Can Short Journeys Damage My Car?

Whether you’re taking a long road trip or simply dropping your kids at school half a mile away – reaching for the car keys has become second nature. Modern drivers use their cars for just about everything, even when it’s just as convenient to walk, cycle or take the bus.

And that’s understandable. Between expensive public transport fees and the UK’s unpredictable weather, driving is often the best option – even if you’re travelling only a few miles down the road.

The question is, what impact do these short journeys have on our cars? And could they actually cause damage?

In this guide, we’re sharing the facts on short car journeys, giving you tips and advice to help protect and maintain your car no matter how many miles you cover each week.

Quick Links

What Problems Can Short Journeys Cause Your Car?

Straight off the bat, you should know that short journeys can damage your car, but not to a serious extent. Short journeys can increase wear and tear in the same way that bad driving habits can – whether that’s riding the clutch or dragging the brakes downhill.

There are, however, a couple of occasions where short journeys can lead to more serious issues. We’ll take a look at the problems quick trips can cause below.

Drive a Diesel? Short Journeys Could Damage the DPF

If you’re a diesel driver, you may have already experienced DPF issues. DPF stands for diesel particulate filter – a device fitted to diesel cars to help them pass emissions testing.

A particulate filter’s job is to trap soot and other harmful particles produced through the burning of diesel. Like any filter, they can become clogged over time, which causes the engine to go into ‘safe’ or ‘limp’ mode – a mechanical issue that can be expensive to repair.

filter warning

The problem with DPFs is that they need to ‘regenerate’, which means running the engine at a hot enough temperature to burn off the deposits trapped in the filter. This happens automatically above 40mph, but only if you take your car for a long enough run out.

That brings us to why short journeys can be a problem for diesel cars. If you only ever use your car for quick trips, the DPF may not reach the temperature needed to regenerate, causing a blockage that could lead to a breakdown.

So, if you drive a diesel, you should always make sure to take longer journeys every so often to keep your DPF clean and in good working order. If you see the DPF warning light, take your car on a longer, faster journey to clear the blockage; getting up to motorway speed works best.

Don’t have time for longer journeys or it isn’t convenient? Redex DPF Cleaner can clear and reactivate your car’s DPF – perfect if you take regular trips around town or are approaching your MOT.

Click here to learn more about DPFs and how to maintain them

Engine Wear and Tear from Cold Starts

Starting up from cold is when your car’s engine has to work the hardest. That’s because the oil hasn’t yet started circulating through the engine at its optimum rate, putting additional stress on moving parts.

When you set off from a cold start, you should take it easy for the first few miles or so. This reduces the strain on the engine until things get up to temperature, so make sure to avoid things like hard acceleration.

But what happens when your journey isn’t long enough for the engine to get up to optimum temperature?

For quick trips, it’s important to drive carefully and avoid unnecessary acceleration. Not only will this cut your emissions, but it will also reduce wear and tear on the engine – saving you from expensive repair bills in the future.

engine care

Battery Problems

Do you drive an older car with a history of battery issues? If so, short journeys could be a problem.

Car batteries charge whenever the engine is running. For a car with a decent 12V battery, the charge from a single trip should last around two weeks – but it’s a different story for faulty units that struggle to maintain power.

Older cars, in particular, need longer runs every now and again to make sure the battery remains fully charged. So, if you only ever use your car for quick trips, you could gradually run out of power if the battery isn’t given enough time to recharge.

Car batteries were a big issue during the coronavirus lockdown. With people using their cars less frequently and only for quick trips, many were finding their batteries down on power compared to normal – illustrating why it’s so important to charge your battery with regular longer journeys.

Driving Tips for Short Car Journeys

Making regular longer journeys is good practice for your car, but it isn’t always practical. If you spend most of your time making quick trips around town, the following tips and advice could be useful for reducing the impact on your engine.

  • Drive slowly and steadily for the first couple of miles until your engine gets up to temperature. Avoid hard acceleration and try to keep rolling at traffic lights and junctions where you can by reading the road ahead.
  • Avoid over-using electricals on short trips, including a/c and heated seats. This will reduce the load on the battery, helping it charge more efficiently on short journeys.
  • Keep up with your car’s servicing and maintenance schedule. Check the oil and coolant/antifreeze levels regularly to ensure your car’s engine is protected.

man driving

  • Where possible, group quick trips into a single, longer journey, even if it’s running errands around town. This will give the engine time to get up to temperature, which is good for the oil system and the battery.
  • Make sure the tyres are kept at the right pressure. Underinflated tyres can put additional strain on the engine and increase your emissions around town.
  • Check the charge of your battery with a voltmeter. If it’s down on power, schedule a longer journey or invest in a battery charger to keep it powered up between quick trips.
  • Never ignore your car’s DPF warning light. If it pops up on the dash, take your car for a faster run straight away or use Redex DPF Cleaner.

We hope this guide sheds some light on shorter journeys and whether they can cause problems for your car’s engine. For more engine maintenance and performance guides, click here for the Redex blog. To browse our complete range of fuel additives and engine maintenance fluids, visit the homepage.

The Ultimate Guide to Classic Car Storage

If you’ve invested time and money in a classic car, then you’ll want to keep it in good condition. There will no doubt be long periods of time when you’re not using your classic car, whether that’s over winter or if you go away on holiday, and it’s important that you give thought to how

Could the Mandatory MOT Test Become a Thing of the Past?

15 of the Weirdest Motoring World Records

10 Checks You Must Make When Buying a Used Car