Piston Slap: A Fear of Falling?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
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piston slap a fear of falling

Michael writes:

I am a longtime TTAC reader, but do not comment very often. However, I have a question that perhaps you and the B&B can help me with. I am the owner of a 2011 Kia Soul +, 14,XXX miles. Been a great vehicle so far.

My issue is that my workplace happens to be located DIRECTLY off of a major street/highway. This means that from the time I put the car in gear and pull out of the parking lot, I need to be up to 60mph within about 10 seconds or get run over. No side streets to take and no time to gently warm up the car under load.

Even in the oppressive Houston heat, the car would take several minutes to warm up by idling in the parking lot. I have not been doing this, but if I need to, so be it.

So, am I killing my engine by getting it up to such speed on a cold engine? The car does warm up within a couple minutes once on the street, but I do not want to do any damage in the meantime. What says you??


Sajeev answers:

A good rule of thumb in Houston: one of the worst things you can do is idle a cold motor instead of driving it, putting a load on it. Not necessarily true in places where engine block heaters are necessary, but definitely true here.

So, relatively speaking…

Unless you’re full throttle, wringing it out to redline, etc. you’re warming up the motor well enough. I was in your place when I wrote about the Dodge Attitude for a surprisingly cold December in Houston. My new job was in an office building on US 59, plenty of throttle was needed when leaving. Mostly because it was a somewhat high speed, limited visibility merge to the feeder road. I cringed when I wound out my (low-ish revving) Lincoln Mark VIII to 3500-4000rpm sometimes, but it really didn’t matter.

Even if I stuck around there, I am sure my 175,000 mile Lincoln would still be just as happy as it is today. Too bad I wasn’t happy and the Cutting Crew CD in my stereo was not only broadening my musical horizons, it possessed a song that encapsulated my fears: mostly about the job, but kinda about that freeway merging from the parking lot, too!

What you are experiencing is a Fear of Falling, but I digress…on a KIA Soul, two bits of advice:

1. Use synthetic oil, a full synthetic. You should have no problems switching at this mileage, so just do it.

2. WHEN POSSIBLE: accelerate onto the feeder with enough throttle to say near your torque peak, which is 4,200 RPM. If you can remain in that area for the majority of your runs back home, you’ll never have a problem at all.

Do those two things (the second one as much as safely possible) and you’ll be just fine. Go ahead, jump. No fear here.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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3 of 18 comments
  • 1998redwagon 1998redwagon on Apr 22, 2013

    cold temps in houston? driving an engine below redline when not at operating temp? geez that describes 9 of 12 months here in northern minnesota. cars still last. heck even the canadians drive cars and trucks. me thinks you worry too much.

  • Corntrollio Corntrollio on Apr 23, 2013

    "Use synthetic oil, a full synthetic. You should have no problems switching at this mileage, so just do it." Sajeev, do you know the rationale for people who believe that switching from dino to synthetic can be problematic at some mileage? One theory I remember reading is that people think that the seals will become unswelled, so the engine will leak?

    • Wstarvingteacher Wstarvingteacher on Apr 23, 2013

      I think I have a clue here. I was around and experimenting years ago. I think someone was stuck way back in time with non-detergent oil. One of the first things we learned was about flushing the engine before we went to synthetic. When the stuff first came out it ate seals according to some. Mobil 1 got past that years ago. We heard some of the same stuff with slick 50. My mechanic tried to tell me when we put synthetic in the cube that we couldn't shift back to regular oil. I think people get hung up on things and reality doesn't matter. Synthetic has excellent detergent capabilities and that's the only thing I know to be cautious about. I swear by synthetic but if you have a leak it will get worse. It can get expensive.

  • SCE to AUX This is a policy problem, not a technology problem. Asking electric buses to do this service is just as absurd as asking a fleet of jitney drivers to do it.But they're thinking too small - the Tesla Semi could do the job.
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  • TheEndlessEnigma Gruesome Newsom has spoken, you are now required to bow and do his bidding.
  • TheEndlessEnigma $7900 is asking a bit much, they are asking about $2500 more than is appropriate for a private party sale. This is a $5500ish car at best.
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