By on September 29, 2015

2011 Scion tC

TTAC Commentator Sam Hell Jr. writes:

Hi, Sajeev!

I read with deep concern your notice that the Piston Slap mailbag was empty. You kindly answered my previous query about putting more conservative tires on my ’11 automatic tC (now at 51,000 miles), despite the fact that I erroneously addressed the email to your parasitic e-twin Sanjeev, and I’m happy to pester you/be of service once more. Please find, below, my questions, and thank you for your time.

  1. Almost all of the driving I do — work, parents’ place, the gym, the grocery store — is within 5 or 10 minutes of my apartment. So basically, take the common advice about limiting short car trips and cold starts, and I do the opposite. It really can’t be helped. These are not walkable or bike-friendly routes even in the six annual weeks that northwest Ohio isn’t sweltering or freezing. How much of the old wisdom about making fewer short trips still applies to modern vehicles? What, if anything, can I do from a maintenance standpoint to mitigate the consequences of my driving habits?
  2. Have you ever come across a rattling windshield? Occasionally, at freeway speeds on hot, sunny, windy days, the top of the tC’s windshield vibrates. When it happens, it is not subtle; it sounds like there’s a Goldwing on my roof. After a few minutes, the rattle will slow and deepen in tone gradually and then eventually dissipate altogether. There was actually a service bulletin on this issue, and I had the fix performed, but whatever they did hasn’t really helped. Is there anything I can do? It doesn’t occur often enough to be a deal-breaker for me, but it sure is infuriating when it happens.
  3. Is it worth learning how to drive a manual transmission properly as a grown-up. If so, how would I go about doing that? I learned to drive a manual transmission in high school in friends’ cars and I don’t have any concerns about, for example, being able to operate a stick-shift car in an emergency situation. But I’ve never felt any compunction to perfect the craft and pursue driving stick as an adult, and it wasn’t a priority for me back when I bought my own first car. At the risk of sounding like another one of those lazy ungrateful Millennials who’d rather check the Facetweets on his iBerry than [incomprehensible stick-shift enthusiast rage noises] … I like to drive, I like cars, but I really don’t feel that strongly on this issue. Should I give stick shift another chance? If so (short of, you know, going out this afternoon and buying a manual-transmission car), how?

Sajeev answers:

You’re quite the kind gent and it’s an honor to be answering your automotive queries before letting them loose on TTAC’s Best and Brightest.

1. While it’s important to limit short trips in theory, modern cars benefit from the latest in oiling technology, metallurgy and engine design. Low friction this, synthetic that…it all means you run a full synthetic oil to ensure you minimize wear. There’s advice on keeping a load on the engine to ensure the oil gets up to temperature sooner. Perhaps you can improve your odds by keeping your automatic transmission in the lower gears: don’t putter along at 1500 rpm when you could warm up faster at 2500 rpm.

2. Windshield rattle?  That’s unpossible, son!

Or not. That rattle usually caused by a bad seal between the windshield’s seal/trim panel and the top of the roof. Since the panoramic roof has a separate black roof plate (that does not tilt on later model tCs), I reckon it’s either the glass’ upper frame or that roof plate that’s out of alignment. NVH problems are tough to fix, sometimes only a fraction of a millimeter is all that’s needed to cause a noise. Supposedly Toyota has a TSB, but I can’t find any details with my Google-fu.

3. Dude, you gotta be you. No woman is gonna think you’re less of a man and any man that gives you grief for it is a jerk. Because you’ve been reading my crap masterpieces for a long time, I strongly suggest you learn to drive a stick just for the experience — it’s fun! Call local driving schools to see if they have a stick shift vehicle you can learn on in an afternoon. Or visit Mid-Ohio and practice on one of theirs during a driving school event. A fantastic bonus is that you’ll get track time and fully understand why people love to row their own gears.

[Image: Scion]

Send your queries to [email protected]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.

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40 Comments on “Piston Slap: Sam Hell’s Scion Grab Bag...”

  • avatar

    “While it’s important to limit short trips in theory, modern cars benefit from the latest in oiling technology, metallurgy and engine design. Low friction this, synthetic that…it all means you run a full synthetic oil to ensure you minimize wear.”

    All the fancy oil in the world won’t help if you don’t get the engine hot enough to boil the condensed water out of the oil. If you are doing lots of short trips daily, I suggest getting the car nice and hot twice a week to keep the sludge monster away (a.k.a an Italian tune up).

    • 0 avatar

      The alternative is to follow the manufacturer’s “severe service” oil change intervals. Lots of short-tripping with very few longer runs definitely qualifies as “severe.”

  • avatar

    One of the main problems with lots of short trips is that moisture is not cooked out of the engine and exhaust systems. Moisture that accumulates in the interior of the engine and exhaust needs to be removed with sustained higher operating temperature.

    The solution is simple: a weekly 50+ mile drive at highway speeds. That should heat everything up and cook the water out of the oil, engine internals, and exhaust system. It will also warm up seals and gaskets and allow them to get re-lubricated. It will do your battery and alternator some good too.

    BTW, idling in the driveway does not count. The engine needs to be worked.

    • 0 avatar

      Many old people like me will never do a weekly blowout on their DDs, especially if they have an additional “highway car”.

      And we shouldn’t have to. What if your DD were to break down during these Italian Tuneups? In Bat Country? And you’re too cheap to have a mobile phone?

      But will accumulating this internal moisture ever even matter to a modern DD that is always and only driven briefly and gently?

      • 0 avatar

        Bat Country! :D

        • 0 avatar

          “No point in mentioning these bats, I thought. Poor bastard will see them soon enough.”

          • 0 avatar

            I drive all my cars on a short (50 miles) round trip on the freeway a couple of times a week so I never have that sludge problem that’s been mentioned here.

            My mechanic, who is very experienced and quite accomplished, recommends the “Italian Weekly Tuneup” due to the poor quality of fuel and the problems caused by carbon deposits. I drive all my cars pretty hard so I don’t really have that problem but every time one of my cars is in for regular maintenance he reminds me to “floor in on the on ramps and wind her tight through the first two gears at least once a week.”

            Maybe this poor quality fuel thing is peculiar to my region of the country but I doubt it.

      • 0 avatar

        Combustion yields water. With nitrous oxide. They end up in the crank case as acid. Usually mixed with oil. Unless it gets properly warmed up (think coolant gauge being on mid point for say 10 minutes) the acid remains and ruins the oil and metal parts of the engine.
        There are plenty of additives in oil to stop that from happening but nothing helps better than what was described above.
        (And cheaper fuels might have more sulphur too, which is much worse in a not warmed up engine)

        • 0 avatar

          So, as long as it doesn’t nick me at trade-in time I don’t have to care, I guess.

          So far it hasn’t so I don’t.

          • 0 avatar

            You’re not doing anything unethical, as your situation is what it is, and is common, but this is one of the reasons I am leery of buying used cars more than 3 years old (where damage can be halted) unless I knew previous owner or how the vehicle was driven.

      • 0 avatar

        Mobile phone service has gotten cheap enough (if you don’t care for data) that it makes more sense to junk your landline.

      • 0 avatar

        My wifes car averages less than 16 miles most days in 4 mile or less trips. (large town not much reason to leave) and only goes on the highway once a month or so. Her car has 150,000 65k of that was the above mentioned routine. It does not seem to have caused an issue yet. I have several relatives with cars that have similar experiences. I’m not sure it would matter all that much.

    • 0 avatar

      Toad – I was informed by a very reputable mechanic (who not only troubleshoots problem engines but tunes and builds Ford Racing Motors) that the minimum distance that needs to be driven in anything other than extreme cold weather conditions (where you can double or triple the distance) in order to heat up the engine, exhaust and related components to a sufficient degree to ward off short-tripping problems IS 10 MILES of continuous driving.

      IOW, people using a conventional vehicle as a daily driver who live far less than 10 miles from work are killing their cars, especially if the short trip (1 to 4 miles) to stores or wherever on the weekend.

      Short-tripping not only provides inadequate time for motor oil to warm up fully, but doesn’t even allow the catalytic converter to fully & properly activate in order to properly filter exhaust gas, in addition to failure to lube seals and condensate problems.

      • 0 avatar

        What am I going to do? Walk?

        • 0 avatar

          I know, right?

          I’m obsessive to the point that I will not short trip any of my vehicles.

          If the pizza place (that I like and only has carry out or dine-in) is 3 miles from my house, I will drive an extra 7 or 8 miles on the way there,cleave my car idling while I run in, before completing the 3 mile leg home (to ensure proper operating temps and “burn off”).

          • 0 avatar

            I try to take my wife’s MkT on the freeway every weekend. She drives from Huntington Woods to Southfield everyday during the week, and probably never exceeds 50. I worry about the twin turbocharged, direct injected engine not getting into the higher RPMs on a regular basis.

          • 0 avatar

            Highway driving is best; I’d blast that b!tch up to 80 or better yet faster (watch out for MSP hiding on curved parts of the median) as often as possible, especially in the cold parts of the winter (last two winters have been brutal, when it has taken me as many as 20 miles to get to barely normal oil operating temps – that’s what -10 f will do).

          • 0 avatar

            The Huntington Woods cops ticket on their section of 696 as well. They need the ticket revenue as they lost a court case on the revenue split with Oak Park. You would think of all places, HW would have better lawyers.

          • 0 avatar

            “…I will drive an extra 7 or 8 miles on the way there,leave my car idling while I run in, before completing the 3 mile leg home (to ensure proper operating temps and “burn off”).”

            Do you also top-off your fuel tank every evening, to limit the buildup of rust-causing moisture condensing within? This can all be taken to extremes (and yes, I’ve gone there).

        • 0 avatar

          Sounds like a job for a plug in hybrid.

      • 0 avatar

        “killing their cars”

        But how quickly?

        I keep mine 5-ish years, clean and with full dealer maintenance records. So far I’ve never had a rude shock at trade-in time.

        • 0 avatar

          I think the insidious effects begin to set in pretty early, whether they manifest themselves in some sort of driveability/mechanical problem or not.

          For those of us who tend to keep our cars for a long time rather than do the 24 or 36 month hamster wheel lease, return, re-lease thing, it’s even more significant.

      • 0 avatar

        DW, I believe that the engine just needs to get to and stay at operating temperature for long enough to cook out the water vapor in the crankcase and the moisture in the exhaust system. Since the coolant will be regulated to 180 or so there is no reason to flog the car.

        I was not suggesting drive fast or hard, just drive at highway speed. Personally, I would not suggest a car go from the equivalent of couch potato to Ironman once a week, just a good long walk should do.

        • 0 avatar

          Those are the main issues, IIRC.

          I never rev hard until the engine runs for a good 10 to 12 minutes in moderate weather, and 15 to 20 minutes in the bowels of He!! winter cold we get in Michigan (20 degrees to -15 degrees F, which is enough to make me question my sanity for living here).

  • avatar

    Really it depends on how long you’re going to keep the car. Three years? Five years? If that’s the case, don’t worry about the short trips. Yes, the issue of not getting the car up to operating temperature to evaporate any water in the oil or exhaust system is real, but it likely won’t start causing problems until the car is much older.

    As for learning to drive a stick. DO IT. It’s fun, even if it’s getting to be archaic these days. Find someone with a car like a Jeep or old truck–something with more torque than horsepower–and practice until you’re comfortable stopping on a hill.

    • 0 avatar

      How about 27 years? A few weeks ago I replaced the rusty rear brake lines on my elderly neighbor’s 80k mile ’89 Cavalier. The fact that it has been used almost exclusively for short trips doesn’t appear to have harmed it. The worst incident the car has experienced occurred when her dog ate her front seats about twenty years ago. I’d be surprised if she has exceeded 30 mph more than a handful of times in the last ten years.

      • 0 avatar

        Agree I have 2 neighbors with similar cars and my own grandmother did the same from the 70’s to the late 90’s with a 72 corolla never had a problem with the engine in that car. My grandmother never drove on the highway literally.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    The best way to learn to drive a clutch is……OJT (on the job training).

    When you tire of the windshield noise trade the scion in for something with a MT. I would start with something easy like a Honda or Toyota product. They are very durable and easy to learn on. I would strongly advise to not start out with an older big block coupled to a Muncie M22 or something along those lines. They can be very taxing even for the most accomplished clutch enthusiast.

    Seriously. Within two days you will be good to go and having lots of fun in those short jaunts around town.

  • avatar

    This person sounds a lot like me, except they live in a different part of Ohio. And I don’t drive a Scion.

    “No woman is gonna think you’re less of a man and any man that gives you grief for it is a jerk.”

    On the contrary, the B&B knows you’re not a man if you’ve not had a malaise diesel hatch which cut off at least one finger and gave you tetanus. If you’re not a car expert, you also cannot be a man. If you have a luxury car, you’re also not a man, and are only concerned with your image.
    -Courtesy Toad and VW16v.


  • avatar

    #1. I’m a firm believer (fanatic) of getting engine oil up to temp. I’m often ridiculed by co-workers and friends about the amount of time I allow my car to idle before driving it. My commute to work is 2 miles, my car is old and uses an open/closed loop switch, I try my best to make this 4 mile round trip count. If in a hurry, I will still wait for oil pa. to normalize before taking off. OCD?

    #2. Head over to your local Home Depot, Lowes, Ace, etc and buy yourself a roll of blue painter’s tape. You know, the stuff that peels easily. Begin by placing a horizontal strip across the entire top weather stripping of the windshield. Go out for a drive…. rinse and repeat until you find the culprit. Based on your video it is either the stripping or the cowl vibrating in the wind. Toyota will be happy to fix it or you can use some 3M window weld and fix it yourself but you are better off alowing the “glass guy” to work it.

    #3. If you enjoy driving, as you say you do, definitely learn how to drive a manual. The only burden is dealing with heavy trafffic on a daily basis. Once you acquire this skill you will want a manual, do not trade your TC for a VW/Audi; this is the best advice I can give you!


  • avatar
    George B

    Sam Hell, one way to reduce the problems of driving short distances is to combine trips together. The car has a chance to warm up enough to boil off moisture and you use less fuel when the engine is already warm from driving. Add in a short drives on the highway as part of weekend adventures and the car will be ok. Take advantage of the low gasoline prices and visit places you haven’t been to before.

  • avatar

    1)I wouldn’t worry too much about the short trips. The occasional longer trip will help, but adding miles to your trip just because is unnecessary. I would change the oil with synthetic twice per year and you’ll be good.

    2) As others have said, it will probably be some form of windshield trim rattling. The tape method mentioned above is your best bet.

    3) The manual transmission thing is up to you. If you don’t feel compelled, then I’m not going to try and talk you into it. In 10 years, it may be very difficult to find a car with one anyway.

  • avatar

    Here is the “wrong” answer for #3. I went out and bought an old manual. I too felt a recent urge to row my own gears. I have been in automatics/manumatics too long and I missed it. Recent articles relating to the death of manuals were motivation too. This may not apply to our questioner, but I will share the logical progression of how I picked a manual car that would fit in my current collection of daily driving family-mobiles. Remember, this is logical only to me. I am sure the B&B can relate to this more than my wife did. It started with price. I thought of a cheap hatchback like a GTI, or Subie, but I already drive a decent sportwagon hatchback auto. Why have two of the same car. Then I thought of an old pickup truck manual like a Tacoma, or even an SUV manual. Nice utility, but once again, cost and fuel came into play. A minivan is my current pickup truck. But then, I figured that some pickup trucks are two-seaters. So I started looking at a two seater roadsters. I have never had a convertible or a two seater. I found the manual-type car I was looking for. Ten year old examples from Japan are super reliable with a lot of spare parts. And even in their un-altered state, they are super fun to drive for the price of $3k to $10k. I found one that I liked and went for a test drive. I really wanted to HATE the car. I was hoping that my “age” would hate the rougher ride and that I was too tired to operate a stick. Nah ah! It was too much friggin’ fun! I had to go for it. I started by looking for a beater manual car, and ended up with something affordable, fun, easy to maintain and store. In a few years, I can teach my sons how to drive manual on an old Japanese clutch. It is a right of passage! They love it and can’t wait. I hope I don’t sell it before then. And maybe, the car is a future semi-collectible roadster? The old car fit into my current family friendly (mid-life crisis) lifestyle (see earlier mention of minivan). I hope you get a chance to drive your manual!

  • avatar

    Modern engines heat up so quickly I’m not sure water buildup and sludging are still much of a concern. I live in a warmer part of the country, but my average drive is even shorter than yours, mainly consisting of weekly move-the-car-before-street-sweeping runs and short shopping trips of a few miles. I have not changed the oil for about a year because I put so few miles on the car. Even though I’m a fairly neglectful car owner, I was still concerned that I was damaging the engine, so I sent an oil sample to Blackstone Labs for analysis. The report said that the viscosity of the oil was normal, there were virtually no wear metals, and the oil still had a good amount of additives. They claimed the oil would be good for another 2000-3000 miles.

    The oil analysis was only $35 and is well worth the peace of mind. If you do the analysis right before you would change the oil and it comes back normal, it seems like you have nothing to worry about as far as the engine is concerned.

  • avatar

    Just go easy on the engine while it’s cold and change the oil twice a year regardless of mileage, using a thin oil. So 5W-20 or, even better, a 0W-20. 0W-20 needs to be synthetic to cover the spread. 5W-20 doesn’t unless you’re comforted by marketing.

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