By on December 14, 2011


Tim writes:


I finally bit the bullet and bought it – a 2012 Focus. I need some guidance on the proper break-in methodology for my new wheels. The car is due into the dealership within the next day or two (I had to special order a ’12 hatch, SE, five-speed in Sonic Blue, and it’s been a LONG ten weeks!). My last Focus I had to unfortunately drive from MA to FL shortly after purchasing it, and I’ve often wondered if the slight peculiar shudder at idle that it always had was due to my prolonged highway driving on that trip.

Any advice so I can have a happy decade of driving with my new motor?

Sajeev Answers:

I seriously doubt your shudder was from a break-in procedure, although it’s never a good idea to maintain the same engine RPM for a long period of time during break-in. Not that you did. Oh my, I am getting ahead of myself.

Thanks to modern materials, manufacturing and assembly techniques, the notion of a proper break-in is subjective and thus hard to quantify. Tolerances in engines are tighter for this reason: we no longer use 10w30 oil like we did a coupla decades ago, and doing so can damage a motor. Even cylinder walls are honed/sleeved far better now, making variations in driving habits less worrisome during your first few miles.

Wait…that’s not really the point, nor is it a good answer. Luckily for you, I will tell you how I broke in my special order Ford Ranger XLT (it was a LONG 7 weeks!), which now has 3000-ish miles on it.

Engines, clutches (manual transmissions, not the clutch packs in a slushbox) and brakes need to be broken in.  For the motor, it’s okay to drive it a little hard, but I would keep the revs down out of respect and principle alone.  For my Ranger: I drove it normally, except I’d rarely rev past the torque peak (3750rpm) until I reached around 1000 miles on the odometer. I did an oil change around 2500 miles, again out of respect…and not proven fact. Smart or stupid?  You decide.

Clutches: go easy on that system, let the clutch “mate” to the flywheel so they can get their groove on.  No drag racing launches! Well, at least for a couple hundred miles.

Brakes: see clutches. You want the friction material to hook up with the metal spinny parts (discs or drums) in a proper fashion. In the case of the carbon spinny bits of the Corvette ZR1, there’s a specific dance routine you must follow. And for the rest of us, including my sweet little Ranger, I loosely followed the rules of brake bedding.

Send your queries to [email protected] . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.



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50 Comments on “Piston Slap: Getting Your Groove On, Long Term Edition...”

  • avatar

    Why are you asking advice from amateurs on a carblog about how to care for your brand new $20,000 car? RTFM. Seriously. Nobody here knows better than Ford how your Focus should be “broken in.”

    • 0 avatar

      For real. When I bought my new Elantra I just followed the break in procedure in the manual. It pretty much just said to keep the revs varied between 3-5k for the first few thousand miles if I remember correctly. My instinct was to keep the revs as low as possible so I’m glad I followed their recommendation.

    • 0 avatar

      Saying Sajeev is an amateur illustrates your little knowledge of the guy. I would venture to say he is spot on in this article.

      • 0 avatar


        The first oil change will rid the engine of the metal it will shed most quickly in its lifetime, so the 2500 mile mark sounds about right.

      • 0 avatar

        As someone who has seen the inside of an oil pan from a brand new engine torn down for random inspection after being cold tested (which consists of rotating the engine with pressurized oil flow but without spark/fuel to ensure the engine doesn’t take too much or too little torque to turn) you would be shocked at how much metal is in the bottom of the pan.

        Some of it is from the rotating components, but some of it is machining debris from inside the block. It can be very difficult/costly to get an engine completely spotless inside in a mass-production/high-throughput environment. Engine bearings are designed to bed a certain amount of debris without damaging the critical journal surface it’s mated to, but obviously there is a point where it’s too much and it will damage the engine. If there’s debris you can see in the bottom of the pan, there’s undoubtedly small micro-particles circulating through the oil…hopefully they’re within the micron rating of the filter, but….

        Either way, based on my experience I’d always change out that first batch of oil in no more than 1,000 miles. Cheap insurance for us do-it-yourselfers.

    • 0 avatar

      The manufacturer of my last new car, a ’07 BMW, suggested that the first oil change did not need to be done until 15,000 miles. Of course, BMW “pays” for all service until the warranty’s out, so they may have an ulterior motive. I’ll trust Sajeev…

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        Before BMW introduced their free maintenance plan in ’02/’03, interestingly enough the recommended oil change interval was 7.5k with synthetic.

        I change the oil on my E46 at 7.5k. The 15k interval exists solely to save BMW money.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve always been confused by people’s reactions to the long oil change intervals that BMW specifies. So many seem to think that BMW is cheaping out and imperiling its customers. That does not seem to be realistic, given the importance of BMW’s CPO business to its bottom line. Rather, since it is on BMW’s dime, I’ve always figured that the interval is an accurate reflection of the true maintenance needs of the vehicle. Note that BMW does not pay for annual “coolant flushes”, “fuel injection service”, and other such dealer-initiated nonsense.

      • 0 avatar

        I use 15k mile synthetic oil and usually change it somewhere between 10-15k. My manual says 7.5k is recommended but that’s with conventional oil.

      • 0 avatar

        I had an E46 from 2000 that was right on the cusp of the warranty change. The same E46 with M52TU engine was in the prior years model but that warranty did not include oil changes. BMW stated it was 7500 OCI. Then the following year they changed the warranty to include oil changes and OCI changed to 15K. Only one thing changed, the payer. So when BMW pays, suddenly the OCI can be extended. Unfortunately by the time the engine experiences problems with overly extended OCIs you are likely out of warranty.

    • 0 avatar

      Two days before my Focus was ready for delivery, I went down to Tasca Ford and asked if I could have the manual. They gave me one out of a floor model. I took the manual home and read it, cover to cover. There is no specific mention of any break-in period, and the dealership indicated there was nothing specific that needed to be done.

      I’ll leave your snide remarks about the Sajeev alone, only to say that I’ve read his other posts and value his advice.

      It’s now mid-December, and I’ve got nearly 4k on the car. Pretty much as described above, I’ve generally gone easy on the car until, and now drive it normally, without any special precautions.

      I am, however, dismayed at what seems to be a slight clunking from the front suspension, which I am marking up to the terrible, terrible roads here in New England. It’s going back to the dealership to have them take a look in case it’s something else.

      Thanks Sajeev for confirming my thoughts.

      • 0 avatar

        Impressed you already have almost 4 million miles on it!!!

        But seriously, glad you have your new wheels, and good luck with the front end!

      • 0 avatar

        Mr_Mike, what can I say, I love to drive. ;)

      • 0 avatar

        There’s a lot of talk about the Focus’ DCT acting badly for the first few thousand miles. I’m not sure of the reason. But it does seem to be unrelated to the defects that the Fiesta had last year.

        I think its wise to keep an eye on it and have Ford check it out. It probably isn’t anything worry about unless it doesn’t improve.

      • 0 avatar

        Well if he has the five-speed, that means it’s the manual. As far as I know there haven’t been any significant problems with the manual, and there shouldn’t be since I don’t think it’s a new design.

  • avatar

    Mine is a 2012 Titanium Focus, and it just turned 3,500 miles. I also did the oil change at about 2,500 miles, and I’ve been driving it gently so far 99.999% of the time. Even with snow tires, I am getting good mpg: not quite 39 mpg at 60 mph and 42.5 mpg at 55 mph on the highway when loaded down- so far. I say so far as I do not believe that the engine is yet broken in. Both my 2007 MazdaSpeed 3 and my 2008 WRX STI yielded greater mpg after I put 8,000 on them (MS3 eventually would easily yield 30-31 highway mpg: STI mpg was still terrible though), so I believe that the Focus mpg will continue to improve somewhat over the next 4,500 miles.

    • 0 avatar

      So far we’re turning about 30 mpg combined. It’s also fun to see the mileage go up when drafting a larger vehicle…I’ve managed to get up to 45 mpg at a steady 70 when following at a safe distance a larger vehicle.

  • avatar

    By all means, READ your owner’s manual and talk to your dealer’s service manager. I agree with getacargetacheck in that regard.

    Why? Here’s my story from 1975: I bought my first new vehicle – a 1976 Chevy 3/4 ton pickup truck. Don’t ask why – I was young and the outdoor-type-spend-weekends-in-the-woods along with my buddies. Anyhow, I was so naive, that when I read in the manual for the break-in proceedure, I mis-interpreted the advice warning me not to maintain a constant speed for very long into not maintaining a constant speed AT ALL! Constantly gunning and braking the engine thru the gears. Guess what? I ruined the engine 4 months in. Fortunately, Chevy replaced the 292 short block under warranty, as they couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong with the bearings! Dumb, dumb, dumb on my part! Lesson learned the hard way.

    So, hopefully you’re not as goofy as I was back then, but if you are, get advice from someone who knows better!

  • avatar

    we no longer use 10w30 oil like we did a coupla decades ago, and doing so can damage a motor.

    Maybe if it’s below -30C and the oil is solid on start-up, but that could damage an old engine too.

    • 0 avatar

      What’s wrong with 10W30? It’s what I use in my Explorer. 10W30 or 0W30 Mobil 1 synthetic. Should I use 5W20 or 0W20 like I put in my Focus??

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t recommend going thinner than your manual recommends (in terms of grade, not winter rating), but going thicker wouldn’t hurt anything except fuel economy.

        10W-30 is pretty much obsolete considering the current quality and price of 5W-30, but it still passes all the same modern API testing except that it’s only rated down to -30C, versus -35C for 5W and -40C for 0W. The extra operating viscosity of a 30 grade over a 20 grade is minor, especially considering the vast change in viscosity as the oil warms up, the time it takes for that to happen, and the differences in oil operating temperatures depending on climate and operating conditions.

        I’d recommend 5W-30 for the Explorer and 5W-20 for the Focus. If your winter temps regularly dip below -20C, 0W oils would be best during winter. The only disadvantage to a 0W is the cost.

  • avatar

    We bought 2012 Titanium Hatch in Tuxedo Black for the wife. I broke her in after 7,500 miles, then I broke even on a trade in and bought a Taurus SHO instead, in Tuexedo Black :)

    Loved the Focus, but I prefer the Nav system pre myFord Touch Generation, overall space, and power in the SHO a lot better. Gas mileage could be better, but at least it can move out of its own way on the interstate without much effort.

    • 0 avatar

      Sure that the Focus doesn’t have the acceleration of the SHO (but it is more than adequate for the Interstate as well as Chicago expressway driving), and sure my wife wanted the SHO, but the Focus Titanium is really nice, and when I put my kenneled Chessie in it to go hunting, I’m glad I have it and not the SHO. So far this season with just a little planning (truck bed liner covers folded down back seats as well as storage space plus protects rear bumper from dog claws upon exit and entry plus having front seat covers and floor protection and snow tires/wheels) and I have kept the car almost new while using it as I simply would not have used the SHO. By the way, last year at this time I was headed south on I-57 in my STI in a heavy snow with four inches already on the ground. I was doing 65 mph and what comes blowing past me doing 15-20 mph faster? An SHO! My snow tires had about 3,000 on the (best of the Dunlops too), and I really didn’t care to see if the STI could keep up with the SHO.

  • avatar

    “In the case of the carbon spinny bits of the Corvette ZR1, there’s a specific dance routine you must follow.”

    I went to the link – good lord! 0-60-0 FIFTY times in a row to bed the brakes?

  • avatar

    These days, an early oil change can be a bad idea. The break-in oil may have additives that should stay in the crankcase for a minimum amount of time. (I know this because I read the owner’s manual of my current car.)

    In the old days, an early oil change was a good idea. But that advice may be out of date and you may wish to do the opposite now.

    I think that the old advice of varying the revs still applies. The car should be driven at a variety of rev ranges, which means no cruise control or driving at a steady speed during the break in period. Avoiding the higher end of the band entirely in the beginning may also be called for.

    Again, read the manual and consult with the manufacturer. They built it, so they should know.

  • avatar

    Tough crowd: Sajeev’s advised course of action costs virtually nothing and is very similar to both manufacturers’ recommendations AND conventional wisdom.

    When I collected my new FIAT with 13 km on the odometer a month ago, I had a 200 km drive home. So I took backroads and varied my speed. Since then my driving has been mostly urban. I did not redline it until I reached 1500 km. I’ve been gentle but firm with the brakes and clutch.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Follow the instructions in the owner’s manual. On modern cars, it is usually some really easy 1000 mile regimen like varying your revs but keeping them well shy of redline, easy/moderate acceleration & deceleration, avoiding constant engine speed for extended periods. So, no road trips yet.

    Unlike free oil changes paid for by the manufacturer every longish 15,000 miles, there is no profit incentive for a car manufacturer to go lax with their break-in period recommendations. Free scheduled maintenance is a selling point, but NO ONE looks at the break-in period to decide whether to buy a car.

  • avatar

    so where can you perform proper “brake bedding” without killing someone? Rapidly changing speeds from 60mph down to 10 and back to 60 over and over sounds like nothing you want to do on the highway.

  • avatar

    You should be able to access the Focus owner manual from there.

  • avatar

    I cut open the oil filter on a 2000 GM V8 at the first oil change, 3000 miles. I could not believe how much metal flakes were there, I thought the engine was toast. The second filter, much better and the third filter was normal. At 80000 miles it has been a perfect engine and never needs oil added between changes, sometimes 5000 miles. Has anyone looked at the factory filter on the newer engines? As has been mentioned, I do think they are machined and honed ( torque plates ) much better today.

    • 0 avatar

      +1. My dad bought a 2011 Sonata and I insisted on changing the oil at about 3k miles. When I dropped the plug, it looked like quicksilver. He has about 10k on it now, and on its second oil change at 8k the oil looked great.

      It all depends on the manufacture.

      For stark contrast, the neo Acura TSX’s first maintenance usually comes up between 7k and 10k miles, and by that point, and especially if it’s about 1 year old, the oil looks like something out of my old ’87 Camaro.

      With that said, in this instance Honda recommends you let it ride until the first maintenance comes up (due to a Maintenance Minder system that pops up on your dash) with the afore mentioned additives in ‘break-in’ engine oil.

      Again, it depends on who builds the engine, and although there a lot of Honda trans bashers around here, you cannot deny that Honda engines are of the utmost quality.

  • avatar

    Generally, I agree with what I’ve read here, vary the revs etc but one guy has a rather controversial method where you do all that, but you ALSO do quick hard revs, not necessarily to readline but high revs briefly to help seat the rings is his reasoning.

    Don’t know how good that is but in the end, best to read your owner’s manual and see what it says.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, when I was doing the extra-curricular homework on breaking in my new ride last year, I happened upon a site run by a cycle enthusiast who recommended high-revs to seat the rings shortly after acquiring a new ride.

      In the end, I went with what was in the manual.

  • avatar

    With a Focus, you’re in good company. Former Pres candidate Dennis Kucinich is on his second Focus (unless he’s gotten a third since I last talked to him).

  • avatar


    I’d love to heard your take on the road-trip capabilities of this car. I’d probably consider an SE similiar to yours but with the Sport package and Winter package. How is the road noise, passing acceleration in 5th, comfort, and something that am really curious about: right-side knee room/comfort with that big center console.


  • avatar

    Sajeev gave you good advice for break in. For the first vew hundred miles, (1) do not “drive it like you stole it” and (2) avoid long periods at the same speed.

    As far as oil changes are concerned, I think 15k miles is too long even with synthetic. My long time favorite independent mechanic told me about BMWs with serious oil consumption problems at less than 100k miles even though they run synthetic. He blames it on going too long between oil changes. Porsche used to specify 20k miles or 2 years for the Cayman. A couple of years ago, they dropped it to 10k or 1 year. My choice would be 5k or 6 months depending on how much time the car spends parked.

    My Infiniti manual specifies 3,750 miles or 3 months between oil changes for normal driving and half as often for mostly highway miles. I have always followed the shorter schedule. When I gave it away, my 1984 RX-7 was still on its original engine after 24 years and 180k miles. We still have a 1998 2.5 liter Subaru Legacy that is up to 218k miles. Oil consumption on it has increased to a quart every 2,500 miles.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      “My long time favorite independent mechanic told me about BMWs with serious oil consumption problems at less than 100k miles even though they run synthetic. ”

      Well said. I’ve seen letters in the Tech Talk section of the national BMW club magazine (Roundel) that confirm this as well on the 3-series cars with the M52 and M54 inline six engines.

      What OCI were those cars running? The 15k interval recommended by BMW North America, of course.

  • avatar

    FYI – From a retired Ford Dealer parts mgr.
    In the past, maintenance intervals and schedules have been all over the map in Canada, with many dealers recommending intervals shorter than the factory manual. Several years ago when 5W20 was introduced, many dealers were at every 3 mo or 5k km. The factory was suggesting that the dealers should go to every 6 mo or 10k km intervals. Our Ford factory rep at that time said that with the quality of the new oil, 20k intervals were totally safe, but there was concern over the resulting revenue drop, thus the 10k km intervals. Many dealers still want to see owners every 5000 km, but the reason is strictly monetary.

  • avatar
    Rick T.

    So here is what’s I’ve always wondered about:

    How do you square a gentle break in period with flying over to Germany – land of the Autobahn – to pick up your brand BMW or Mercedes?

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      For the first 1200 miles, BMW (and Mini – just bought a new ’12 Cooper) recommend not exceeding 4500 rpms or going over 100 mph. I guess you can drive in the slow lane of the Autobahn until then. Either that or head for Switzerland or France, which don’t have unrestricted speed limits.

  • avatar

    I don’t really think there’s such a thing as “break-in oil”.
    Maybe I’m pessimistic, but in my experience, the factories seem to put in the oil that’s the cheapest for them. It’s all bottom line.
    The tires they put on are along the same line most of the time.

    • 0 avatar

      Check used oil analysis reports for Honda factory fills and you’ll find extremely high levels of moly. They’re the only ones I know about that specifically recommend leaving the factory fill in for a while.

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