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Cars Driving in Stop-and-Go Traffic Require Special Care

cars driving in the cityCity driving, especially during high-volume times, may involve quick bursts of power when speeding up, followed by sudden stops as the driver hits the brakes. Add abrupt lane changes to the mix, and a commute becomes an unsteady lurch with irregular forward progress. In these circumstances, the vehicle’s mechanical systems are working hard to circulate fluids thoroughly. When the fluids don’t have the time to rise to optimal operating temperatures, engine components may not perform efficiently. Wear and tear occur at a faster than average rate and mpg’s are reduced.

Frequent and aggressive braking can shorten the life of brake pads, causing the calipers to rub against the rotors. This condition can lengthen the amount of time needed to bring the car to a stop, which may result in hitting the car ahead.

Stop-Start Systems

Several car manufacturers have developed automatic stop-start systems to help combat the rise in emissions that result from heavy traffic conditions when driving in the city. These systems automatically shut off the motor instead of leaving it idling when it’s not needed, such as when waiting for traffic lights and train crossings and in construction zones. On the positive side, this reduction in engine idling may improve fuel economy over time. However, electric starters may be designed to fire the engine only a few times a day. In stop and go traffic, it may ignite a few dozen times, depending on distance and congestion levels.


For older vehicles not equipped with stop-start systems, the wear and tear may occur in the ventilation system. Engines need airflow to cool the systems and prevent overheating. When sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic with the engine idling, there may be warm air filled with exhaust under the hood rather than the cooler air. If these circumstances continue for extended periods of time, fuel and combustion products may not burn completely, leaving deposits in the engine. For cars and trucks that fight through gridlock on a daily basis, the deposits can build up and begin clogging critical components.

Manual Transmissions

For cars with a stick shift, stop and go traffic can be a frustrating experience. Experts recommend drivers keep a longer distance between vehicles to give the transmission time to engage when shifting. It isn’t always possible to maintain a car length of space open in rush-hour traffic, as progress then might be measured in feet instead of miles. Keeping the clutch pushed in can tempting in this situation, as it allows the vehicle to inch forward slowly, reducing the pressure needed to brake. However, this causes metal surfaces to rub together, prematurely aging components such as the pressure plate, release arm and release bearing.

Warning Signs

Most vehicles can notify drivers that optimum performance is not being achieved. Taking preventative measures at the onset of these signals can save money and time later. One commonly ignored warning sign is the check engine light. Many problems can result in the light illuminating, from worn hoses to clogged internal systems. Fuel injectors that are blocked may lead to a knocking sound coming from under the hood or a sputtering engine. If the vehicle is getting significantly fewer miles per gallon than it used to, there may be something wrong that could cause the engine to overheat or fail.

Preventative Auto Maintenance

For people who frequently drive in heavy traffic or make numerous short trips, checkups at a local service center can detect minor issues before they become major expenses:

  • Monitoring the condition and level of the oil can determine if it needs to be changed more frequently than the driver’s manual recommends under the severe conditions section.
  • Regular intake system cleaning and the addition of a fuel injector cleaner can remove existing deposit build-up and may reduce clogging going forward.
  • Fluid checks, including power steering, brake and transmission, can ensure vehicle performance is maintained and safety levels are met.
  • The air filter may become clogged or damaged if gridlock and city driving are common driving conditions. Checking the filter can ensure the air filtration system works correctly.
  • Engine checks and tuning can identify issues with fuel injectors or spark plugs, both of which can hinder fuel efficiency.

Sun Auto Service can perform complete maintenance checks and replace or repair components to help maintain engine performance and longevity in city commuter vehicles. Our technicians are ASE certified, and our work is guaranteed.