It is safe to bring brand new cars on a road trip. While older cars did have a mechanical break-in period, usually around 500-1000 miles, to allow settlement of the piston rings, manufacturers today optimized processing so that nearly all cars can be driven off the lot into their respective adventures.
Many people fantasize about taking their brand new dream car on a road trip, and it’s not hard to see why. There doesn’t seem to be a better way to get to know your new vehicle other than going for a nice long drive, right?
Some would beg to differ, though. According to some auto enthusiasts, cars shouldn’t be taken for long road trips or fast drives until after a supposed ‘break-in period’ passes.
This break-in period suggests that cars shouldn’t be driven too intensely for a period of time after purchase, in order to allow the mechanical parts of the vehicle to ‘settle in.’
Many people interpret this to mean that you shouldn’t take a new car on a road trip or any kind of intense drive, which can be kind of disheartening if you were hoping to go explore your amazing new car’s capabilities.
In this article, we’re going to be going over whether you should take a brand new car on a road trip and if this ‘break-in’ period applies to this type of driving.
Keep reading if you want to find out everything you need to know about your new car’s reliability and the steps you should take to ensure safe travels for both you and your vehicle.
New Car Break-In Period
Much of the advice surrounding road trips has to do with the ‘break-in period.’ With the superstitious way many auto enthusiasts talk about it, it would be easy to assume that the break-in period is a myth.
However, it’s actually called the mechanical run-in period and is something that is included in the majority of driver’s manuals.
This break-in period is a time when the engine is still being conditioned and ‘settling in’ during the initial period after it has been manufactured. While it’s a common expression that you should ‘drive your new car like you stole it and go all out with driving fast and revving the engine, most auto enthusiasts would be quick to tell you that this isn’t the case.
During the first few hundred miles for most vehicles, many internal mechanical parts of a car’s engine are still settling into place, and so experts advise following some guidelines to make sure your car is ‘broken-in’ properly.
While the break-in period used to be much longer and break-in times vary depending on the vehicle, you can expect your car to be fully settled in around 500 to 1,000 miles.
While the break-in period is advised in most car manuals, it’s something most drivers shouldn’t worry about too much.
It’s great if you can break in your car well and get the engine off to a good start, but if you have an emergency or need to go on a long drive during the first few hundred miles it probably won’t hurt, either.
Chances are that nothing will happen when you take your new car on a long road trip. It is recommended to follow proper maintenance and any break-in guidelines to have the most longevity.
While it’s recommended to use the car gently when you first get it, most car companies complete a break-in process at the factory, so it’s not as big of a deal since the manufacturer has already ensured reliability.
For example, the Acura NSX supercar comes with an engine that’s already been broken in at the factory so you can get straight to driving!
It’s All About the Piston Rings
The main thing people worry about when they talk about the mechanical run-in period is the settlement of the piston rings.
In modern cars, one of the physical changes that occurs during the first few hundred miles is that the piston rings in the engine settle and make contact with the cylinder wall.
It’s important to establish this connection early, as the following consequences can result from the piston rings not settling properly:
- Excessive Oil Consumption – oil can collect in the cylinder wall if the piston rings aren’t settled properly, causing the vehicle to consume more oil than is typical or necessary.
- Cylinder Wall Deterioration – If the piston rings fail to settle into the grooves of the cylinder wall, friction will be created between the two every time the engine runs.
- Engine Wear and Tear – especially on older engines, unsuccessful piston ring settlement can cause wear and tear on various parts of the engine, which can eventually lead to the need for replacements.
While this list might sound a little scary, don’t fret if you have a new car! While gentle driving is recommended to ensure the pistons settle well, most modern car manufacturers have optimized the engines so this won’t be as much of a problem just like push button starts.
Improvements over the years to the surface finishes on cylinder walls have made sure that the pistons will settle reliably, even if you don’t follow the manufacturer’s break-in instructions to a T.
Is it Okay to Go Fast In A Brand New Car?
A lot of car owners worry that going on a road trip will cause their new car to deteriorate from driving at high speeds constantly. Especially if you have a muscle car blower.
It’s true that you shouldn’t make your car drive at extreme speeds during the first couple hundred miles you’re driving it. However, this is really more about redlining the engine or pushing the engine to its maximum RPM.
As long as you weren’t planning on putting the pedal to the metal on your road trip and travel within average highway speeds, this shouldn’t be an issue for the break-in period of the vehicle.
Another habit many road trippers have that might not be good for your new car is cruise control. While it might be tempting to put your car on cruise control while driving for many hours down the highway, it’s important for new engines to be broken in at a variety of RPM.
Since cruise control locks your car into one speed, it’s not the best idea to use it on a road trip if your car is still on its first couple hundred miles.
So, Should You Take a Brand New Car on a Road Trip?
Yes, there is absolutely no reason that you shouldn’t take your brand-new car on a road trip and fully enjoy it. There might be a few precautions you should take if you’re taking the vehicle straight off the lot to your adventure, like avoiding cruise control, but otherwise it’s mostly a myth that new cars can be damaged by going on road trips.
The break-in period was definitely more of a concern with older cars (like the best Ford Thunderbirds or the best Plymouth Barracudas), which often had elaborate break-in procedures that took several days to complete. However, you’re not going to be buying an old car new off the lot, and any new car you do buy nowadays will be mostly broken in at the factory.
If you still don’t like the idea of having to ‘break-in’ a vehicle, there are many amazing used cars out there that have already been broken in for you! That being said, with all the tests and reliability checks car companies have their vehicles undergo these days, there should be nothing to worry about.
Operating a vehicle outside of its mechanical run-in period guidelines shouldn’t break its warranty, unless there are obvious signs you were abusing the car, so the break-in period these days is more of a personal preference. If you were hoping to enjoy a nice long road trip in your new ride, just go for it!