Even modern engines need a little TLC

Dear Car Talk: I grew up in the 1950s, in a place where winters were quite cold. My dad was an auto mechanic, and we had a neighbor who would start his car outside on a cold morning. Then he would rev the engine up for about 15 seconds and then jam the car into reverse and off he’d go.

It made my dad cringe and he’d say, “One of these days he’s gonna throw a rod through the engine block.” Sure enough, he did.

Fast forward about 50 years, and my wonderful husband in all aspects except car care, does the same thing! I have mentioned that just letting the car idle till the rpm slows down might be a good idea.

I am considering the purchase of a new truck for him as a gift but also cringe at the thought of him revving the cold engine like he’s getting ready for a quarter-mile race.

Am I wrong and just living in the past? Or do newer engines still need to be treated nicely? Thank you! — Linda

Linda: You’re not wrong, Linda. Even though engines and lubricants are much better now, starting a car in frigid weather and immediately revving it up is still one of the worst things you can do.

When the car has been sitting overnight, the vast majority of your oil drains down to the bottom of the engine. When you start it the next day, the oil pump sends oil back up into the engine as quickly as it can. But for those first few seconds, the engine is not very well lubricated.

And if you rev it during those few seconds, you’re multiplying whatever wear and tear occurs during that short period of less-than-ideal lubrication.

In fact, modern cars don’t require you to touch the accelerator at all when you start them. The computer reads the engine conditions and sets the idle speed correctly, just high enough so the engine won’t stall — which is usually just a few hundred rpm above normal idle speed.

After 15 or 20 seconds, the idle speed automatically drops, and on a really cold day, that’s when you can drive away — gently. So, you’re right to be concerned about what your husband might do to a brand-new truck.

My suggestion: Buy yourself the truck, Linda. Get hubby another cardigan. Or, if you do get him his dream truck, make sure you order the remote start feature. That allows him to use the key fob from inside the house to start the truck in cold weather.

Not only will that circumvent his overly eager revving foot, but it’ll also get the truck a little closer to being warm and toasty by the time he gets in it. A win-win, right?

It does waste some fuel. So don’t let him start the truck 20 minutes before he leaves the house. But a couple of minutes of unsupervised warmup time will lengthen the truck’s life in his case. And a pre-warmed interior might be enough to convince him to get with the program, Linda. Good luck.

Dear Car Talk: I have a 2013 Kia Optima with 144,000 miles on it. It runs great, and I’ve only had one problem with it.

It went 98,000 before the front brakes were replaced. Since then, I’ve driven it another 46,000 miles, and I’m on my third set of rotors. They keep warping.

Now they’re starting to warp again just 8,000 miles after they were last replaced. Any reason you can give me why? The brake shop has replaced the rotors three times at no cost to me. — Mike

Mike: Well, tell them to get ready for number four, Mike. I can think of four possible reasons when your rotors are warping so quickly.

One is that you have a teenage son who recently got his driver’s license.

Possibility two is that you’ve got a sticky caliper. The caliper is what pushes the brake pads together and squeezes them against the rotor.

I would hope the brake shop would have checked for sticky calipers. But if one or both of your front calipers aren’t always releasing when they should or aren’t releasing completely, you’d effectively be driving around with your brakes always applied. That would overheat the rotors and make them warp pretty quickly.

If the calipers are good, another possibility is that your power brake booster is faulty. The brake booster multiplies the force applied by your foot on the brake pedal. It’s the power in power brakes.

And if the booster is failing, it could be applying brake pressure even when your foot’s not on the pedal. If it’s the booster, it would tend to get worse the longer you drive — the more times you apply the brakes.

Like a sticky caliper, that would be like resting your foot on the brake pedal, which would cause the rotors to heat up and warp.

The final possibility is that the brake shop is just using cheap rotors. Not all rotors are created equal. Based on many years of experience — and many unhappy customers coming back to complain — we have learned which aftermarket brake parts we can trust and which we can’t. And if we can’t get aftermarket rotors that we trust for a particular car, we’ll get the original equipment rotors from the dealer.

We’ve just learned over the years that the original equipment rotors always perform well — so we’ll often just go right to those, even though they’re more expensive.

The fact that the brake shop keeps giving you free rotors without complaint indicates that either they’re saints or they’re getting them real cheap. So, if your brake booster and calipers check out, I’d ask them to get you a set of OEM (original equipment manufacturer) rotors from the nearest Kia dealer.

Offer to pay for the rotors yourself if they’ll do the installation. That seems fair. You’ll get many more miles out of your rotors (you got 98,000 out of your first set), and they won’t have to go hide in the men’s room every time they see you driving back in, Mike.

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.

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