July 16, 2020

Summer of Gridlock: More Driving Around Town Means More Wear and Tear



Many aspects of American society are re-opening. Droves of workers are returning from working remotely to working in offices or at job sites. People are taking vacations and visiting family and friends.

But many of those people who are out and about again to commute to work are avoiding mass transportation, and the impact of that is substantial in many ways. Traffic expert and former New York City Traffic Commissioner Sam Schwartz—who coined the term “gridlock”—predicts an unprecedented level of traffic.

Significant numbers of commuters in metro areas will choose to drive instead of take buses and trains where they could be too close for comfort with other passengers. Gas prices are low right now, adding additional motivation to commute by car.

The increase in traffic could be as much as 30 percent more than typical amounts, Schwartz told ABC News, adding that as a result, commutes will take exponentially longer times.


Cars Back in Action

Cars that have been relatively dormant or, at most, driven far less during the pandemic are seeing more use. Especially in larger cities, that use increasingly will include more stop-and-go than ever.

We’ve already seen that many people taking longer trips out of town are choosing drivable itineraries, to keep from having to pack inside airplanes. But around-town traffic is the hardest driving on a car.


Key Areas of City Driving Wear

The wear and tear occurs in a number of ways.

The more time spent commuting in traffic, the more frequent the need is for maintenance. This includes more frequent oil changes and checking of brake fluid, brake pads, and rotors.

Idling at a standstill results in engine deposits of incompletely burned fuel and combustion products, which over time can limit flow of fuel to the combustion chamber. The net effect is hastening engine damage.

Increased brake wear is another casualty of stop-and-go driving—especially for drivers with bad braking habits. Driving too close to the car in front of you, such as in bumper-to-bumper traffic, necessitates harder braking than does keeping a comfortable distance. Even with “good” habits, the much heavier traffic predicted in coming months will put a lot of wear in braking components.

Another frequent and unfortunate habit people have is driving too quickly once the light turns green or traffic begins to move, only to brake hard to stop again. Flooring it can damage more than the brakes, since fast acceleration puts undue stress on drivetrain components.

Drivers whose cars have a manual transmission often get into the unwise practice of keeping the clutch depressed the entire time they are stopped in traffic, in order to keep inching forward, rather than shifting into neutral and releasing the clutch. This causes damage to the release bearing, release arm, and pressure plate.

It’s also smart to closely watch tire pressure and tread wear.


Monitor and Maintain

Most of the above types of wear and damage are invisible to the motorist’s eye, which is why it’s important to have a professional check your vehicle thoroughly and often if you are driving in traffic frequently.

Mr. Transmission and Milex Complete Auto Care have experts at the ready to fully inspect your vehicle to identify areas where wear may be great—before expensive damage happens and before your vehicle lets you down in the middle of rush hour.


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