Do You Still Have To "Break In" A New Car?

June 29, 2014

Breaking in a new car isn't the same as it was just a few short years ago.…

As recently as a decade ago, manufacturers recommended new drivers follow certain driving patterns to "break in" a new car. The old lessons don't quite hold true today, though.

What does it mean to “break in” a new vehicle?

The old guidelines typically told new-car owners to follow a set of instructions over the hundred miles or so, in order to break in their new vehicle’s engine. These guidelines included such things as driving at 50 mph for a designated amount of time, followed by varying speeds on back roads, and sitting and idling for a time. After going through this process, the driver was instructed to shut off the engine and let it cool down before driving it again.

Why go through this process? To establish new internal mating surfaces of mechanical parts, to seat new piston rings, to establish new seal surfaces, to condition new mechanical parts--to make sure all the moving parts were working together as smoothly as possible. After the break-in period, which lasted for about 100 miles or more on average, the vehicle could be driven without concern.

Do you still have to “break in” a new vehicle today?

In a word, no. Lubricants and engine oil have come a long way, compared to the products of old; they protect metal parts much better than their predecessors. In addition, the steel and aluminum used for engine parts come from the factory already conditioned and treated, thus ready to run.

The only caveat comes with that first oil change. Make sure you change your new car's oil and filter for the first time at 1500 miles unless otherwise recommended by the manufacturer. The reason? Metal has worn off while mating surfaces were established, and those metal scraps need to be removed from the engine before they cause long-term damage.

How often should the oil be changed?

Carmakers publish a maintenance schedule in the owner’s manual, and many outfit new cars with oil-life monitors that are very precise. Make sure you know both, and to keep a decal in the windshield to remind you of the mileage at the last change.

Note that there are two service schedules compiled for new passenger cars: Normal and Severe. Manufacturers define them differently, but in essence, normal covers a wider range of operation, while severe can include lots of short-distance commuting. Be realistic about which conditions apply to your vehicle.

Finally, while you're breaking in a new car, consider changing over to synthetic motor oil at the time of the first oil and filter change, to maximize engine life and decrease internal wear. Check your owner’s manual first before changing over, just to make sure there are no caveats from the carmaker on the use of synthetic motor oil--and make sure to use high-quality synthetic oil when you do change.


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