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Why short trips damage our cars

Only doing short trips can be damaging to your car’s battery and engine, but not to as serious of an extent that they must be avoided at all costs, according to car insurance experts MotorHappy.

By following the correct car care and maintenance practices, however, you can avoid most of the potential harm that shorter trips can cause.


Doing regular trips that last less than 10 minutes is a quick way to shorten a car battery’s lifespan as the component doesn’t get a full charge often enough.

“It takes just a few minutes for an engine to warm up, but a car battery takes a little longer to warm up so it can charge fully,” said MotorHappy.

“If your battery doesn’t fully charge often enough, it might soon become weak and won’t have as much energy to start your car. It’s like a mobile phone battery – if you frequently charge your mobile phone for short periods, your battery eventually does not last as long.”

Early signs that your battery is becoming weak include a battery light on the dashboard, glitchy electronics, or the car turning over a bit longer before starting.

If any of these happen, it’s advisable to have the cell checked by a professional and replaced if necessary.

Engine oil

Short drives could negatively impact your engine because the oil doesn’t have the opportunity to heat up and become more viscous, and therefore doesn’t lubricate various engine components enough.

Motor oil also needs heat to release moisture and other combustion byproducts. If it doesn’t have a chance to heat up completely, these contaminants can’t evaporate from the oil, thereby impacting integrity and performance.

“If you use your car mainly for trips that are 10 minutes or shorter, take care of your engine by having your oil changed regularly and sticking to your vehicle manufacturer’s service guidelines,” recommend MotorHappy.

Diesel cars

Diesel autos are particularly susceptible to damage from consistently short trips, as the cold motor hampers the efficiency of the Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF), and ultimately, fuel economy.

The DPF collects particles that are produced as part of the combustion process before they go into the rest of the powerplant.

When the engine reaches optimal temperature, these particles are converted to ash and can be released from the exhaust pipe, but if it doesn’t heat up often enough, these particles clog up the DPF and block the exhaust system.

When this happens, the DPF warning light might come on, signaling that your car needs a long drive preferably at revs of 3,000rpm or higher to allow it to get up to temperature.

If the warning light doesn’t go off after this, take your ride to a trustworthy mechanic who can clear the system. If you must have the system cleared regularly, you may need to consider replacing the DPF.

“Take special care with your diesel car if you take regular short trips,” said MotorHappy.

“If your car is diesel, try factoring in regular journeys of at least 15 minutes where you can drive faster than 65km per hour.”

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