Who doesn’t love a good road trip? Planning a trip is always exciting, but do cars feel the same? It’s a great question.
The average family car drives the equivalent of halfway around the world every year without major mechanical issues. Modern cars are engineered for reliability and durability. Long drives are less stressful to a car’s mechanical components than multiple short drives.
In this post you’ll learn why your car prefers a long drive to a short one, you’ll also learn some really useful road trip preparation tips.
Are Short Drives Bad?
The average family car covers around thirteen and half thousand miles in a year, and in its lifetime will travel around the world approximately six times. Sure it will need maintenance and repairs along the way, but likely nothing major.
I’m a mechanic as was my father, when he was an apprentice, engines could not travel more than eight thousand miles before needing some major love in the workshop. I’m swinging wrenches for well over twenty years and cars I see today for the most part have never been more reliable or durable.
Long drives pose absolutely no challenge to a modern car, provided it’s well maintained. Short drives on the other hand can actually be harmful to the health of some of your vehicle’s components and here’s why.
(By short drives I mean less than ten minutes of actual highway driving.)
The problem is moisture, it naturally accumulates inside the engine after shutdown. Components like the exhaust system, underhood electrical components, brake components like brake drums and rotors all attract moisture. Moisture promotes corrosion.
Moisture is the enemy of all machinery and electrical components.
When you drive your car until it gets to operating temperature, you know when the temperature gauge reads normal. The heat from the engine burns off all that moisture.
Taking your car for short trips to the school or shops and back, simply allows the moisture to build up inside the engine and exhaust systems. Of course, for many families this is just a fact of life, the second car does the short runs.
Short Drives Bad For Diesel Engines
Diesel engines seem to suffer the most from short trip moisture issues. This presents a problem in Europe especially, where many families use a diesel car as the second car.
Gas and diesel cars are fitted with an exhaust gas recirculation system also known as an EGR valve. Its function is to cool combustion chamber gases and thereby reduce harmful NOx emissions.
Diesel engine EGR valves employ an EGR cooler which attracts moisture when warm, sooty exhaust gasses pass over the cooler and the moisture causes the soothe to stick to the cooler. Repeated short trips cause the soothe to get so thick it eventually clogs the cooler and it needs to be replaced.
Longer trips will prevent the buildup.
Short Drives Are Bad For Brakes
Brakes hate laying up and short drives, moisture on raw metal like rotors turns to rust pretty quickly. Corrosion is a normal condition and isn’t a problem in cars that are used regularly.
A normal drive cycle cleans the corrosion from the surface and your rotors are as good as new again. This is a cycle that’s played out every time you use your car.
If however the brakes are used sparingly as is the case on short trips, the rust builds up and damages the rotors.
Common symptoms include dragging brakes, poor brake performance, noisy brakes, hard ineffective brake pedal. When rotors get this bad, the best repair is to replace the rotors. Take your car for a good long drive once a week to prevent brake and exhaust issues down the road.
Preparing For A Road Trip
A little preparation before your journey can save you needless expense and a ton of stress. Most of the following tips were gained through experience if you know what I mean.
We’ll first look at the car checks & chores before checking out useful tools and parts for the trunk.
- Check oil level
- Check for oil leaks
- Check coolant level
- Check serpentine belt condition
- Check brake fluid level
- Check power steering level
- Check transmission oil level
- Top up windshield washer fluid
- Check wiper blade condition
- Check tire condition
- Check tire pressures
- Check spare wheel, jack and tire iron
- Check lights
- Clean windshield inside and out
Check out all my favorite tools on the Mechanics tools page.
Cleaning the car before a road trip makes for a more relaxed enjoyable experience. A clean windshield inside and out really helps when driving at night or in bad weather.
Consider using a product like Rain-X which repels rainwater, I keep a Rain-X in the trunk and reapply as necessary.
Check out Rain-x and other great cleaning products on the Car cleaning tools page.
Check out the Trunk essentials page where you’ll find useful emergency tools and supplies that have been saved my ass many times.
- Spare bulbs
- Spare fuses
- Quart of oil
- Quart of coolant
- Emergency tire sealer
- Jumper cables
- Tow rope
- Vice grips
- Screwdriver set
- Small socket set
- About the Author
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John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. He’s been a mechanic for over twenty-five years and has worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, and Jaguar dealerships.
John uses his know-how and experience to write fluff-free articles that help fellow gearheads with all aspects of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting.