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What things can I do to increase the life of my diesel engine when I make lots of short trips in the car?

My daily routine means that the trip to work goes via another destination which gives my engine time to warm up properly, but the trip home from the office is so short the engine never warms up.

Ideally I'd drop the car off at home after the morning trip and walk to work, however due to my job I often use the car during office hours and at short notice.

Since I'm unable to change my routine as the morning trip is essential, as is having the car available at work, is there anything I can do to lower the impact of the short journeys on my car?

I've heard "magnatech" oils can help, but I'm pretty clueless when it comes to cars.

Any advice welcome!

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  • How short is short? Distance and time of travel – chilljeet Apr 25 '15 at 9:30
  • Not much you can do besides intentionally letting your engine warm up every time, just make sure you get that longer trip every once in a while. – I have no idea what I'm doing Sep 29 '15 at 18:02
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If the trip is so short that the engine isn't even warming up, you're not doing the car any favours, Diesel engine or Petrol engine.

TBH I'd look into alternative modes of transport like a bicycle instead and just use the car when you absolutely have to.

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  • Think you may have miss-read some of my post, so I've tweaked the formatting to reiterate that I'm unable to use another mode of transport, otherwise I would. – Phillip B Oldham Sep 9 '11 at 15:16
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Do nothing. Short trips are damaging for two reasons: fuel economy and engine wear. But unlike a gas car, excess "choke" fuel in a diesel doesn't strip lubrication from the cylinder walls. And as long as the engine gets up to operating temps every third or fourth trip, your oil won't accumulate water and lose lubricity.

You will burn more fuel per mile on short runs, but it won't damage the car the way you are describing it.

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  • +1 for this answer. Despite operating temperature every 4th trip I'd suggest longer trip (maybe even highway run once a month if possible), to clear the exhaust as well. – Mark Apr 4 '17 at 9:17
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Mechanical Answer
I would spend the extra couple of minutes allowing your car to warm up before starting your drive.

Even with letting it warm up, follow the maintenance schedule given in your owners manual for the extreme conditions (the one with shorter intervals for oil changes and other maintenance items).

Alternate Transportation
If you can walk within a reasonable amount of time between your home and work, it still seems an alternate mode of transport is ideal.

You said you'd consider doing your morning destination then back home and then walk to work if it weren't for needing to use the vehicle on short notice during the day.

Would riding a bicycle cut down the commute enough to when you do have those short notice needs you could ride home real quick and get your car?

Say it takes you 15 minutes to walk to work, you ought to easily be able to do that in about 5 minutes on a bicycle. So you would only be delayed 5 minutes getting to your vehicle if you needed to go somewhere.

If not wanting to deal with the bulk of a bicycle, depending on your area, roller skates or inline skates may be an alternative. Although these take some getting used to for safely using in an urban environment.

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If short cycling your diesel engine, the primary concern I might have is not reaching operational temperatures. This is important to "boil off" water from combustion blow-by in the crankcase, and to allow some additive packages to properly work. The water issue would be a primary concern.

A secondary concern would be that initial startup blow by may be greater at colder temperatures.

In the end, I believe that the actual impact on your engine life will be small, but if you were concerned, a possible counter measure would be to change the oil more frequently. This practice is consistent with most manufacturer data, as short runs are considered harsher or at least less typical service.

A final thought...what is the oil spec for your engine. If it is a heavy weight crankcase oil, which might be fine in a fully warmed crankcase, but too heavy in a cold crankcase, you might consider a wide viscosity synthetic oil. There are 5w-40 and 0w-40 oils which are diesel rated, and most manufacturers since the 1980s have been recommending such weight oils.

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Can you change your behaviour in any other way? - Perhaps time your shopping trips to coincide with your drive home from work to make that journey long enough to warm the engine up fully (and save another separate journey).

What are the work journeys you do like? Are they long enough to get the engine properly warmed up? If not, try and get out for a good long run every few days to get it properly warm.

Otherwise, use a good quality oil and good filters, and change it regularly (look for the "harsh conditions" service schedule in your car's handbook)

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  • Shopping at the same time would mean lost time - I'd be sat in traffic for an hour and a half for a 20min drive. The work journeys are usually quite long - 50 miles or so. Depends on the client. – Phillip B Oldham Mar 15 '12 at 11:40
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When driving diesels it is important to start the engine a few minutes before you start driving it to let the engine warm up. However, it should be fine if you don't push the engine too hard or hit high speeds on your cold engine. It might also be a good idea to put some fuel additives in your fuel to help extend the life and well being of your vehicle.

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