Will pushing your car around the driveway actually prolong its life?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 2008

Dear Tom and Ray:

HELP! My husband faithfully reads and respects your column, so maybe if he hears it from you, he will stop an annoying habit. Recently, he decided that if you are just moving your car from the garage to the driveway, you just need to put it in Neutral and push. That's right -- he thinks it's damaging to turn on the engine, so you should just push it. He thinks that if you start the engine and don't let it fully warm up, you could cause irreparable harm. I think he could cause irreparable harm to his back by being a 54-year-old pushing a Dodge Ram 2500 Quad Cab truck out of the garage. Plus, if he were to trip and lose his grip, it could roll out into the street. I think unless you are out of gas, pushing a large truck is a little over the top -- what do you think? Please help -- I think the neighbors are starting to talk! -- Donna

TOM: Oh, geez, Donna. We feel your pain. I'm guessing your husband is an engineer of some kind.

RAY: Because this is an example of taking a legitimate solution to a legitimate problem and applying it to a hare-brained degree.

TOM: We have explained that frequent, short trips can be harmful to a car. When you start the engine, moisture is produced. And if the engine and exhaust system never get fully heated up, the moisture doesn't evaporate.

RAY: The same is true for excess unburned gasoline, which can work its way into the crankcase when the engine is cold. It also can't be purged unless the engine gets hot.

TOM: What we said was that if ALL of your driving is comprised of very short trips, your engine and exhaust system won't last as long as they should.

RAY: And your husband, with unassailable, engineerlike logic, concluded that he should NEVER take short trips. Instead, he should push his car when he's going only a short distance.

TOM: You can't fault him for his logic. He's absolutely correct that the best way to preserve an engine is to never use it. Right?

RAY: But while he's avoiding short trips in his truck, he may end up taking a long trip to the hospital for back surgery, or a long trip to court to explain how he accidentally tripped and pushed his truck into the middle of a passing Shriners parade.

TOM: So, what SHOULD he do? Well, there's a device built into his vehicle that's designed for exactly the purpose he requires. It's called the engine. He should use it. And then he should drive the truck normally later in the day, or later in the week.

RAY: There's no doubt that he's taking good care of his engine, but the question is, at what cost? If it's potentially at the cost of his health, or his being involuntarily committed for psychiatric care by his neighbors or his wife, that's a pretty high price compared with the slight possibility that he MAY have to buy an exhaust system a few months earlier than he otherwise would have. And if he drives normally the rest of the week, he won't even have to do that.

TOM: But I fear he may be a lost cause, Donna. We know guys like this. Even we might not be able to persuade him to stop pushing the truck out of the garage.

RAY: So, here's an alternative solution: Get him to build himself a workshop. That way, he won't ever NEED to move his truck out of the garage. And he can move the homemade nuclear reactor made of balsa wood (the one he's building in the garage) out to the new workshop, and tinker with it there. Good luck, Donna.

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