Q. While browsing cartalk.com recently (I had nothing better to do ... I was at work), I came across a user's comment that a vehicle that is driven less than 10 miles per outing is more likely to develop engine problems. I hate to sound like "the little old lady who only drives to church on Sunday," but I live less than two miles from my office and tend to loaf around the house most of the weekend. So my 2001 Chevy S-10 extended-cab pickup doesn't get much of a workout most of the time.
I love my little truck, and hope she lasts forever. I thought that by giving her such an easy life I was being good to her. Am I killing her with kindness? Do I need to take the long way to work once in a while or drive around aimlessly on evenings and weekends?
A. No, you're doing fine. Your truck is 17 years old. I'd say whatever you're doing, it's working.
Cars and trucks wear out, primarily, from being used. When a car is in use, its pistons are scraping the cylinder walls, its suspension is getting banged around and its catalytic converter is slowly disintegrating. So leaving your truck in the driveway is a pretty good plan for longevity.
Sure, there's rust. There's drying out of rubber hoses, belts and tires. But that stuff will happen over time whether you drive the vehicle or not. What the visitor's comment on our website was probably referring to is moisture in the exhaust system. If you drive the car for two miles, the exhaust system might not get hot enough to evaporate the moisture that condenses in there (your car's exhaust contains water vapor that condenses when it hits the cold exhaust pipe). That condensation, if it doesn't evaporate, will cause the exhaust system to rust and corrode prematurely. But an exhaust system is small potatoes compared to an engine or a transmission.
You can also get moisture inside the engine on very short trips, but your oil is designed to hold moisture in suspension and protect the engine from corrosion. If that worries you, I'd switch to a synthetic oil, which will do a better job of holding moisture — and everything else. But you can't drive your way to saving money.
Remember, the more you drive, the more gas you have to buy. The more you drive, the more frequently you have to change the oil and do maintenance and repairs. And worst of all, the more you drive, the more likely you are to pass a Chevy dealership and end up dropping 35 grand on a 2019 Chevy Colorado.
Q. I've got a black 2004 Toyota Corolla. The last time I took it to the shop, my mechanic said my clutch was "a little sloppy." He's not one for long explanations, but I got the impression that meant I was getting close to needing a new one. What things can I do to keep a sloppy clutch "tidy" (i.e. last through grad school)? And how will I know when it needs replacing? Will there be a big bang or something?
A. What your mechanic probably noticed is that the clutch pedal is engaging near the top of its range. When the car was new, the clutch probably engaged when the pedal was about in the middle of its travel (halfway between the floor, and when it's all the way up). Like the frog in the pot of water that's slowly heating up (please don't send hate mail, PETA friends, no frogs were harmed in the use of this metaphor), you haven't noticed the change, because it changes by a microscopic amount every day.
Your Corolla has a self-adjusting clutch. And as the clutch disc wears out, what you'll notice is that the engagement point of the pedal moves further and further from the floor. What your mechanic is telling you is that there's not much adjustment room left and, at some point, you'll need to replace the clutch. He's probably licking his chops right now, poring over the Evinrude catalogue.
How will you know when your time is up? Well, eventually the friction material on the clutch disc will be completely gone, and when you let out the clutch, the car won't move. Before that, you probably will notice some slipping. When you step on the gas, you may notice that the engine speed goes up, but the car doesn't seem to be going any faster. This would be particularly noticeable when going up hills in high gear, on hard acceleration, or when carrying two or more mothers-in-law in the back seat. That's your sign to start taking night classes and move up your graduation date.
And short of parking the car and not driving it, there's not much you can do to extend the life of the clutch. If you drive well, and don't "ride" the clutch (use a lot of gas and take a long time to engage each gear), you're already doing what you can. Other than that, avoid stop-and-go traffic — and driving in San Francisco — and hope you make it to graduation. Good luck.
Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.