Driver's News: Car Myths and Facts

October 14, 2002

Old wives’ tales and "old mechanic's tales" have a lot in common: they're often better as entertainment than guides to action. And when it comes to “common sense” or conventional wisdom about cars, you’d be wise to have the facts before you make a decision on buying or owning that could keep you paying for years. Heard of these automotive myths, or still believe they’re true? Read on for a good debunking of ten automotive myths and the real facts:

MYTH: A smaller engine is always more efficient.

FACT: Depending on the vehicle and how you drive, a small engine may get worse real world fuel mileage than a larger engine because the smaller engine has to work harder. A good example: compact pickups where you can choose either a standard four-cylinder engine or an optional V-6. The four may have just enough power to get the truck going, but loaded up -- or if quick acceleration is demanded -- the overtaxed four-cylinder will be less efficient than a six that doesn't require the driver to furiously mash the pedal to the floor just to get a reaction. Also, wear and tear on the four will be higher, so maintenance and repair costs down the road could be higher, too.

MYTH: Your car will run better if you use premium gas.

FACT: An engine runs best using the fuel it was designed to burn. Premium, or high octane fuel, is only of benefit if your car's engine was designed specifically to take advantage of the different burning rate of higher octane fuel; using it in a car not designed to use premium fuel may actually decrease performance and fuel efficiency. Use the type of gas recommended by the manufacturer -- whether it's premium, mid-grade or regular unleaded.

MYTH: You'll make your brakes last longer by downshifting the transmission to slow the car down.

FACT: All you'll do is make your clutch wear faster -- and a clutch job costs a lot more than a brake job.

MYTH: It's okay to follow the maximum recommended oil change service interval advertised by the manufacturer of your car.

FACT: Read the fine print. The higher mileage/time intervals (often as long as 10,000 miles on some late model cars) assume "normal" driving -- which does not include the stop-and-go city/suburban driving that most drivers experience. Such driving is considered "severe" in most cases, and dramatically shortens the recommended oil change interval.

MYTH: Store-bought oil additives are good ways to increase engine life.

FACT: Using name-brand oil of the correct type and viscosity (see your owner's manual) along with regular service is the best guarantee of long engine life. Good quality oil already has the necessary additive packages to keep the internal parts of the engine free of build-up and so forth; pouring a can of "motor honey" into the crankcase is little better than tossing dollar bills out the window.

MYTH: It's more economical to replace an older car with a brand-new one.

FACT: While the new car may be nicer, few old cars cost as much to keep going as it does to keep up with the payments, insurance and taxes on a new vehicle. Ultimately, it comes down to the choice between a predictable monthly expense (the car payment) or the sudden, unanticipated expense of having to get something fixed on an older car. But you might go months without having to spend a cent for anything other than gasoline.

MYTH: Turning off the air conditioning and lowering windows at highway speeds will reduce fuel consumption.

FACT: The increased wind resistance will actually cause your engine to burn even more fuel than it would with the air conditioning on.

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