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Drive it Like You Stole it, Or Like that Little Old Lady

Published on February 28, 2012 under Humble Mechanic

Something that I get asked a lot is, “How can I keep my car running good?”. There is countless things that everyone needs should do to keep their car running be best it can. Proper maintenance, and care is vital to keeping your car running great. There seems to an idea that mileage on a car is a bad thing. Everyone has heard of the little old lady that only drove her car on Sundays to church and back. Well, that might not be such a good thing for any of the systems your car has

Lets start with the engine. Engines are meant to be run, they are not built to sit for extended periods of time. When a car is not driven, it never gets up to temperature. This can cause the fluids inside the engine(engine oil and coolant) to break down faster. Part of the job of these fluids is to carry debris away from the engine. Oil will move debris back to the oil pan, and leave it there until the oil is changed. Coolant does basically the same thing.That debris will deteriorate the metal and plastic of the engine causing premature wear.

Driving like that little old lady can impact the electronics of the car too. When a battery sits, it looses charge. When a car is driven, the alternator charges the battery back up. If a battery does not get properly charged, it will loose the ability to become completely charged. I am not sure if I have stressed how important battery voltage is, but I have seen bad batteries reek havoc on a car and cause it to do crazy things. Basically every system of the car is affected by not driving a car. Tires can get flat spots, brakes can wear funky where the pads touch the rotors. Even wiper blades will become brittle if not used.

What about the other side, “Drive it like you stole it”? I usually don’t say that to customers, I try to say, “Be sure take your car on a SPIRITED drive”. 😉 As far as I am convinced, there are only 2 negatives to this.

  1. Lower fuel economy. Lets face it, you will not be getting great MPG driving this way
  2. Fast wear on tires. You will probably be going through tires faster

You will notice that I did NOT mention brakes wearing out fast. The cool thing about VW brakes is the last longer when used a slightly more aggressive. I would say our average customer gets about 35,000-45,000 miles out of their rear brakes. The rears will wear out faster on a VW. The rear brakes actually engage before the front. Someone that rides the brakes will wear the rear brakes out faster. I got about 75,000 out of my rear brakes. I could have gone another 5,000-7,000 miles if I wanted to push it.

I have seen a lot of cars over the years. Some had high miles, some have so few miles I wonder why the people even needed a car. Everything being equal, the cars with high miles seem to be better cars. We have a customer with 220,xxx miles on her Jetta. The car has had a ton of maintenance, but very few repairs. I think she it just about due for timing belt number 2!

So why is it that we shy away from cars with high miles? My guess is the higher unknown factor. A car with 100,000 miles had a lot of road time compared to a car with 20,000 miles. That is a long time to wonder if the owner took good care of the car. Did they do all the maintenance they should have? The same can be said for the car with 20,000 miles. I would be willing to bet that my 2005 Passat with 92,000 miles is in better condition that most every Passat of that year, regardless of miles. Well, it might not be as clean, but it runs top notch. 😉 Here is my secret, proper oil changes, and every I get on the highway, I put the pedal to the floor. That “blows the junk out”, as my mom would say. It actually keeps carbon from building up on intake valves.

What do you guys think? Drive it like you stole it, or is that little old lady doing it right?

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14 Comments

  1. Kevin

    I think you need a good mix of both. If you drive like a grama the engine never has a chance to work out and burn anything off. I think at least once a week you need to drive it like you stole it. I also believe cars follow the law ” a object in motion tends to stay in motion” the more you drive your car the better. These cars are MADE to be driven, not parked.

  2. Jeremy

    I love the drive it like I stole it but the police don’t always let me haha. Anyway, I bought my car with 162,000km and I didn’t shy away from it one bit. If the car was taken car of why should I worry? Obviously, when buying a high mileage car, or any car, you should get an inspection done at a mechanic. I did it at my local guy but I’m sure it would be better to do it at the dealer since they know the car better.

    Driving it fast is not the same as beating your car. Driving fast is fine, it’s when people think their car is a tuning race car is when problems happen. Doing 40km/h around a corner is not the best idea. Or speeding over speed bumps. Down shifting quickly isn’t exactly bad but it’s not also good. Depends on your speed, most stock cars don’t have clutches or transmissions that can handle that.

    All in all I think you made another great blog post. They don’t make cars for them to sit around. They are made to be driven.

  3. Chris

    I like what you were saying about the damage sitting does to vehicles. My customers who owned big ‘rarely-driver’ trucks in Arizona didn’t understand that when you let a vehicle sit in the sun for months at a time, it will cost more in the long term than just driving it. Yes, gas is expensive. But dryrotted tires, hoses, interior panels and a dead battery will cost more to repair.

  4. Mustang

    For some reason I don’t seem to have carbon problems on my cars!?
    Great info, I have experienced this recently with my old truck. Drove it everyday for 157,000 miles. Now with the new one around, every time I get back in the old one, it seems grumpy for a few seconds, then we roar off again!
    Miles don’t hurt these things, hard miles don’t hurt them, NEGLECT is what ruins a car.
    That’s why folks are worried about high mileage cars, more opportunity for neglect.

    1. Charles

      “Miles don’t hurt these things, hard miles don’t hurt them, NEGLECT is what ruins a car.
      That’s why folks are worried about high mileage cars, more opportunity for neglect.”

      EXACTLY!!!!! More opportunity to do it wrong!

  5. Jer

    The first VW I had was a brand new 1995 Jetta 2.slow that in hindsight I wonder how it never had any issues in the 125k (within 4 years) I drove it before selling it to my brother. I knew nothing about maintaining a car at the time outside of taking it to get the oil changed every 7.5k miles, new tires and brakes. I remember asking one of the senior mechanics at the dealer at delivery for advice on keeping it running well. The only thing that stuck was his statement saying “drive it like you will drive it each day from the get go.”. This was more in regard to “break in” of which he said to drive it like you stole it if that’s the way you like to drive. I drove it spirited daily and never had one problem and got great fuel economy. I think even with the lack of maintenance knowledge it was my “driving” the car that kept it in such great running order. 🙂

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