Dispelling Common Car Maintenance and Safety Misconceptions

By: Calla Conway | Published: Nov 23, 2021

If you’re a car owner, you’ve probably heard phrases such as “SUVs are safer compared to smaller units,” or “Warm up your engine before driving, especially during the winter season,” or even to “use premium gas if you want to maintain a clean engine.”  

But how accurate are these pieces of advice? Apparently, not very. Which begs the question: how many of the common car myths below do you still subscribe to?

Use Premium Fuel for a Cleaner Engine 

Because premium gas has a higher octane rating than conventional gas, it is recommended for high-performance vehicles and is often used in motorsport. When compared to conventional gas, premium gas improves the performance of a vehicle like the BMW M3. 


Joe Raedle/Getty Images

High-octane fuel, on the other hand, is only a problem for powerful engines. Premium gas is not “cleaner” than regular gasoline, contrary to popular misconception. It is entirely unnecessary to fuel your vehicle with high octane gas unless it has a very powerful engine.


Electric Cars Are Prone to Start Fires

One myth concerning electric vehicles is that they are more prone to catching fire than gasoline-powered vehicles. In recent years, a few electric car fires have made international headlines, and the myth continues to spread. 


BORIS HORVAT/AFP via Getty Images

Although a broken lithium-ion battery might generate heat and cause a fire, gasoline is much more flammable. Based on the rate of car fires per one billion miles driven, Tesla claims that a gasoline-powered car is 11 times more likely to catch fire than an electric car.

Performance Chips Affect Your Car’s Power

If you’ve ever considered buying a powerful car, you’ve most likely come across the “low-cost performance chips” that promise to boost horsepower. As it turns out, the majority of these chips are useless. These plug-and-play chips are said to quickly boost your power. Is that even possible?


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To enhance power, you’d be far better off having your Engine Control Unit modified or even getting mechanical engine improvements. In any case, rather than squandering money on a performance chip, ask your local tuning shop for guidance.

An Oil Change Is Necessary Every 3,000 Miles

Oil changes are normally recommended every 3,000 miles by car dealers. Oil and filter changes were once required on a regular basis to keep the engine in good working order.


Paul Aiken/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

Most vehicles can now be safely driven with oil replenishments every 7,500 miles, thanks to developments in engine durability and oil quality. Oil changes are recommended every 10,000 miles by several manufacturers, such as Ford and Porsche. If you use synthetic oil in your car, you can go up to 15,000 miles between oil changes!

SUVs Are Better Than Smaller Units

“A larger, heavier vehicle provides superior collision protection than a smaller, lighter vehicle, assuming [there are] no other changes,” according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. SUVs have a higher center of gravity, which makes them more likely to roll over on tight turns or during the event of a crash. Even though SUVs have larger brakes, they require a longer braking distance to stop.

Michael Kovac/WireImage

Still, automobile manufacturers are working hard to improve the safety features of their SUVs by installing various traction and stability systems as well as powerful brakes.


Can You Use Your Phone When Pumping Gas?

Do you remember when mobile phones were first introduced? They were big and heavy, with long extendable antennae. This myth could have been accurate at the time. A tiny discharge from a phone’s antenna could ignite the fuel, causing a fire or a spectacular explosion.

EDMOND SO/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Although there are no documented incidents to back this up, it wasn’t impossible. Internal antennas are now standard on most phones, and it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that wireless signals from modern phones do not ignite gasoline.


If You Run Over a Nail, You Need a New Tire

It is a common misconception that once you run over a nail and it pieces your tire you automatically need to buy an expensive new tire. We have good news—there are exceptions!

Source: Discount Tire

As you can see by the picture above, if the nail is on the outside of the tire, you just may be in luck. An auto repair shop may be able to simply patch your tire and send you on your way. However, if the nail is more in the center, you need to get a change. Your best bet is to take it in and see what the professionals tell you.


Bigger Engines Produce More Power

Naturally aspirated V8 engines were used in many powerful cars back in the day. The 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS, for example, had a massive 7.4L big-block V8 that produced over 400 horsepower. These engines functioned admirably for their time, but they were far from efficient. The design of high-performance cars has been fundamentally changed by current downsizing trends.

Lyle Setter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Instead of large engine displacement, manufacturers now opt for turbochargers. The brand new Mercedes A45 AMG, for example, produces 416 horsepower with only four cylinders and a 2-liter displacement!


Steel is Safer than Aluminum

There’s a density difference between aluminum and steel. If automobile manufacturers replaced steel with the exact quantity of aluminum, It would be less safe. This is why carmakers go to great lengths to ensure that aluminum vehicles are as safe as steel vehicles.

Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images

Automakers utilize more aluminum to compensate for the density difference by increasing the thickness of the vehicle. Various sites, notably Drive Aluminum, claim that an aluminum body is safer than a steel body. Aluminum has a higher crush zone than steel and absorbs energy better on impact.


Dirty Cars Are More Fuel Efficient

Apparently, the theory behind this one is that dirt and mud fill the cracks and crevices in the car, enhancing airflow and cutting drag. Even the Mythbusters set out to test this notion, so it doesn’t seem completely ridiculous.

Markus Gilliar-Pool/Bongarts/Getty Images

The legend was debunked, as you might expect. Because dirt decreases aerodynamics and alters airflow, dirty cars are up to 10% less fuel-efficient than clean cars. If your car has been laboring under the weight of this dogma, you should take it to the carwash as soon as possible.


Muscle Cars Aren’t Good on Corners

The understeer and overall poor handling of the old American muscle cars are legendary. In a drag race, a huge V8 engine combined with a lot of understeers was fast, but not on a turn.

Gabe Ginsberg/FilmMagic

Fortunately, things have changed. The majority of new muscle cars with large V8 engines under the hood are faster than ever, around the track or in a straight line. The 2017 Dodge Viper ACR clocked a seven-minute lap around the Nürburgring, besting cars like the Nissan GTR Nismo and Porsche 991 GT3 RS!


Placing a Car’s Battery on Concrete Damages It

“Instead of putting batteries on concrete shelves, you may increase their life by storing them on wooden shelves.” According to this myth, putting a car battery on concrete will cause irreparable damage. Placing it on concrete may have drained all of its power in the early days of batteries, nearly a century ago, but not today. 

Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Engineering has progressed over the last century, as you might expect. Modern batteries are covered in plastic or strong rubber, making this myth dead in the water. A battery will not be drained if it is placed on concrete.


Hybrids Are Slow

Hybrids weren’t just slow to catch on when they first appeared on the market, they were sluggish. The 2001 Toyota Prius was an excellent example, taking more than 12 seconds to reach 60 mph. However, in just a few decades, hybrids have advanced significantly. 

JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images

Hybrid batteries are now more fuel-efficient, powerful, and speedy. The SF90 Stradale is Ferrari’s fastest automobile and the world’s fastest hybrid. It has a top speed of nearly 210 mph and can accelerate to 60 mph in less than 2.5 seconds!


All SUVs Are Specially Designed for Off-road Adventures 

SUVs were originally designed to operate effectively both on and off smooth terrain. They were a hybrid of normal road automobiles and off-road vehicles. SUVs have evolved significantly in recent years. Their wheels grew in size, and they were outfitted with a variety of futuristic technologies: massaging seats, TVs, and eco-friendly systems.

Mark Elias/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Manufacturers these days no longer focus on building their SUVs with off-road capabilities. However, a few outliers, such as the new Mercedes G Class, remain unstoppable in snow, sand, or mud.


Manual Cars Are More Fuel-Efficient Than Automatics

This was true in the early days of automatic transmission. Automatics were significantly worse than manuals when they initially came out on the market. They consumed more gas and broke down more frequently. 

Found Image Holdings/Getty Images

Modern automatics bear little resemblance to those used in the first half of the twentieth century. In almost every regard, automatic transmissions have surpassed manual transmissions in today’s autos. Thanks to carefully adjusted gear aspect ratios, they shift faster, offer improved fuel efficiency, and lengthen the life of your engine.


Starting an Engine Consumes More Fuel than Leaving it Idle

Another widespread belief among automobile owners is that keeping the engine running when the vehicle is still for more than 30 seconds saves fuel. This is based on the fact that starting a car consumes more fuel than idling it.

Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Modern fuel injection systems are extremely efficient, requiring far less gasoline than is required to keep the engine running. Unless your vehicle has a carburetor, turn off the engine the next time you’re stopping somewhere for more than 30 seconds to save petrol.


Korean Companies Manufacture Low-Quality Cars

Busted. Korean brands such as Hyundai and Kia are currently ranked first in the J.D. Power Dependability Study, beating out Japanese brands such as Honda and Toyota. Because the market is so competitive, Korean cars are built to be more dependable, more fuel-efficient, and less expensive than the products of their competitors.

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Customer satisfaction is measured by the ACSI Automobile Survey, which considers reliability, driving performance, and a variety of other factors. Hyundai was ranked among the top 20 automobile manufacturers and is also ranked in the top ten automobile brands by J.D Power. 


Insurance is More Expensive for Red Cars

According to InsuranceQuotes.com, 44% of Americans believe that red cars are more expensive to insure than other colors. This could be due to the color red’s association with boldness and passion in the west, but it’s difficult to say why so many people believe this misconception.

Bryan Mitchell/Getty Images

Insurance companies examine a variety of things when determining a rate. The age of the driver, the make of the car, the driver’s insurance history, and many other factors are considered. The color of an automobile has no bearing at all.


Cash Payment is Always a Better Deal

The majority of people believe that when buying a new car, you should always pay cash. Why? When paying cash, some customers expect a discount on the sticker price.

Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images

If you do decide to fish for a discount, it may not be as significant as you had hoped. Having the cash ready to hand over leaves less space for negotiation. If you are certain that you will pay cash for your new car, it is better not to mention it until the price has been agreed upon.


Keeping a Vehicle Warranty Valid

AAA found that 31% of people believe that to uphold a vehicle warranty, all services have to be performed at the dealer.

Source: Autotrader

However, this is not true. Consumers can have regular maintenance and repairs done at whichever facilities they choose. Consumers always need to document any work that is done by another facility other than the dealer or manufacturer in order to maintain the warranty.


A Smaller Car Means Less Fuel Consumption

It’s reasonable to suppose that a little car will consume less fuel than a large one. Large automobiles are typically heavier, less aerodynamic, and equipped with more powerful engines.

Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Playboy

Downsizing has had a significant impact on fuel efficiency. Most SUVs currently have smaller engines than in the past, and aspirated engines are unusual nowadays. Large cars have also gotten much more aerodynamic over time, resulting in better fuel economy. The 2019 Toyota RAV 4 is a good example, as it can score over 35 MPG on the highway.


A 4WD Doesn’t Need Snow Tires

While a four-wheel-drive system aids in driving in the snow, there’s no substitute for snow tires. In the snow, a 4WD accelerates more quickly, but adequate tires are required to maneuver with control and brake quickly. 

Alessandro Di Ciommo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Summer tires simply won’t grip the snow in an emergency brake, which can cause the vehicle to roll out of control. Make sure you have good snow tires the next time you go skiing in the mountains. Even if your car isn’t equipped with 4-wheel drive, the tires should work well enough.


Engine Warm-Up is a Must

This is one of the most widely accepted falsehoods on the list. Many people believe that idling a car before driving is essential, especially on a chilly winter day. 

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Although it takes some time for an engine to attain its proper operating temperature, idling to do so is absolutely unnecessary. A modern car has the technology to automatically warm up the engine and will reach the appropriate running temperature faster when driven rather than standing still. Doing this simply wastes fuel and emits an excessive amount of carbon monoxide.


Boosting Into Overdrive

“Shift into overdrive” is a term that appears frequently in video games, movies, and popular culture. It can be heard right before street racing scenes, dramatic car chases, or simply when your significant other wants to beat traffic. Overdrive isn’t nearly as thrilling as it is in the movies. 

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It’s a unique gear that makes the car run more effectively and saves money on gas. It effectively allows the car to cruise at a high pace while maintaining a low RPM. Overdrive will not make your automobile louder, quicker, or more exciting, though.


You Can Fill Your Car With More Gas During the Day

This myth is based on the idea that gas is denser after a cold night, allowing you to get more gasoline for each gallon you pump into the tank. While it is true that gasoline expands as the temperature rises, this myth is untrue.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Consumer Reports put this idea to the test and found that the density of gasoline is unaffected by the ambient temperature. This is due to the fact that gasoline is stored in deep underground tanks and its density remains constant throughout the day.


An American Car Means American Made

Some American automobiles aren’t as home-grown as they appear. Many ostensibly American-made cars are merely assembled here using parts sourced from all over the world.

HOANG DINH NAM/AFP via Getty Images

Cars.com produced an American-Made Index, which ranks the cars that are made in the United States. The outcomes are unexpected. While the Jeep Cherokee takes the top spot, the Honda Ridgeline and Honda Odyssey round out the top three. Even more shocking is the fact that four of the top ten automobiles are produced by Honda/Acura.


Tap Water Can Be Mixed With Coolant

Everyone has heard at some point that combining tap water and coolant in the radiator is totally safe for your vehicle. Coolant can be mixed with distilled water, but it should never be mixed with bottled or tap water.

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Unlike distilled water, tap or bottled water contains minerals. These minerals are beneficial to your health, but they are not beneficial to your radiator. Mineral deposits in the radiator and cooling channels of the engine can cause overheating and eventually, catastrophic engine damage. To top off your coolant use only pure, distilled water.


Every Time You Change Your Oil, Flush Your Coolant

When was the last time you flushed your car’s coolant? It should be done every time you change your oil, according to this misconception. It is, however, entirely needless to do so on a regular basis because it will not improve the durability of your cooling system and will only cost you more money.


Coolant should be changed every 60,000 miles, or once every five years, according to most manufacturers. Check your coolant level on a regular basis; if the level drops suddenly, there could be a leak somewhere.


Seat Belts aren't necessary because of Airbags

Some believe that a car with airbags does not require seat belts, which is as ridiculous as it sounds. Anyone who believes this tall tale is putting their life in jeopardy. 

Lambert/Getty Images

Airbags are a good way to protect belted passengers because their location is strategically determined by the position that the seat belt keeps them in. If you’re not fastened up, you may slide under the airbag landing zone or perhaps miss it entirely when it deploys. This could result in a collision with the dashboard or ejection from the vehicle.


Vegetable Oil Can Be Used In Diesel Cars

If it’s a diesel, a 50-year-old tractor will probably run OK on cooking oil. However, the engineering behind an old diesel engine is far less complex than in modern cars, and pouring cooking oil into your modern tank can have dire repercussions. 

Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The difference in viscosity between vegetable oil and petroleum diesel is what causes the problem when using it to power a modern diesel engine. Because vegetable oil is so thick, the engine will be unable to atomize all of it properly, resulting in an excessive amount of unburned gasoline. 


Fuel Is Wasted When Using a Start-Stop System

By flicking the engine on and off, a car’s start-stop system actually increases fuel consumption, or so the idea goes. On top of that, it’s said that using the system can permanently destroy a car battery.

Pixabay / Ri_Ya

This is not true. Cars with a start-stop system can save up to 15% more petrol than cars that do not use the system, according to testing. Because a start-stop system reduces emissions and is completely safe for the car’s battery, you should throw this misconception out.


Red Car Attracts More Attention

This is yet another myth that arose from the overabundance of exotic red cars a few years ago. Although some studies have shown that particular kinds of automobiles are more likely to be pulled over than others, there is no indication that a red car would be pulled over more frequently.

Tim Graham/Getty Images

Police stop drivers based on their actions on the road, not on the type or color of vehicle they drive. Exotic cars, it could be argued, are more prone to traffic offenses and, as a result, are stopped more frequently. 


Dishwashing Soap Can Be Used to Wash Your Car

It’s a horrible idea to wash your car with dishwashing soap or just about any chemical that isn’t designed for autos. Using detergent or soap might save you a few pennies; however, it will peel the wax and damage the paint. 

Pixabay / Pixelpower-01

Cars with paint damage will need to be repainted, which can set you back at least $500 for a single coat of low-quality paint. Paint jobs of higher quality will almost certainly cost you more than $1,000. Think long-term and spend a little extra money on excellent car care now.


Replace All Four Tires At the Same Time

Changing all four at once appears to make sense. Whether you should do so is usually determined by tire wear and your drivetrain.

Will Lester/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Front-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive vehicles typically require two tires to be replaced. However, all-wheel-drive vehicles require the full set to be changed. Differentials in all-wheelers transfer the same amount of torque to each wheel, therefore a different size tire can cause the differential to work too hard, potentially damaging the powertrain.


Your Battery Can Be Resurrected With A Jump

You know this myth is false if you’ve ever had to jump-start your car when the battery died. It’s preferable to keep the engine running after jumping-starting a dead battery. When traveling in the winter, a dead battery can take hours to recharge. 

Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The battery is used to power accessories like the car radio and lights, which lengthens the time it takes to fully recharge the battery. For a depleted battery, using a car battery charger is a better option.


Low Tire Pressure Makes for a Smoother Ride

Some car owners lower their tires on purpose hoping for a smoother ride. RV and truck owners are particularly prone to this harmful behavior. Not only does it reduce comfort, but underinflation reduces fuel efficiency and can pose a major safety risk. 

Angelika Warmuth/picture alliance via Getty Images

Low tire pressure causes more of the tire’s surface to contact the road, resulting in more friction. Overheating occurs, which results in early tire degradation, tread separation, or even rupture. Underinflation does not increase the smoothness of your ride. Try turning on the radio instead. 


Fueling Up on Off-Brand Gas Can Harm Your Engine

It’s a prevalent fallacy that using low-cost, off-brand gasoline harms your engine. The truth, it turns out, is a little different. Off-brand gas stations, as well as major chains like BP or Shell, frequently use a refinery’s “base gasoline.” The quantity of extra additives that each brand adds makes the difference. Additives assist in cleaning the engine. Thus a rich blend of gas would be more beneficial to your car.

Phil Walter/Getty Images

That isn’t to say that using non-branded gas will harm your engine. A blend with fewer ingredients must still meet regulatory criteria and will not cause damage to your vehicle.


ABS Constantly Shortens Braking Distance

This is another urban legend that is only half accurate, depending on the circumstances. An anti-lock brake system prevents the locking up of wheels during hard braking. It was designed to keep the driver in control of the vehicle rather than shortening the stopping distance.

Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, cars with an ABS had a 14 percent shorter braking distance on wet roads than cars without the technology. The braking distance between a non-ABS car and a car with an ABS is basically the same in normal, dry conditions.


Having Your Tailgate Down While Driving Increases Fuel Efficiency

In the United States, pickup trucks with their tailgates down are ubiquitous. Have you ever wondered why this is so? Some truck owners feel that driving with the tailgate down, or even completely removed, improves airflow and fuel economy.

Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images

It actually has the opposite effect. When the tailgate is closed, a vortex forms around the truck bed, which enhances ventilation. Driving with the tailgate down generates more drag and has been shown to be somewhat less fuel-efficient, but the difference is negligible.


2WD Cars Brake Slower Than 4WD Cars

Because most four-wheel-drive cars are capable off-road, they have a significant following around the world. A widespread misunderstanding is that 4WD automobiles have lower braking distances than rear-wheel-drive or front-wheel-drive cars. 4WD vehicles accelerate more quickly on wet or snowy roads than RWD vehicles do.

Matthias Bein/picture alliance via Getty Images

The braking distance of a vehicle is unaffected by an AWD or 4WD system. The braking distance, particularly on a wet surface, comes down to the type of tires used. A car with summer tires will need a longer distance to come to a stop on snow.


Air Condition Increases Fuel Economy

It’s an annual summertime driving argument. Is it more fuel-efficient to drive with the air conditioner on than to open the windows? Driving with the windows down increases drag, which ostensibly means that the automobile is consuming more fuel.

Mediacolors/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

However, turning up the air conditioning puts additional strain on the engine, which uses more gasoline. When it comes down to it, opening your windows saves you a little more gas than using air conditioning. Ultimately, driving with the windows closed and the A/C turned off is the most efficient option. 


You Should Wipe Your Oil Filter Clean

When changing your oil filter yourself, it is a common mistake to think you should wipe the filter dry of oil. Doing this will actually create a loose fitting seal. This may end up making the seal fall off and spill your oil all over the place.

Instead, after you fill your filter with oil, be sure to spread a bit of excess oil around the filter’s seal before you install it.


Car Crashes Are Always Lethal in Convertibles

Because the majority of cars are hardtops or coupes, it seems reasonable to conclude that the removal of a car’s roof weakens its total structure and compromises safety. This is why manufacturers go to such lengths to make convertibles as safe as hardtops.

Axel Koester/Corbis via Getty Images

Convertible automobiles have a sturdier chassis, reinforced pillars, and unique roll hoops behind the seats, all of which improve the driver’s safety in the event of a rollover. Some convertibles, like the 2016 Buick Cascada, include active rollbars that deploy automatically when the vehicle is flipped.


When Is It Right to Replace Your Tires?

It has been a common myth that tires should be replaced once the tread reaches 2/32”. According to AAA, this is incorrect, as they found that tire performance in wet weather deteriorates significantly at 4/32”. Therefore, it is suggested to buy new tires at this tread depth.

Source: Training Wheels Driving School

Your tires are the only thing keeping you connected to the road and driving with worn tires puts you at unnecessary risk for a crash, especially in wet weather.


Changing the Brake Fluid

According to AAA, 19% of respondents believe that brake fluid does not need to be changed. This is grossly untrue! Please take note. Most manufacturers recommend replacing brake fluid at two-or-three-year intervals.

Source: The Family Handyman

Brakes are the most important safety system on your vehicle. It is very important to schedule your required fluid changes, as brake fluid attracts and absorbs water which can then corrode internal brake system part which will lead to failure or other costly damage to your vehicle.


Your Car Battery Can Last Up to Five Years

A typical car battery lasts between 3-5 years (sometimes longer) however driving habits and climate greatly affect how long a battery can last.

Source: Bob Villa

According to AAA, 42% of people believed that a battery can automatically last five years, which is a dangerous assumption to find yourself on the other end of if it is wrong. The only way to truly know how much is left in your battery is to get it tested at the three-year mark.