Take It Easy

By Kristen Castillo

February 2, 2012 4 min read

You're behind the wheel of your new car. Should you put the car to the test? Race the engine? Make sudden stops? Car experts say, "No way!"

"You don't want to get a new car and immediately abuse it," says Brandy Schaffels, senior editor at TrueCar. "Don't go banging on the brakes or go 150 miles per hour just to see how fast it can go."

Cars.com Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder agrees, saying, "Truth be told, breaking a car in is less necessary than ever, but there's a very good and simple reason to follow the manufacturer's guidelines: It can't hurt."

*Break-in History

More than 12.7 million new cars were sold in 2011, according to J.D. Power and LMC Automotive. They're projecting that 13.8 million new cars will be sold in 2012.

Breaking in one of these new cars used to mean a long period of careful, strategic driving to ease the vehicle into use.

"Historically, the main reason behind a break-in period has been to allow the engine's piston rings to wear down enough to match the shape of the cylinder walls as closely as possible," Wiesenfelder explains. "This should ensure high compression later in the engine's life, which helps retain power and efficiency. It also prevents burning oil."

But manufacturing has improved, and that means cars don't need such lengthy break-in periods. Wiesenfelder points out that the break-in for a 2012 Chrysler 300 "calls for moderate driving for 300 miles, preferably at 50 to 55 mph."

*The First 1,000 Miles

So what should you do to break in a new car? Schaffels recommends that during the first 1,000 miles, you vary your engine speed and your revolutions per minute.

"Break it in slowly so all the pieces and parts get a variety of operating conditions," says Schaffels, who agrees that improved manufacturing and assembly are helping new cars break in faster than their predecessors.

"It doesn't mean you have to baby it," she says. "It just means don't be extreme during the first 1,000 miles."

Schaffels says that by the time a car hits 5,000 miles, it's in a groove, resulting in better fuel efficiency and a smooth ride.

*By the Book

Many drivers don't look at their owners manuals, but it's a good idea because different vehicles have different break-in guidelines.

Drivers of Toyota's hybrid Prius should avoid "sudden acceleration, extremely high speeds and constant speed for extended periods for the first 600 miles," explains Wiesenfelder, who continues, "Hard braking shouldn't be applied for the first 200 miles, if possible."

The manual for the 2012 BMW X5 advises a maximum engine speed of 4,500 rpm for up to 1,200 miles. "BMW goes on to recommend 'careful' driving for the first 200 miles of tire break-in and 300 miles of braking," Wiesenfelder says.

Still, some cars don't require much or any break-in at all. Wiesenfelder points to the Chevrolet Volt, which "requires no break-in procedures, even though it has a gas engine." He also says the "all-electric Nissan Leaf hits the road ready for anything."

Oil changes used to have to happen early in a new car's life, but nowadays service timelines can be longer. When in doubt, check the owners manual or call your service technician.

*Aiming for Longevity

"Cars these days are meant to last," says Schaffels, who notes that the biggest difference between new cars and old cars is the improved safety of today's vehicles.

Nowadays, vehicles are on the road longer than ever. According to the automotive research firm Polk, the average age of a car or truck in the U.S. in 2011 was 10.8 years, compared with 8.9 years on the road a decade ago.

Sure, it's tempting to give your new car a workout, but for the vehicle's longevity and your driving satisfaction, it's best to be moderate.

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