35 car hacks every driver should know

a hand cleans off a car seat

Here are some simple hacks for keeping your car in tip-top shape, which will make driving more pleasant and 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.

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.

Use Your Head To Lock Your Car

Do you want to feel like a magician? If you’re too far from your car for your key fob to work, try using your head as a personal satellite. Yes, really. Your body’s fluids act as a conductor and can extend the wireless signal from your key fob to the parked car. Just put your car key fob on top of your head, open your mouth, and push the button on your keychain.

Defog Your Car By Turning On The Air Conditioning

air conditioning button in car

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 aiming in defogging. To use this truck:

  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.

Cover The Windshield During Winter

In the summer, you may use a sunshade to prevent the smoldering sun 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. This also keeps your windshield wipers from sticking to the glass.

Use Clear Nail Polish To Repair 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.

Keep in mind, however, that this is meant to be a stopgap measure. You’re still going to need to get your window fixed, unfortunately.

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.

De-Ice A Frozen Lock With Hand Sanitizer

The alcohol in hand sanitizer will melt the ice right off your car door handle. Other ways to de-ice frozen locks in a pinch include breathing warm air onto the door handle, warming your key with a lighter or applying some WD-40.

frozen car door

MORE: The Expert Trick To Defrosting Your Car Windshield FAST

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 to heat up the large pizza sitting next to you?

Borrow The Kids’ Pool Noodles For Your Garage

Do you hit the garage wall every time you open your car door? Place 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 from Amazon.

colorful pool noodles

$24.99 at Amazon

Remove Dents With A Plunger

If you have a minor dent, you may be able to repair it on the cheap with a plunger.

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.

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.

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

blue silicone muffin liners

$9 at Target

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.

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 one from Amazon and affix it to the side of one of your seats. Tame that clutter!


$15.49 (was $19.99) at Amazon

A Paintbrush For Your Air Vents

The Family Handyman uses an unlikely tool to clean out those dusty car vents: a small paintbrush! Swipe the paintbrush bristles along the vents to push out all that dust. Genius, right?

Cleaning Your Car Seats

What’s the best way to clean your fabric car seats? Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda, dish soap and hot water. That’s it!

Arm and Hammer super washing soda

$15.49 at Amazon

How To Clean Those Little Crevices

Once again, The Family Handyman came to our car-cleaning rescue by sharing his tip on cleaning small crevices in our cars. All you’ll need is a flathead screwdriver and a cloth to cover it with.

You can then spray a cleaner or natural cleaning agent — for inspiration, check out our pieces on the amazing uses for vinegar, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice — on the cloth and clean all of the hard-to-reach spots in the car.

Keep Your Trunk Organized

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

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 or hide them under the seats to keep them out of sight.

Club Soda For 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.

woman cleans car windshield with rag

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 for $20 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, and voila!

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

Use These Tricks 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! According to Cars.com, the first thing you should do is pull over and look up the closest gas station and fastest route to getting there to avoid wasting any precious drops of fuel on a wrong turn. Next, turn off your heat or A/C and the stereo, and unplug anything you’ve been charging. Finally, try to stick to a slow and steady speed (ideally going 35-45 miles per hour) until you reach your refueling point.

Fuel warning light on, gas gauge is near empty

Quick Fix For A Missing Wiper Blade

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.

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: Fill a spray bottle with water and lightly spritz the interior of your car. Throw on a pair of rubber gloves and rub your hands over the seats, floor and doors. 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

Drive Through Standing Water The Right Way

The best way to drive through a flooded section of road or massive puddle is to NOT 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.

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, but anyone who’s ever attempted to do this knows that it’s easier said than done.

A simple way to remove old stickers without damaging your car is to use damp newspaper. Just wet a piece of newspaper and lay it over the sticker for about 15 minutes. This will soften the adhesive residue and make it easier to wipe off. It works for stickers on the windshield as well.

wet newspaper is used to clean car exterior

Clean Floor Mats In The Washing Machine

The floor mats in your car can really take a beating, especially if you have kids or pets (or both!). Even vacuuming them doesn’t take care of the ground-in dirt and grime, nor does it remove stains.

The solution? Throw them in the washing machine.

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.

first aid kit

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.

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

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

$29.98 (was $39.98) at Amazon

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. The trick is to dilute it with some water first, then use a rag to apply the conditioner to the car. After about 5 minutes, rinse off the conditioner.

Polish Your Dashboard With Olive Oil

When it comes time to polishing 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.

cleaning rag polishing car dashboard

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!

DIY A Backseat Garbage Can

If you frequently have little passengers in the back seat, you know they can make quite the mess. Craft a garbage can or bag to hang over the front seats to encourage them from littering all over the car. They can even make a game of it by trying to see who can “score the most baskets.”

Cleaning & Organization, Home, Tips & Advice

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Andrew Krehbiel

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