Bad to baby engines? Seems to be the case from my experience

It seems that babying an engine too much might actually be bad for it from my experience. Now all my experience with this has also been with engines that seem to have been neglected for some time before I see them so that is another variable to throw in. Most recent is the 1.0L in the 1992 Geo Metro I picked up. The oil was sludgy so the first thing I did was change the oil with a high quality synthetic. The engine was using some oil and I could see some oil coming out of the breather into the intake. The first oil change wasn’t in more than a few hundred miles as it turned black as night pretty quick. The second one stayed in a little longer. I also started putting the engine through its paces and the oil burning went down dramatically and no more oil was appearing from the breather. The engine also ran smoother with more power.

I have seen this with other engines besides this one. As I said before, they have also usually been neglected so that may play a big role in this. I am sure the quality oil and frequent changes cleans out a lot of sludge and other deposits.

I was talking to a mechanic and he agreed with me. He says running an engine hard almost seems to be good for it as long as the maintenance like oil changes is kept up. He says engine run hard have fewer deposits and seem to go farther before requiring a rebuild.

This seems to go against logic as you would assume that babying an engine would be good for it but I think this makes for rings that don’t seal well and more combustion chamber deposits than it does good. I make sure to really punch it from time to time when climbing a large hill or merging into traffic, figuring that this is needed once a week or so.

It’s hard to baby an engine that small, just to survive. It you have an auto, just drive the car sanely and let the electronics do it’s thing. If you have a 1.0L Metro, the only way to baby it is to put a gang mower on back and mow small lawns with it.

Never drive her under 3000 RPM in a forward gear. Ever. Otherwise you get a lot of carbon on the valves.

True. I do drive on the highway with my metro so it gets a good workout. Some of the other engines I have seen this issue with are larger V6 and V8 units. One was a 4.6 Northstar. Had plenty of power so many are never put to the test and burn oil.

A Geo Metro doing about 80mph once passed me southbound on I-75. Soon, a blue cloud appeared way up ahead. When I got there, the Metro was sitting on the apron…engine blowed up. I don’t believe “a good workout” does any modern engine any good.

There is an issue that Metros have when the engines get worn. A combination of bad rings, worn cam journals, and lifter bores allows for a perfect storm where the crankcase pressure and excess oil in the valve cover do not allow for oil to drain back. The valve cover just fills and fills until it begins to puke through the breather into the air cleaner. We are talking about a quart cup or so at a time. The engine will sputter and blow insane amounts of smoke. Since this typically happens at high speeds when the engine is under load, that may have been what you saw. It might have flooded the engine out to where it couldn’t run. I used to have an engine that did this. The first time it did I thought it was blown and pulled over. Further research indicated it was a common problem. I continued to drive it all while looking for a replacement engine ASAP. People would pull over behind me when this happened. Those were the ones I could see. I also had some yelling and not so nice gestures. Anyway, I found replacement engine that hadn’t been neglected and that problem was solved. These engines are not that heavy and I did the swap with my own hands.

I have put the engine in this discussion through loads and situations that would have definitely caused this issue in the other engine and it won’t do it. This is a good thing. It does seem that the more I drive it, the better it gets. Maybe this is more related to it actually getting proper care and oil changes to clean out the gunk than putting it through its paces.

Well, we’ll never know if driving it “normally” and changing oil as you did would have given you the same result.

True. The main problem I have seen with the Geo Metro is that they were cheap and people treat them as a disposable and don’t take care of them. They are actually tough little cars and engines if cared for. I once looked at a car where the guy had the engine rebuilt 10,000 miles before and it just stopped running one day. He had no idea why until I looked at it. He had never changed or checked the oil and none showed on the stick. It burned off all the oil and locked up hard. There was also barely any coolant in the system.

Running the car fast might well be good for it once in a while. But rapid accelerations, not so much. The more force placed on the engine parts, the more wear will occur, and the more likely the elastic limit of the material will be exceeded; i.e. the part won’t return to the original shape.

First, cars aren’t people and in general, talking about their work outs is a little deceiving. Unlike a body, they don’t get stronger with regular intervals of stress followed by periods of rest. Cars need to get up to heat regularly but running them at higher rpm, accelerates wear. Running at varying rpms is recomended so the wear is spread out but that doesn’t mean regular read lining. Car engines don’t benefit from a work out if that means running it “hard” regularly. If high mileage is your goal, there is nothing like loafing along at 1500 rpm, hour after hour.

The only engines that I know of that suffered when they were babied were the 2.3 Vega engines. I bought many Vega models to convert to V6 and V8 Vega’s back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The engines that were trashed (usually the #4 cylinders) were the ones with low miles and automatic transmissions. The standard shift models usually had more miles on them because they had higher rpm’s on their engines. This kept the cylinder debris blown out of cylinders so it would not cause wear of the cylinder walls. My late uncle (a retired GM engineer) told me that when I questioned him about it back then. He explained also why the #4 cylinder was worse about collecting debris and wearing out the cylinder but it either went over my head or I simply forgot about it.

On the old carburetor cars, the engines would load up with carbon if driven around town. My Dad would pour a can of Casite Motor Tuneup in the gas tank of the 1954 Buick he owned, take it out on the highway and run it up to 75 mph in second gear. I thought this was,hard on the engine,but after I bought the car from him it started to act sluggish. I took it to the local Buick dealer for a,tune-up and was told “Save your money. You don’t need us. Go buy a,can of. Casite, take it out on the highway and wind it out in second gear”. This seemed to be standard operating procedure for those old nail head Buick engines. The 1954_Buick I owned I sold when it had 160,000 miles,on the odometer and the heads and,pan were never off the engine. It was on the street 2 years after I sold the car. With modern computer controlled fuel injected engines with electronic ignition, there really isn’t the,need to do this. However, it took the fun out of doing a Casite tune-up.

I am pretty sure the Cadillac Northstar is an engine that needs to be run hard from time to time. Stuck oil rings and oil consumption are common on this one from what my research shows. It is a high performance engine but often driven short distances and never put to the test at all.

I’ve never babied an engine and never worn one out. On the other hand, I maintain them and don’t beat them up either.

I think there are a few technical issues here. I believe that an engine that isn’t babied develops more wall pressures by the rings at the time when it does the best good; when the parts are “breaking in”, and this provides better sealing, enabling a better engine long-term. But keeping it always above 3,000 rpm isn’t necessary, just driving it normally. A normal engine operated with enthusiasm occasionally will operate well beyond the mentioned 3,000 rom easily. A typical 4-banger will operate at about 2,500 to 3,000 rpm while cruising on the highway. Mine cruises at 3K at 70mph. In short, I believe babying an engine does compromise its break in.

Babying an engine long-term can also allow a “shelf” to develop at the top of the cylinder that can cause damage if the engine is then run hard, as the rings bang against the shelf. I’m talking about babying for 150,000 miles & more.

Carbon is not the issue it once was. Carburated engines ran rich, worse at low speeds, even worse when cold, and really needed to be blown out occasionally if babied daily. Otherwise, carbon would build up and cause hot spots, fouling, and even in extreme cases uneven compression due to the buildup. We used to call a hard highway run to blow the carbon out an “Italian tuneup”. Modern engines, however, meter fuel extremely efficiently and feed it in a very fine spray in exact amounts either at the intake port or directly into the chamber. Carbon buildup in the chambers is really no longer an issue. Babying the engine no longer causes carbon buildup.

Some of the engines mentioned had design issues that were subject to problems whether it was babied or run hard. Yup, I’m referring to the Vega 4-banger (with which I have a lot of personal experience) and the Northstar V8. It mattered not how you treated an early Vega. So many corners were cut on so many parts all over the car that it was just prone to failure. I considered a V8 conversion on mine (Cosworth made a nice conversion kit that included subframes and a new rear end), but one day I woke up and realized that the entire car was a POS. Trouble is, I actually LIKED that POS. Between fixes, it was a fun car to drive.

@mountainbike, the 3000 RPM reference I mentioned above was a tongue-in-cheek quote from the movie “A New Leaf” in which Walter Matthau owns a Ferrari that undergoes open-heart surgery for carbon on the valves. Watch the YouTube clip. :wink:

I also heard from an older mechanic who said that getting rid of lead in gas was the best thing to happen to cars and the people who work on them. He blames it for a lot of the nasty deposits back in the carburetor days and says working on these old engines probably shortened the life of many mechanics of that era…

For the shelf at the top of the cylinder, are you talking about the wear ridge or a shelf of deposits where the wear ring usually forms? I guess running an engine hard after this could break all that loose at once, causing problems.

Yes, the Geo Metro cruises at 3000 RPM pretty much all the time. On the other hand, my 4.3L S-10 can cruise at 1200RPM or something insanely low. I guess this is how they get a tiny little engine to get you down the road. Believe it or not, these things actually have a decent amount of power when tuned up and maintained properly. Sure, it isn’t a Corvette but you can maintain the speed limit. I am talking about the manuals. The autos are dogs in my opinion. It is a beater but is actually fun and gets 55mpg. They are actually well-made cars and last if taken care of much like the VW bug. It is just these came out during an era of cheap gas and gas guzzlers so people didn’t adopt them. They were more of a way to meet CAFE standards from what I understand. I know lots of people thought the Vega and the Corvair were fun to drive while others consider them junk. I heard the Vega was actually not a bad car by the end once they ironed out problems with the engine and rust but it was doomed by its past. I was told that the original engines were all aluminum. Sure we have aluminum engines today but I was told there were no cylinder liners and that the piston rings would just eat away at the soft aluminum and that is why they were such a problem.

I agree about breaking in an engine. Baby them at this time and they will never run right. AS for running them hard, I don’t mean up to or past redline. I mean loads that well-exceed normal cruising but by no means near the point where the engine is going to come apart. Sure, this will send fuel economy out the tailpipe but that is not the point.

In the old days the lead in the gasoline was what contributed to a lot of problems which included deposits on the pistons and in the combustion chambers of the heads, deposits on spark plugs, contamination of the motor oil, etc, etc.

In town driving involving a lot of idling and low RPM could cause lead deposits to build and this was even worse on higher compression, performance engines.
That was why the need to take it out on the open road and “blow the cobs out” as it was referred to was necessary.

I also know many who suck small amounts of distilled water into the intake to steam clean the combustion chamber and valves. I have done this, usually right before an oil change, in case any moisture goes into the oil. How would this compare to “blowing out the cobs” or the “Italian tuneup” in effectiveness. It seemed to help the poor neglected Geo run better. The set of plugs I pulled out of it were NASTY with deposits so I am sure everything else was the same.

A vega engine lasted longer if you beat on it ? Starting one up was the definition of using one of those POS cars hard. My Bro in law had one for two years. The first sign of trouble was his second trip from Limestone AFB to Bangor at 70 mph with a manual. He had to then keep it under 60 going back to the dealer up there.

@dagosa it’s true. All the Vega models that I purchased with automatic transmissions had low mileage (less than 20K to about 40K) and most had blown engines. I bought many Vega’s with manual transmissions and most had 80K to over 100K. I concur that the engines were of the POS variety…big time. In their heyday though…I had most V8 Vega’s sold before they were ever built. BTW…Limestone was the name of the town…Loring was the name of the AF base.