How Cars Drive Men

A well-tuned automobile can give you an edge in life.

“When the tires are in good shape, the wheels are torqued, and the oil and filters have been changed, you feel a stronger sense of control,” says Mark Wilkins, who has 29 top -five finishes racing for Kia. And people who feel in control also report greater happi-ness, according to a study from Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. The study didn’t look at driving specifically, but “a sense of mastery in one area of your life can extend to other areas,” says study coauthor Erik Helzer, Ph.D. So if your car’s rolling on fresh rubber and the spark plugs are firing clean, you might actually nail that presentation you have later in the day.

Okay, so it probably takes more than a reliable car to make you a CEO (and score the reserved parking spot). But if nothing else, consider the amount of time you spend behind the wheel. For most guys, that’s more than 40 minutes a day, according to an MH survey. And almost half of men drive longer than an hour.

How do you make the most of that time?

With regular maintenance (check the manual, pal) and a few key upgrades from the experts. On the following pages, you’ll find a higher gear.

Check your own levels

You need fluids as much as your car does: Low H 2 O can affect your driving like a 0.08 BAC (the DUI threshold), a U.K. study found. In a simulator, mildly dehydrated drivers made more errors (like hitting the brakes late and riding the rumble strips) about twice as often as they did while hydrated. Think of water as a safety essential, says Brock Christopher, manager of Porsche’s human performance center. Invite a bottle to ride shotgun.

Boost Your Beams

Most vehicles on the road can’t safely illuminate what’s ahead at 40 mph, according to an AAA report. Blame cloudy headlight lenses; the dim light may tire your eyes and slow your reaction times, says Didier Theys, coach of the Ferrari Challenge Racing Series. See more at night with the 3M Headlight Lens Restoration Kit ($13, shop.advanceautoparts.com).

Let Some Air In

A clogged airfilter can kill the fun: A U.S. Department of Energy study found that it cuts 20 to 80 mph acceleration time by more than a second in fuel-injected vehicles. Testers could feel the bog. In a 72 Pontiac with a carburetor, the effect was worse, adding nearly four seconds. A new filter costs $20, max. Change yours every year or every 12,000 miles.

Add a Hint of Mint

Drivers react faster when they smell peppermint, according to research from Wheeling Jesuit University. “The scent stimulates the part of the brain that wakes you up," says study coauthor Bryan Raudenbush, Ph.D. Skip the hanging firtree; it could harbor hormone-disrupting phthalates. Instead, use an essential oil in a diffuser. Find one for about $8 on Amazon.

Fill Your Rubber

Our survey of MH readers revealed that only about a third check tire pressure monthly as they should. Low air can create a spongy feel in corners. “You’ll feel physically tired because it takes more effort to keep your car under control,” says Joe Bacal, a Phoenix-based stunt driver. Check PSI while the tires are cold, and then top them off the same day every month.

Stop the Bounce

Replacing worn shocks, springs, bushings, and ball joints will make your car feel more responsive, says Bacal. If you’re not sure whether they’re worn, use this test: Start driving in an open parking lot and turn your wheel 30 degrees-enough to move your hand from the two o’clock to the three o’clock position. If the car barely responds, it’s due for maintenance.