Car Maintenance is Crucial for Northern Virginia Commuters. Here’s Why.
You don’t need to work in a car maintenance shop to know that life in Northern Virginia is tough on your vehicle. After all — we’ve got a lot of traffic.
How much traffic, you ask? More, in some places, than you will find anywhere else in the United States. The I-95 South corridor that runs through Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford Counties is reportedly “the most congested traffic hotspot in the country,” averaging nearly four traffic jams a day. These traffic jams tend to take place whenever you’re trying to get home quickly, as you may have noticed.
INRIX Roadway Analytics — the company behind the study — found that this 6.47-mile stretch of road takes, on average, 33 minutes to negotiate and will cost the region $2.3 billion in lost productivity by 2026 if not fixed.
The Washington, D.C. metro area actually has three specific traffic snarls in the INRIX top 10:
- The I-95 S at Exit 133A to Fairfax Parkway: Worst in the country, as noted above. This is where I-95 and Route 17 converge to create a traffic mess unrivaled in the U.S.
- The I-95 N at Exit 143B to SR-608. This jaunt through Stafford is seventh-worst in the country. As we write this post, there is a 12-minute delay, an unwelcome kicker to the usual 33 minutes it takes to travel 4.5 miles.
- The I-495 Beltway at Route 201 to Exit 4A. Ninth-worst in the country. The struggle to reach this cloverleaf connecting several bedroom communities to the Beltway on the Maryland side of the Potomac is real.
Local government leaders are working to alleviate the congestion. The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, for example, is considering a handful of plans that could help ease the traffic burden on Route 28 from Fairfax through Manassas to Prince William County.
The regional Transportation Planning Board is studying how to stem the projected increase in travel time from the NoVA suburbs to Washington, D.C. over the next quarter-century.
These initiatives are all well and good — but that doesn’t help you, or your car, when you’re stuck in traffic today.
In the meantime, you can’t help but wonder — what is all of this commuting and congestion doing to your car? And what can you do to prevent this damage?
The effects of commuting on your car
Much has been written about the effect of commuting on you as the driver. For better or worse, however, many of us have to drive every day — drive to work, drive to school, drive our kids to day care, drive to run errands. Oftentimes, we’re driving right into the teeth of some of the toughest traffic you’ll find on this side of Los Angeles.
What’s all of this driving do to our car? As you can imagine, the hurry-up-and-stop lifestyle is taxing on your vehicle.
“You can tell when someone drives a car hard,” Mike Bowden, Virginia Tire & Auto service manager at our One Loudoun location, explains. “There’s abnormal tire wear. There are hot spots on the brakes — one big spot — so you can tell that someone’s been going fast, and then hitting the brakes hard. Heavy commuters need engine and cabin air filters replaced more frequently, especially in high-volume traffic areas, because they are just sitting in traffic, sucking up all of that exhaust. You’re going to have to change the transmission fluid every 60,000 miles. Some German cars, you need to change the brake fluid every 30,000 miles. Your car is going to be under some stress here.”
What are severe driving conditions?
If you commute in Northern Virginia, you’re putting your car through severe driving conditions. Severe driving is a pretty common element of commuting. “Normal” driving is more of the leisurely, cruising-down-the-highway kind of traveling you can only dream about when you’ve been stuck on Garrisonville Road for 20 minutes, lamenting your lost youth.
Drivers are recommended to follow a severe driving car maintenance service schedule for their vehicle when they routinely experience any of the following conditions:
- Repeated short trips of less than 5 miles.
- Repeated short trips of less than 10 miles when outside temperatures are below freezing.
- Operating in hot weather in stop-and-go rush hour traffic.
- Extensive idling and/or low speed driving for long distances.
- Driving in dusty conditions.
- Driving on rough, muddy, or salt spread roads.
- Towing a trailer, using a camper or a car-top carrier.
This list — compiled by AllDataDIY — applies to just about anyone commuting in the Northern Virginia region.
“If you live here and drive during normal drive times, that’s going to fall under a severe schedule,” Mike says. “You can’t really avoid it.”
The power of scheduled car maintenance
According to Investment Zen’s Anastasia Ivanov, the average commuter spends 34 cents per mile on car depreciation, gas, oil, maintenance and tires. If you commute 500 times a year (250 days going to and from work), then every mile costs you $170 in expenses.
If you live 20 or 30 miles from work — not uncommon in Northern Virginia — you’re looking at a hefty cost for your commute.
So what can you do? The plan for smart commuters is to be proactive. Waiting for your next car inspection to decide if you need to schedule car maintenance is a bad strategy.
“The cost of regular car maintenance service is nothing compared to the cost of replacing an engine,” Mike notes. “Check the service schedule in your car’s manual and stick to it. The kind of driving you’re going to be doing is going to demand an aggressive maintenance plan — go with the severe schedule. Any problems can usually be caught well in advance. It’s really rare to see transmission fluid, for example, be fine today and bad tomorrow. Follow your maintenance schedule, and those problems will get solved early.”
Efficiency, reliability, comfort: Mike’s 3 keys to car care
You know you’re going to be on the road for hours each day. You need to have a scheduled car maintenance plan for keeping your vehicle in excellent shape.
“There are three keys to car care,” Mike says. “Efficiency, reliability and comfort. You want efficiency because you don’t want to be at the service station every week. You want something reliable, so do the research. And of course, you want to be comfortable. Make sure you have a car you can sit in for a long time. Keep everything clean and running as well as it can, as long as it can. ”
Efficiency: Drive smarter, not harder
Efficiency, Mike explains, starts with your car’s gas mileage. The impact of your commute is compounded when you’re burning through a tank or two of gas every work week.
“You don’t have to press the gas all the way down to make the car move,” he chuckles. “Softer acceleration and softer braking are two things that every driver can do to protect their vehicle. That’ll save you gas, and that will give more life to your brakes and tires. Your brake fluid and transmission fluid doesn’t get as hot.”
Try to reduce your own temperature, too — accepting the reality of the commute means letting go of the fever dream that you will somehow be the one driver who slaloms home smoothly.
“Lower that sense of urgency,” Mike says. “Giving yourself ample distance to stop saves your brakes and the tires. Everyone drives down a road like (Route) 7, and they’re trying to catch the lights, make decent time — but making decent time is usually a mythical creature. Then everyone is on top of each other, and every stop becomes an emergency scenario. Sometimes you just have to accept it’s going to be awhile.”
Reliability: Know what you’re getting into every morning
Reliability means purchasing a car you can trust. That sense of well-being, Mike notes, starts before you ever scratch a check.
“When you buy a used car, have it inspected,” he says. “We do pre-purchase inspections. It takes about 90 minutes of your time. We go through the car, top to bottom, front to back, and tell you if there are any issues. It’s the single smartest thing you can do before you buy a car — get a third party opinion. Any reputable dealer will let you have it inspected. If you are refused, go someplace else — that’s a sure sign something is wrong.”
Comfort: Because this is your home away from home
When it takes 33 minutes to go less than seven miles, you’re going to want to settle in. Leg room and other amenities suddenly become much more important.
“When I lived in Atlanta, if you wanted to go somewhere, people would give you distance — it’s five, eight, 20 miles away,” Mike says. “Here, it’s all about time. How far is it from here to D.C.? Forty-five minutes on a good day. Nobody ever mentions that it’s 20 miles — it’s more like, how long will it take you?”
Make sure your car can handle your commute.
Scheduled car maintenance ensures that you get to work safely every day. To schedule car maintenance service, or to make sure your car inspection is up to date, make an online appointment at your nearest Virginia Tire & Auto now.