Worst Mistakes New Car Owners Should Avoid Making

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New Lexus Car Key
Photo Credit: Julia Avamotive

If you are planning to keep your brand new car for 10, 20, or even more years; here are some things you should not do during the initial break-in period to ensure decades of trouble-free car ownership long after the new car smell is gone.

Do New Cars Still Require A Break-In Period?

Some people think needing to break-in a car is a thing of the past. They state that cars are made much better these days. There is better engineering, better machining, higher tolerances, and a break-in period isn’t needed. They claim you can drive the car off the lot and drive it just like a car with fifty thousand miles and be okay.

Yes, some cars come broken-in from the factory. These are mostly high-performance sports cars where the new owners expect to take the car straight from the showroom to the track. One such car is the Acura NSX, where Honda tests each engine before it goes into the chassis and breaks it in the equivalent of 150 miles of driving with varying RPMs.

The common everyday Toyota Camry or Ford F-150? Don’t expect the automakers to have the time to break-in each of those vehicles as they roll off the assembly line by the tens of thousands each month.

Mistakes to Avoid Making with Your Brand New Car

Every car manufacturer has its own recommendations and mileage guidelines on how a new car should be driven during the initial break-in period. Some carmakers specify the break-in period is 500 miles. Others may be 600 or 1,000 miles.

Instead of it being a gray area, let’s just say the break-in period is the first 1,000 miles. This should cover most automakers. You should check your owner’s manual for the guidelines for your specific vehicle.

Here are some things you should do during the first thousand miles of owning a brand new car.

Avoid Hard Braking and Sudden Stops

You will want to avoid slamming on the brakes and hard braking for the first 200 miles. This advice is also valid for new brake pads and new rotors after a brake job.

Proper break-in procedure for your brake system allows your brake pads to bed evenly in and prevent rotor warping.

Your brakes will stop much better when the pads and the rotors wear in together. As you apply the brakes on a new set of brakes, you are leaving a microscopic layer of brake pad material on your rotors. This layer of pad material is grippier than brake pads on bare steel.

Some brake pad material is good. Too much is not. Hard braking results in more heat on the rotors. When the brake pads get too hot, the pad material may transfer onto the rotor unevenly. This leads to an uneven surface and a pulsation or excessive noise when braking.

Until your brakes are broken in, it will take more time and distance to stop. The longer and harder you are applying the brakes, the more heat you are generating.

If someone pulls out in front of you, it is perfectly ok to slam on the brakes to avoid getting into an accident in your new car. Just avoid slamming on the brakes unnecessarily.

Avoid Hard Acceleration

As tempting as it is to leave a trail of rubber at the stoplight to show off your new car – especially if you bought something fast like a Dodge Hellcat, save it for when your car is out of the break-in period.

For a new engine, you want the piston rings to seal against the cylinder bore smoothly. If there are imperfections in the cylinder walls, you could wear down those imperfections too quickly or cause hot spots when you are driving it hard in the break-in period.

Piston ring damage and poor seals often shows itself as excessive oil consumption and white or gray exhaust smoke down the road.

GM found that Corvette C7 owners who ignored the break-in guidelines about driving responsibly and avoiding excessive acceleration during the first 500 miles would often go back to the dealer complaining about gear noise and differential whine.

In the first 1,000 miles, you should accelerate gently and shift through the gears before the RPMs get too high.

Avoid Excessive Speed or High RPMs

Some people believe that you should drive a new car like you stole it to get the maximum power from the engine. This theory runs counter to what many automakers recommend.

Take for example the Corvette C8. GM states in the owner’s manual that during the first 500 miles, the engine torque will be automatically limited by the car in the first 500 miles. They also recommend that the engine should not exceed 4,000 RPM during that time. Then for the first 1,500 miles, track events and sport driving schools should be avoided.

As a general rule of thumb, you should keep your RPMs below 4,000 to allow your engine to start running efficiently before putting it under strain.

Otherwise, you run the risk of not wearing in your piston rings correctly. Some symptoms of bad piston rings are loss of power, poor performance, and poor acceleration.

Avoid Constant Speed or RPMs

High RPMs may be bad, but so is not varying the RPM.

You will want to wait to take your new car on a long road trip. If you bought your car from an out-of-state dealer and plan to drive it back, you should forgo the interstates and take a detour and the scenic route home.

When you are driving on the interstates, you are also only using the highest gear in the transmission instead of running through the different gears and getting them worn in together.

You will want to skip using cruise control unless your car has adaptive cruise control.

Avoid Towing

Towing adds additional strain to the engine than normal driving. You do not want to put excessive load on your truck or SUV from day one.

Your car may run fine for a while, but over the long term, you will likely run into more problems than if you had taken the time to correctly break in the engine, brakes, shocks, transmission, and differentials.

Delaying Your First Oil Change

Oil change intervals have been increasing over the years with the switch to synthetic oils. For new Toyotas, the first oil change is now at 10,000 miles. Jaguar vehicles go even longer between changes at 16,000 miles.

Older cars with conventional oil used to have their oil changed at 3,000 – 5,000 miles.

Motor oil may have gotten better over the years, but the first oil change is probably the most important oil change you are going to do. When your car is new and the motor is breaking-in, there is likely going to be metal shavings that end up in your oil. The oil filter will catch the bigger particles, but you will still have the smaller particles that get through the filter floating around your oil.

An oil change doesn’t cost much. If you are planning to drive your car for 300,000+ miles, doing an early oil change is cheap insurance. If you do stick with the regular oil change interval, don’t miss the initial oil change when it is due.

Keep in mind that the normal maintenance schedule doesn’t apply if you use your car in severe driving situations. Conditions that qualify as severe service include short trips, driving in dusty areas, towing, very hot weather, and stop-and-go driving. Many people meet these conditions simply by driving to and from work.

In severe duty, the motor oil breaks down faster and the recommended oil change interval is much sooner at about half the normal service interval for most cars.

Not Checking Your Tire Pressure

Don’t expect your dealer to hand over a car that’s ready to hit the road. Things might get overlooked when the service department is busy.

When you get a chance, make sure your tire pressures are at the recommended levels listed on your door jamb.

When the car arrives at the dealership on the transport, a technician will usually check everything. Then the car goes on the lot where it could sit for days or months. If during those months the season changes from summer to fall or fall to winter, what might have been a correct tire pressure will now be too low.

You can use a cheap tire pressure gauge to check your tire pressure. Some newer vehicles will even have an option to show you the tire pressures on your dash.

Using the Wrong Type of Gas

Before you make your first stop at the gas station, check the owner’s manual for the type of gas your new car requires. You may also find the type on the fuel cap or inside the fuel door.

Using premium when your car requires regular won’t hurt the car but it will your pocketbook.

On the flip side, using regular gas when your car requires premium may cause knocking or reduced performance.

It used to be only luxury cars or sports cars that required premium gas. Now it is not so cut-and-dried. More and more automakers are switching to smaller displacement engines with turbos for fuel efficiency, necessitating premium.

No matter which type of gas you use, consider using gas certified to be Top Tier Gas for best engine performance.

Read more: How to Enjoy Your New Car Without Spending a Fortune on Gas

Closing $ense

A car is the second largest purchase you will make in your lifetime. This is even truer in 2021. According to analysts at Kelley Blue Book, the average transaction price for a new vehicle in April 2021 was $40,768.

The computer chip shortage from the pandemic has caused a shortage of new cars on dealer lots leading to higher used car prices in return. My local Toyota dealer is selling a two-year-old 4Runner with 60,000 miles for five thousand dollars less than the MSRP of a new 4Runner with the same trim. They also offered to buy my 4Runner for more than I paid for it five years ago. Crazy times. When used car prices are close to new car prices, some car buyers may decide to pay a little more to get into a new car.

Read more: Benefits of Buying a New Car Over a Used Car

Cars these days can easily go over 100,000 trouble-free miles if they are well-maintained. If you are the first owner of a car, you know exactly how it was driven. That increases the chances of the car being on the road for decades. To increase the chances of that, you should break-in your car properly.

Buying a new car every 5 or 7 years when you are finally finished paying it off is one way people never stop having a car payment.

However, if you plan to only keep your car for a few years before trading it in, then none of this matters.

Go enjoy your new car.

Has the pandemic affected your car buying? Do you prefer buying new or used? Do you have any other advice on what not to do after getting a new car?

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