owner, driving with your canine companions is often (OK, mostly!) unavoidable. To combat the fur they leave behind, try this simple hack:

  1. Fill a spray bottle with water and lightly spritz the interior of your car.
  2. Throw on a pair of rubber gloves and rub your hands over the seats, floor and doors.
  3. The hair should stick to the gloves, and you can rinse them off as you go.

black and white dog sits in backseat of car
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25. Drive Through Standing Water the Right Way

The best way to drive through a flooded section of road or massive puddle is not to drive through it at all. If going forward is your only option, hold steady on the gas and drive slowly. If you drive a manual, don’t change gears. You want to avoid water meeting the air intake on your engine, so the higher your car is off the ground, the better. But again, the best way to prevent damage is to avoid driving through standing water in the first place.

26. Remove Stickers With Wet Newspaper

Maybe you got a little overzealous with the political bumper stickers when you were feeling fired up, or your car is still boasting that your kid is an honor roll student even though she’s now a college grad.

Whatever the reason, sometimes you need to purge your car’s bumper of old stickers. If you’ve got paper towels and vinegar, it’s easy.

  1. Soak a wad of paper towels (or old newspaper) in white vinegar.
  2. Plop your paper towl over the bumper sticker for about five minutes. If it sticks on its own, all the better.
  3. Carefully pry up an edge of the sticker, then slowly peel the rest of the sticker.
  4. Use rubbing alcohol to get rid of any leftover gunk.

wet newspaper is used to clean car exterior
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27. Give Floor Mats a Quick Clean

The floor mats in your car can really take a beating, especially if you have kids or pets (or both!). Tidy them up in minutes for a fast refresh.

  1. Take the mats out and give them a good shake. Don’t be afraid to whack them against a hard surface to really get the dust flying.
  2. Hose the mats down, then wipe off excess moisture with a microfiber cloth. Make sure they’re completely dry before reinstalling.
  3. If they really need a deep-clean, try using a vinegar-based cleaning solution and a scrubbing brush.
  4. Do a final hose-down and you’re done!

28. Make a Travel First-Aid Kit

It’s important to keep safe while on the road. In addition to driving defensively and buckling up, you should have a first-aid kit at the ready in case of emergency. Toss in everything from painkillers to bandages to allergy meds. You could also, of course, buy one and just make sure to check it periodically.

first aid kit
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29. DIY a Car Seat Cover for Your Dog

If you’re headed out on a road trip with your pooch, you can protect your back seat from becoming covered in fur and keep your pup comfortable at the same time with a DIY seat cover. This tutorial from Your Sassy Self does not require any sewing. You can use a twin-size bed sheet or the fabric of your choice. You will need an iron to create straps that will tie around your headrest, though.

MORE: 6 tips to make your fabric car seats look brand new

30. Turn Your Car Into a Camper

Think you need an actual camper to camp on the go? Think again. Whether you’re traveling in an SUV, a crossover or a van, you can lay the back seats flat and set up a cozy nook that’s perfect for catching some z’s. Consider adding a sleeping pad, blankets, socks and hats to your trunk to stay warm and comfy overnight. And snuggling into a sleeping bag, like this one from Amazon, is key.

blue sleeping bag

$24 (was $40 at Amazon

31. Wax Your Car With Hair Conditioner

Next time you want your car to look shiny and new, just head to your shower. Turns out, hair conditioner can make your paint job just as smooth and silky as your tresses. Here’s how:

  1. Wash and rinse down your car first to get rid of dirt and debris. Use car soap.
  2. Dilute your conditioner with some water first — about 2 cups of water for a half-cup of conditioner.
  3. Use a microfiber cloth to apply the conditioner to the car.
  4. Let sit for 5 minutes, rinse off the conditioner and buff with a microfiber cloth.

32. Polish Your Dashboard With Olive Oil

When it comes time to polish up the inside of the car, try reaching for a pantry staple. You can use some olive oil (plus a little elbow grease!) to polish up the dashboard and make it look shiny and new again.

  1. Dust the area first to get rid of any debris that could stick in the oil.
  2. Add a small amount of olive oil (or vegetable or coconut oils) to a cloth, then shine away.
  3. If you’re unsure how your car’s material will react to the oil, do a test spot in a hidden location first.

cleaning rag polishing car dashboard
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33. Park Perfectly With a Tennis Ball

Do you ever struggle to figure out how far to pull in when parking in your garage? There’s a simple hack to prevent you from running into your storage boxes. Simply hang a tennis ball from the ceiling at the point where it will hit your windshield when you’ve pulled in to the exact right spot. Genius!

34. DIY a Backseat Garbage Can

If you frequently have little passengers in the back seat, you know they can make quite the mess. Space For Living has simple instructions for crafting a car-size trash can in minutes.

  1. Buy a slim-and-tall plastic food storage container, like one that might be used for breakfast cereal.
  2. Adhere a Velcro strip (or two or three) to the container.
  3. Affix the corresponding strip(s) to a convenient spot in your car.
  4. Stick the container to the Velcro strips to keep it in place.

Now it’s just a matter of encouraging your kids not to litter all over the car. Try to make a game of it by seeing who can “score the most baskets.” Good luck!

Cleaning & Organization, Home, Life Hacks
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