Reader Question: Effects of Short Distance Driving?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Nasir writes: I recently moved and will now need a second car to commute to the station – which is 1.5 miles away. Yes, I can ride a bicycle as they want you to here, or buy a more sensible car/cheap banger, but you know announcing stuff like banning proper cars makes you want to get one more while you can. Also, with all that CO2 reduction they are planning – someone has to look out for all the plants and trees!

So am considering an old sporty car, say mid to early 2000s (basically the earliest that is “green” enough to be allowed into central London without a money grab). Need back seats for the kids (small is fine as they are still small), want a manual gearbox – ideally either an M3 or 911 of that era as they are now relatively affordable out here without financing of course (really wanted something like the track hawk or the new Mustangs, but don’t at all want to take on financing and these are still quite expensive out here).

I was reading into things and one thing I came across is that making mostly short journeys on a regular basis is actually very bad for these performance cars (or any car) over time, as a drive of a couple minutes is not enough to warm up the engine and empty the gunk in the exhaust system -which if clogged can be an expensive fix.  My normal run is about approximately 7 minutes, 1.5 miles to the station, and back every day. Temperature out here most of the year is from 40f-70f, if that matters. Do you know have any experience with this? Is there any way to prevent such issues?

My reply: It is true that very short distance driving can be very hard on a car; on any car. It is generally considered “severe” or “heavy duty” service and more frequent maintenance schedules are generally advised. The reason has to do with the engine especially not reaching full operating temperature and being turned off before it does. This was more an issue with older (pre-computer/carbureted) cars, which took longer to “warm up” but it is still an issue even with modern cars that are set up to achieve normal operating temperature (mainly for emissions control reasons) much faster.

Your best bet is to drive the car longer and more often – which ought not to be to hard if you end up with that 911 or M3! My advice – what I would do – is rotate the cars. Drive your “normal” car on some days – ideally, days when it’s rainy – and take the fun car out when it’s sunny and nice. This plus regular fluid changes (use synthetics as they offer much better protection) ought to avoid any troubles.

Another good thing to do if you have an infrequently or lightly used car is to keep it hooked to a battery tender/trickle charger when not being used. This will keep the battery fully charged and extend its service life, too.

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. Unfortunately, we have to drive the Jeep 1/4 mile over to the barn and back twice a day in the winter (Oct-Apr) to feed and haul water to our horses. The Jeep does get driven to town (50m r/t) every couple weeks in the winter while the car is laid up, and she also drives it to church (~60m r/t) most Sundays so it does get blown out a bit.

    There is just no getting around it. All this “global warming” you would think winter would be getting shorter instead of longer // roll eyes

    • Sounds like you need a buried line for water. I set mine up on a timer with the inlet coming in the bottom of the trough made from half of part of a 1,000 gallon propane tank(wish I had bought a trough and saved the tank). It would be nice to have a 4 wheeler or golf cart to haul feed.

      • Well, sure … it’s about 800 feet over there and it would need both water below the freeze line (about 4 feet down) and co-buried electric line capable of running a tank heater. Several thousand dollars plus the monthly electric for the tank heater, and we still need to get over there 2x day somehow when it is slippery or blizzarding or just plain too much cold and snow. I can walk over there most of the time but she can’t 🙁 It’s either down through a coulee and back up or clear around by the driveway and the road.

        Or yeah – one of those nice heated cab side by sides to the tune of about $25K, vs a 30+ year old Jeep that cost about $4K – what would you do? The barn can’t be closer because our house is on a timbered north slope that is ice covered most of the winter, while the barn/arena is over on the other side on a nice level sunny (well, for a few hours a day in the winter) spot.

        In the warmer months we have a surface line to the barn. Usually that works up until the end of November if we drain it in the crick bottom but this winter started the end of September. In the past I’ve seen it warm up so we were running the water by now (mid-Feb) but at the rate we’re going I would expect more like the first of May.

        • Only you know your situation. I was just trying to offer something easier and better. You have evidently already done this. I have never had a heated cab anything other than a 235 PTO hp Case 4Wd tractor.

          I can offer something that helps a great deal. I have always had my vehicles hooked up to a block heater. Nowdays, there are remote control receptacles to heat your vehicle prior to starting. I used to just leave mine plugged in since electricity was cheap.

          I know how it is. I began using PEX years ago. If I forgot to drain the line(I have a drain well below the freeze line), PEX just laughed it off, even the valves would freeze and not be hurt.

          Every situation is unique and I wouldn’t tell you how to address your own. We’re having one of those “colder as you go” winters. Last week it was 3 degrees here…..and of course, I was out in the dark…..trying to shoot a goddamn skunk in my birthday suit. I gotta get a light to clamp on my shotgun. But man, that deep, bottom of the line drain valve is the nads.

          I wish you the best. It’s sometimes a real bitch in west Texas. We seem to be headed into another one like 2015 was. 3 degrees is not a thing we’re accustomed to but have experienced many times. The winter we had -17 was hell on……Ice?…… Took a lot of work and a big pickaxe to break the ice on the tank.

          • I plug it in for an hour if it gets below 20. If it’s supposed to be single digits or below then I plug it in overnight. Not so much just to make it start but make it easier on engine and battery.

            Something is wrong with our “frost free” hydrant because it freezes up in the winter, but it doesn’t break. If I ever run a deep line to the barn then it will tee off right in the well pit and go downhill as a separate system, with another hopefully this time really truly frost free hydrant at the RV site and then on across the pasture to the barn, but with a deep T-handle shut off just beyond the hydrant, just in case. Have to cross two driveways and a fiber optic line.

            It hasn’t been so cold (yet) this winter but it has just been so long. We’re in the middle of the fifth month of it already and probably two or three more months to go. It will get up to 40 some days but with crazy wind it feels like 10. An inch of snow won’t melt, it just gets polished into slick ice everywhere.

  2. When I had a 1.5m drive I had a coworker in a company owned pickup pick me up and take me home. Nothing got abused. I walked or had the boss come pick me up. I just won’t do that to a vehicle. It’s deadly fairly quickly. First the exhaust goes and then it becomes so coked up a head job is in order. As far as oil, be prepared to see it build up on engine parts to the point you can’t identify them.

    I’m proud the shortest trip I have is to the liquor store that’s a 20 mile round trip and the doctor that’s about 30 miles round trip. It just occurred to me I could be the delivery driver for the liquor store to the horspital.


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