My friend needs a car for night-time driving for distances about 15 km to-and-fro for his work. I read that short distances may be problematic to cars because the engine does not get hot enough -- noticed the thing here. Something called oil cap may get cream on it and possible broken head gasket.

Is this foam a common feature with every car particularly in cold environment? How should you select a car for short distances? How should you maintain a car where the motor rarely gets hot? How long distances should you make to heat up the motor and in which kind of weather?


3 Answers 3


Firstly, 15km is enough to get the engine warmed up. It isn't as good as a regular blast to fully burn off deposits through the exhaust but it will get rid of condensation, so will help your exhaust system last longer.

I think although you say you understood the answer in your link, I don't think you have. While looking for creamy residue on the oil cap is a good indicator that the oil cas water or something else in it (possibly because of a gasket failure) this is not really relevant to your question.

If we take your question as, "How to maintain a car that drives only short distances in Nordic environment?" then it is relatively simple to answer (in fact I would edit your question to just have this - the remainder of the question doesn't fit with the 1 Question rule here):

While the external cold can be quite extreme in the far north, this is mainly a problem before the car is running, as batteries do not like delivering current when cold - so it can be tricky to start a car in the cold. So you want to install a heavy duty battery.

Ideally, you will also keep the car in a garage, which allows you to keep it a little warmer, and possibly keep it plugged in to a trickle charger through the winter months.

When running, most engines generate sufficient heat that the cold outside isn't a problem. The main exception being long motorway drives - the load on the engine can be very low and the cold air through the radiator can cause a build up of ice that can damage the radiator or other areas - hence the reason for some Arctic trucks to have winter baffles placed over much of the radiator. They also reduce snow blowing in - but from the description of your journeys this probably isn't going to be an issue.

Like I said above, 15km is plenty to get the engine and fluids to a good temperature. But be careful for your first couple of kilometres, as you may find brakes and power steering may not be as effective as once you have fully warmed up the car.


When I had a short (5 mile) commute, I just didn't worry about it. Yes, the oil cap would collect a good amount of foam as the engine didn't get hot enough for a long enough time to cook all the moisture out. It was a good excuse to go take the car for a nice half hour scenic drive on the weekends. :-)

I guess accelerated corrosion would be the only real concern from not cooking out all the moisture. I suppose that could possibly lead to a head gasket failure, but I can't think of an exact mechanism that would make that more likely to fail than other various components internal components that don't like being wet...


External environment doesn't matter for the most part for engine temperature, because the thermostat will keep the coolant in the engine until it reaches operating temperature. This will allow the oil to heat up, and so on. It might help to run a low viscosity synthetic to help with cold startup wear and tolerating the abuse of only being used for short drives. And obviously run antifreeze in your coolant in this circumstance.

I would periodically take longer distance drives just to allow the oil to get up to >100C for a while and burn off any moisture that has gotten dissolved in the oil due to blowby, etc. 15km is barely long enough to get the car up to normal operating temperatures, so an occasional longer distance daytime drive might help periodically.

None of this has anything to do with broken head gaskets. That is a problem related to overheating and warping the head, which disturbs the seal between the block and the head.

A pluggable electric car is probably ideal for the "short distances only" use pattern, but the problem is that such cars are expensive luxury items at the moment. With government subsidies (will vary depending upon where you live and what year you read this) it may be affordable to get an electric car. Another problem is that in a nordic environment, the cold temperature and the batteries may not cooperate.

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