If you’ve ever driven and/or owned a car, you’ve probably been subjected to a common car myth. Everyone seems to think they’re an expert on taking care of a car and how to properly treat a car. But said “expertise” often stems from car facts that aren’t actually true. Sometimes these myths are taught to us by our parents. Other times they are passed around so often that we just assume they were common knowledge. Regardless of how you came across them, we’re here to debunk these myths once and for all.
Many people think that they are much safer in a large SUV than a mid-size sedan. The idea is that bigger cars have a more stable handling and offer more protection since there is more “cushion” surrounding you. But the truth is, bigger doesn’t necessarily mean safer. In crash tests, many cars hold up better than some midsize SUVs. Since safety ratings are done by class type, cars and SUVs are held up to different safety standards so there’s no telling how a 4-star sedan would measure up to a 3-star SUV. While there is merit that more mass will fair better than less mass, SUVs wouldn’t necessarily be immune against a larger vehicle designed with lower safety standards.
Filling up in the morning gets you more for your money.
Many people believe that it’s better to fill up your tank early in the morning rather than in the heat of the day. The idea is that gasoline, like all liquids, expands when heated and will be denser in the morning, allowing you to get more energy per gallon. While the advice seems sound, it actually doesn’t make a difference when you pump your gas. Most gas stations store their gasoline in underground tanks where the temperature rarely varies throughout the day. Essentially, the gas coming out of the nozzle is always at the density, no matter what time you pump.
Premium fuel will make your car run better.
There’s a reason that premium gas exists and it’s not because it offers “premium” performance. High performance cars need high-octane fuel to prevent the engine from knocking. The premium gas isn’t purer or cleaner, but rather less combustible. If filled with regular gas, the cars will cut power and the engine will suffer. Filling your Camry with premium gas will have no effect on how your car runs since it doesn’t need a less combustible fuel. As the Federal Trade Commission puts it: “In most cases, using a higher octane gasoline than your owner’s manual recommends offers absolutely no benefit.”
Avoid off-brand gas at all costs.
As humans, we have the tendency to fear the unknown and this goes the same with gas. Though we’ve grown accustomed with gas stations like Mobil and Shell, the off-brand stations don’t offer lower-grade fuel because they charge less. The reason that name-brand stations charge more is that they often add extra engine-cleaning additives to their gasoline. But generic gas won’t harm your engine in any way since all fuel stations have to meet the same standards.
You need to change your oil every 3,000 miles.
This is by far the most common misconception when it comes to auto care. With modern technology, most cars can go as far as 7,5000 to 10,000 miles without fresh oil (some may even go as high as 15,000!). Our tendency to over-service lies in part to our insecurities about engine knowledge and service departments’ tendency to incorrectly list the mileage for the next oil change so they can gain a few extra bucks. So unless you have an old car, regular service according to the dealership sticker isn’t necessary. The best way to determine when you need an oil change is to reference your car’s owner manual or use your car’s oil life monitoring system if it comes built-in.
Increasing the speed limits causes more accidents.
Many people falsely attribute speed with accidents. Although this is sometimes the case when high speed is accompanied with reckless driving, it is not the primary cause of crashes. Regardless of speed limit, most drivers will not go faster than what they feel is comfortable and safe. If a speed limit is raised to reflect real travel speeds, a new higher speed limit will actually make the roads safer since the majority of the traffic is traveling at the same speed. Federal and state studies have consistently shown that the drivers most likely to get into accidents in traffic are those traveling significantly below the average speed. The studies have also concluded that driving 10 mph slower than the prevailing speed is more likely to create a crash than going 10 mph faster than the prevailing speed.
Manual transmission has better fuel economy than automatic.
You often hear that cars with manual transmission get better fuel economy than cars with automatics. While this may be true in the past when automatic transmission was just emerging, these days automatics have become more advanced and gained additional gears, allowing them to overtake manuals in terms of fuel economy. . New automatics usually have an overdrive top gear that can reduce the engines RPM at higher speeds as well, which also saves gas. New automatics also have lock-up torque converters to solve the problem of saving power on the freeway and computer controls to optimize fuel consumption. So if you’re getting an older car, a manual car will probably save you more trips to the gas station than an automatic. But if you’re getting a newer car, it’s really all up to preference.
Bigger tires perform better.
While larger tires do help Indy cars fly down the track, it probably won’t do your sedan much good. Larger wheels might be more aesthetically pleasing, but they are also heavier which hinder performance and fuel economy. When wheels get larger, it also means the size of the tire’s sidewall must shrink to maintain the tire’s overall diameter. With shorter sidewalls, potholes and rough roads become a bigger threat to your wheels. Lastly, in the case of snow and rain, a narrow tire is actually better suited for stability.
Using the A/C gets you better fuel economy than opening windows.
As proven by MythBusters, Consumer Reports and a 2004 study by GM and SAE, running the air conditioner is not better for fuel economy than rolling down your windows. On Mythbusters, they found that an SUV with open windows will go father than one with the A/C on. Consumer Reports also found that running the A/C leads to a slight decrease in fuel economy, although they still recommended it to keep the driver alert and comfortable. The 2004 study found that in both sedans and SUVs, leaving the A/C running at medium power gobbles up more fuel than driving with the windows down. In the end, it all comes to preference. But if your fuel light has been lit for some time, best to turn off your air conditioning until you reach the gas station.
Driving a convertible is more dangerous than driving a hardtop.
The absence of a roof makes many concerned about their safety when driving in a convertible. But the reality is, convertibles are a lot safer than you think. Modern convertible cars have reinforced windcreen frames and hidden roll over bars that pop up should the car become dangerously unstable. The pop-up roll bars are mounted behind the seats and inside head restraints and would allow the car to safely roll over without serious injuries to the driver’s head. The open-top style travel also helps make drivers more aware of their surroundings since there are less blindspots.
Hiding behind a car will protect you from gunfire.
The belief that hiding behind a car will protect you from gunfire was popularized by Hollywood films. But while some bullets may not be powerful enough to cut through steel, some certainly are. Cars with steel bodies offer more protection but newer models do not fend as well under fire. Though the engine block area provides the best cover, it is still a hit and miss whether or not you will be protected. So as a safety precaution, it’s important to recognize that cars are not covers, but rather concealment.
A bullet to the gas tank will cause a big explosion.
Another common trope in action movies is when someone shoots the gas tank to turn the getaway car into a flaming wreck. This too was proven false on Mythbusters. On the episode, the Mythbusters shot at a car with pistols, shotguns and a 30-06 and found that the gas tank did not explode in flames as expected. Instead, the bullets went through the tank and gasoline poured on the ground. Unless you are shooting the tank with a tracer or an incendiary, it is unlikely that car will shoot up in flames.