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I just sold my car and will soon purchase a new one (probably a used one with 1-2 years on it). I decided on a Volkswagen up! with an EA211 1.0 TSI engine.

I have heard from many different people (at least here in Brazil) that Volkswagen’s engines invariably call for rebuilds around the 100,000 km mark, and sometimes even sooner.

I’d like to avoid this fate if at all possible, which I imagine would be possible with the proper maintenance. Playing against me is the fact that I live very, very close to work (a round trip is about 3 km), so the bulk of my trips are extremely short, which appears to be detrimental to engine wear. On the other hand, the climate is fairly warm here, maybe a couple of months of 10-15 ºC weather per year.

Since my car knowledge is practically non-existent, I did some research, which I’d like to summarize here, calling both for critique to the points I’ve listed, as well as other tips that I missed.

  • Follow the maintenance schedule on the owner’s manual — that’s obviously the very least I can do.
  • Periodically checking fluids (oil, coolant, etc.) and top up if necessary — I suppose a weekly schedule should be fine?
  • Oil changes every 6 months, or perhaps even more frequently?
    • What about oil filters? I’ve seen recommendations that I should change filters with every oil change, but is this really necessary, considering I may run as little as 1,500 km between oil changes?
  • Idling the car for a minute before leaving the driveway — is this really helpful? Is it necessary on warm days?
  • I’ve also read that turbocharged engines (as present in the car I intend to buy) should be allowed to idle for 30 seconds to a minute before turning them off, to allow the turbine to cool off. Should I include this in my routine?
  • Since the engine is direct injected, I’ve heard tales of carbon buildup on the backs of valves, which doesn’t happen in regular port injected cars.
    • Can I do anything to prevent or reduce this buildup?
    • Should I schedule a periodic cleaning service for this?
  • Some places claim that a weekly extended driving bout (say 15 km) may help mitigate some of the ill effects caused by short trips. Is this indeed recommended? Are the suggested parameters (15 km every week) reasonable?
  • Regarding additives, anything I should periodically add to my fuel tank, especially in light of the turbocharged, direct injected nature of my target engine?

I also welcome any other suggestions to ensure my engine can live well beyond 100,000 km without a rebuild.

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    Preventative maintenance reduces the risk of failure - it does not make it zero... – Solar Mike Sep 11 at 4:30
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    Why are you using a car for a 1.5km trip? That's barely 20 minutes walk... – Nick C Sep 11 at 13:48
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    Or about 5 minutes on a bike. Agree, car is not best for such trips, unless it's an electric car. If unable to walk, an electric scooter could help. – juhist Sep 11 at 13:55
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    @NickC I have considered the possibility of selling my car and going to work by foot or bicycle. Financially it would be a great situation. Unfortunately Brazil is not a very secure country, and I lug a $4k+ laptop on my backpack everyday. I can't run the risk of being mugged. – swineone Sep 11 at 13:55
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    Have the oil changed at the recommended intervals. Have the tires rotated and balanced. Check your fluid levels once in a while. If you do that you're ahead of 80% of the people (and cars) driving around. – Bob Jarvis Sep 11 at 21:50
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Adding something to fuel tank: Not necessarily, just purchase good quality gasoline. It already has all the additives needed to protect the engine. However, I understand that in Brazil, fuel may contain quite a lot of ethanol. Do make sure your car can handle it. However, if you drive so little the gasoline becomes stale, you might want to consider some sort of stabilizer. You can also purchase "small engine gasoline" but it's very expensive -- but if you drive very little, it might be worth its cost.

Carbon buildup on valves: sometimes, occasional extended highway driving at high speed can help to mitigate this (which is a good idea, BTW). Many direct injected engines are port injected too to protect/clean the valves (e.g. Toyota uses both injection mechanisms), but I assume if the VW engine says direct injected it's direct injected only. About cleaning: no, you'll probably not want to periodically clean it because the costs outweigh the benefits. I haven't heard of anyone periodically cleaning the valves from carbon buildup.

Running the turbo engine for 30 secs before turning it off: Yes, but only if you have driven it hard. For example, if you race your car in a track, by all means, do this. For ordinary driving, usually the last 100s of meters of low-speed driving to the parking yard will do the trick as further idling is not necessary. However, this might be necessary in situations where you forget it. For example, if you have a non-engine-related emergency in a highway and have to stop, you might forget to idle the engine. (In engine-related emergencies like oil pressure light you want to turn it immediately off.)

Idling before driving: Not helpful, just start to drive away carefully. An engine warms the best if driven carefully. Idling is a really terrible way of warming up an engine. Don't start to immediately race the car, though!

Checking fluids: I'm lazy so I do it monthly. Weekly is fine if you have the time for weekly checks.

Oil / filter changes: follow your manufacturer's recommendations but do note that you may need to follow the "severe service" intervals due to frequent short trips. Often times, the "severe service" means you will need to change oil and filters twice as often. If in doubt, ask the dealer for clarification about whether you need severe service or not.

Me? I would purchase a non-direct-injected non-turbochaged Toyota, not a turbocharged VW, but hey, we all like different kinds of cars.

  • Thank you very much for the detailed reply. I’m going for the VW up! as it’s a powerful engine given the weight of the car, and has the lowest fuel consumption of all non-hybrid vehicles in Brazil, as well as the lowest cost of maintenance, and these are my priorities currently. Also it’s much less expensive than the entry-level Honda or Toyota vehicles in Brazil. The engine is flex fuel, so I have the option to run it on ethanol or gasoline (actually E27 according to Brazilian regulations). Can you think of any reason I should prefer one to the other? – swineone Sep 11 at 11:31
  • Well, if the manufacturer says ethanol is fine, most likely it is. If using ethanol, please read this at least given your low usage: mechanics.stackexchange.com/questions/19507/… – juhist Sep 11 at 12:01
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    This is a very thorough answer! Just as an FYI - all modern VW turbo engines (including the one in the OP's car) have an electric auxiliary water pump which the ECU uses to circulate coolant as needed after the ignition is switched off. If the turbo is hot when the car is shut off, this system will mitigate that. There's no need to let the engine idle to cool the turbo, even if you've driven hard and immediately stopped. – dwizum Sep 11 at 15:12
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    Re: the service schedule, usually they give the interval in both units of distance and units of time. Since this car does practically no distance, follow the times. (Otherwise you'd go ten years between oil changes!) – smitelli Sep 11 at 15:41
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    The TSI engines are not port injected, so they're very prone to carbon buildup - but periodically cleaning the engine is not something I've ever heard of. When mine started knocking itself silly on a cold start because of buildup, the intake manifold had to come off (which makes for a fairly involved cleaning job). I've heard an Italian tuneup works fairly well for the purposes of keeping the engine clear of much buildup, though I have no definitive evidence myself. – osuka_ Sep 11 at 19:57
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If you are filled with the "urge to do something", I could give you some placebo task that does nothing but makes you feel like you're being diligent. But that's silly. This service is not that big a deal.

While it's true that 1.5km (1 mile) twice a day is the worst service a car could be in (much worse than taxicab or police-car service, because it never warms up), the important takeaway is you're only driving 750km/year like this. It will take almost 150 years to reach 100,000km.

If you add a weekly 15km driving session simply to exercise the engine, it will shorten the time to 75 years.

Get it. This is so little driving that it simply isn't going to any impact on wear & tear.

What will actually threaten your car is the ravages of age - after about 15 years, plastic and rubber things will start getting brittle. I am helping someone maintain a 20 year old, low mileage VW and that's what's failing. if you keep the car for 20-30 years, it will eventually die of impossibiity to get replacement parts for all the plastics and rubbers that are degrading. They're not making any more, and the new old stock is rotting on the shelf.

So, Forget About It. You are doing it for so very few miles that it simply won't matter to the car's life.

The one thing worth doing is, once a month or two, get the car out on a REAL excursion, for at least an hour or two. The computer needs that to calibrate the fuel injection system, and the engine needs it to clear out the carbonization you mentioned.

To be clear, "running it hard" is NOT mashing the gas pedal for 3-7 seconds until traffic/obstructions force you to brake. That's just abuse. "HARD" in my meaning is extended running - either 110kph+ extended cruise, or climbing a mountain, where that engine works at high load continuous.

And I gotta say this. A car is wrong for you. You need a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle. You should be able to find used ones where the owner got it as a toy, never took it seriously, and the batteries wore out - it's yours at very low cost plus a set of batteries.

Now about your thoughts:


100,000 kilometers sounds awfully short for a car engine.

The 3km/day is rough service, but there's way too little of it to even matter. you cannot wear out a car this way. The warm climate helps very slightly.

Oil changes annually are fine. Part of the reason to change the filter is to change the oil that is in the filter, but your call. I agree that a filter element ought to last 2 years.

Idling the car? No. That is not better and is only worse. Trying to cure rough service with even rougher service makes no sense. Idle it for 5 seconds to allow automatic transmission fluid, power steering fluid etc. to build up to pressure, and go. If it were below freezing, I would say "drive gently" but that's not an issue for you.

Turbo. Are you kidding me, why are you buying this thing?

Cars are built to be driven, and VW has provided for post-shutdown lubrication for the turbo. You can help by driving it gently the last minute before shutdown; that's good enough. Shut off and walk away. If you raced a Shelby Cobra to your parking spot, then yes, 30 seconds of idling wouldn't hurt, it's to keep oil on the turbo while it spins down from its extreme spin-up. But VW surely has an oil accumulator that already does that for normal driving. This should be an exception not the rule.

Yes, a too-lightly-used engine can "carbon up". That's why it's valuable 1-2x a month to take it on a REAL road trip and open it up at extended high power levels. (Not 15km, that's nothing! The computer needs more than that just to calibrate.) This can't practically be cleaned (short of a cylinder head teardown), anyone saying they can do it is scamming you.

You will drive it just enough that normal refuelings will keep the fuel fresh. Don't add any snake oil to the tank, instead, buy good fuel. In the US I would say Chevron or BP (former Amoco).

  • The EA211 is not a diesel engine. Additionally, the TSI engines do suffer from carbon buildup problems as a result of being direct injected (and direct injected only). I agree with a lot of your points (such as OP shouldn't get a car, buy good fuel, etc.) - but this being a turbocharged gasoline engine, half of your comment doesn't apply. – osuka_ Sep 11 at 20:04
  • @osuka_ thanks, my bad. Fixed. I couldn't figure out why he'd have a turbo until I heard direct injection, and leapt to a conclusion. Now the turbo is even more inexplicable. Why buy this car? – Harper Sep 11 at 20:15
  • Thanks for your comment. While the trip from home-work-home is indeed 3 km, I always have lunch outside work, so either I come back home for lunch, or go eat somewhere else which is even farther away. There's also running errands and the very occasional road trip. Checking my mileage logs for the last 3 months, I drove an average of 600 km a month, meaning 15 years to put 100,000 km on my engine, assuming it's new. If I buy an used car, with say 30,000 km, this goes down to 10 years. Given I've heard of 100,000 km rebuilds, I decided to ask the question here. – swineone Sep 11 at 20:19
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    @Harper it's the most efficient non-hybrid car in Brazil, even more so than the non-TSI version, presumably because the gearing is longer on the TSI. It also has lots of reserve power, so the car doesn't feel underpowered when A/C is on, etc. The difference in price between the non-TSI and TSI version is about 10% of the price of the car. Rationally speaking, maybe it's not appropriate to get it, but I think I can afford to splurge on this to get a car with better driveability. – swineone Sep 11 at 20:23
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    @osuka_ like Ferrari. Any Japanese, Korean or American marque should give you 300-400k km with no trouble, they're all basically the same entity now, hiring the same pool of engineers,, using the same suppliers. OP mentioned rationality, rationality is 90% personal finance. Obviously, we are not doing rationality today. – Harper Sep 11 at 20:47
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Lots of VWs in my history, but all have been high milers. My suggestions are simple:

  1. Change the oil at half the change point. Low cost and keeps the contaminants down.
  2. Take a periodic road trip. Perhaps once or twice a month.

Stick with the manufacturer's recommendations or better. My conditions are different that yours, but I have several VW TDIs with over 500,000km.

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Find someone at work who needs a ride every day and who lives farther away from work than you live. Let them pay a small amount each week to cover your extra fuel expense (or not). The longer trip to work will give your car time to fully warm up. Follow all the other excellent recommendations for preventive maintenance and enjoy your new car.

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