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Under the Hood Secrets Revealed: The Real Damage of Rush Hour Traffic

What Damage Is Being Done to Your Car in Peak Traffic Hours

by Dr. Fran Lockwood
The Valvoline Company

 Rush hour damage to your carIt's an ordinary weekday at 8 a.m., and rush hour has officially begun. With your briefcase and coffee mug in tow, you rev up your engine in the cold morning air and prepare to join hundreds of other commuters on the expressway.

You merge into the left lane and speed up to 45 mph...hit the brakes as a car cuts in front of you...speed up to 25 mph...hit the brakes as you dab spilled coffee from your pants...speed up to 30 mph...brake...speed up...brake...speed up...brake. 

And so it goes for another twenty minutes as you lurch your way to work. This daily stop-and-go driving takes its toll on you — the stress, the headaches, the coffee stains on your clothes.  But the distress you may suffer from your daily commute is nothing compared to what your car goes through. In fact, stop-and-go driving produces some of the hardest miles you'll ever put on your engine. Let's take a closer look at your morning drive from your car's perspective.

As you begin braking and honking your way through traffic, your engine is getting stuck in a different kind of gridlock. While you are sitting in traffic, idling the engine, the engine ventilation system is at its weakest. This helps keep acidic combustion products and incompletely burned fuel in your engine where they can form something you don't want — engine deposits. You encounter your fair share of red lights — more sitting and idling — potentially more deposits. Finally, you arrive at work and park your car until it's time to battle the same traffic back home — repeating the same deposit-building process.

Over time, these deposits may clog critical parts like fuel injectors, and interfere with the flow of fuel to the combustion chamber. You also might start to hear a "pinging" or knocking noise — a rattling caused by the hard deposits on your engine's surface. Continued knocking will eventually wear your engine out completely, sticking you with a costly repair bill.

While one way to prevent damage from stop-and-go driving is to avoid rush hour altogether, this may not be a very practical solution. There are, however, a few preventative measures you can take to minimize the adverse effects.

Oil Check
Anyone who usually drives in heavy traffic or makes a lot of short trips should change their oil more frequently than a long-trip, steady-speed highway driver should. Look in your owner's manual for "severe condition" recommendations (stop-and-go driving definitely qualifies as a severe condition, while steady-speed highway driving is actually a "normal" condition).

Also consider minimizing the damage caused by stop-and-go driving with regular intake system cleanings by adding a fuel injector cleaner to your gas tank every 3,000 miles. This will also help compensate for those fill ups with "mystery" gasoline. A synthetic formula, like SynPower Super Concentrated Fuel Injector Cleaner, will help remove valve deposits and clean fuel injector clogging to reduce knocks and "pings." You could instead switch to a higher-octane fuel, as this can reduce the "pinging" noises caused by deposits. However, this doesn't remove the deposits themselves.

Follow up this treatment once a year with a complete fuel system cleaner, like SynPower Complete Fuel System Treatment, to clean the combustion chamber in addition to the fuel injectors or carburetor, intake valves, manifolds and ports, and to further remove deposits that interfere with proper engine operation.

"Break" Bad Habits
Stop-and-go driving not only ages your engine, it also works on your brakes. If you notice a "grinding" sound or feel a grabbing or pulling to one side while braking, have your brakes checked right away. Since regular maintenance is key to safe braking, it's a good idea to have the brake fluid checked with each oil change and to use a fluid that is formulated for extreme driving conditions, like SynPower High Performance Synthetic Brake Fluid.

Finally, try to reduce your speed and follow the car in front of you at a greater distance to limit the amount of braking necessary — this also helps reduce braking-induced coffee spills and dry cleaning bills and improves fuel economy.

Stop-and-go driving may be a fact of life, but the damage it causes to your car doesn't have to be. By taking a few precautions and following a regular maintenance schedule, you can keep your car in good shape and stay ahead of the game — even if you can't stay ahead of rush hour traffic.