5 Car Myths Busted

Automotive myths are as common as a rainstorm after a carwash. Find out which are fiction and which could be breaking your bank.

car myths busted

Have you ever heard that adding sugar to your gas tank will destroy the car’s engine? Or that premium fuel will clean out your injectors? Did you know that both of these statements are false?

Unfortunately, automotive myths like these are as common as a rainstorm after a car wash, and some of them could cost you time and money if you’re not equipped with the truth. Here are 5 debunked car myths to scratch off your list.

Car myth #1: Red cars cost more to insure

We already addressed this one in the car insurance myths section of our website, but it’s worth reiterating here. There are 2 sides to this myth: The first is that brightly colored cars, especially red and yellow ones, cost more to insure. The second is that they’re more likely to get a ticket.

On the insurance end, this pans out to nothing more than a myth because insurance companies don’t take color into account. And even if they did, some studies suggest cars that are hard to see at night — black, navy, green — are at greater risk for accidents.

What about tickets? It makes sense that a cherry red coupe would draw more attention than a charcoal sedan, but according to Snopes, that myth was dispelled as far back as 1990.

Car myth #2: Warm your engine when it’s cold out

In Los Angeles, where I live, “cold out” means 50 degrees and cloudy. If you reside somewhere like the arctic wilds of New England, however, you might have a habit of letting the car idle for a few minutes to warm the engine.

But unless you drive an older car, you’re wasting your time by warming up your engine. (Tweet this.)

See, up until the ’80s, cars used a system of valves and chambers called a carburetor to control the mix of fuel and air being pumped into the engine. Back then, carburetors did have problems adjusting to cold temperatures. But modern car engines are now built with electronic fuel injection systems instead of carburetors, and these systems use an ECU (engine control unit) to detect oxygen levels, automatically adjusting the fuel-air ratio accordingly.

Another bonus: fuel injection systems also improve mileage and cut down on emissions.

Car myth #3: Premium gas gets better mileage

The only reason you’d ever want to pay more at the pump is because your owner’s manual specifically says that your car needs it.

The one real difference between regular and premium gas is in how long it takes to combust. Premium gas has a high octane level, which means it requires more pressure from the engine to do its job. In high-performance cars, low-octane gas can ignite too quickly. This is bad for the car and causes a loud noise called “engine knock.” In other words, a high-performance car demanding premium gas must use premium gas to avoid damaging the engine.

But premium gas makes no difference in a regular car, so don’t waste your money. (Tweet this.)

Car myth #4: Gang initiates are targeting people who flash their headlights

Okay, so maybe this isn’t as widespread or as practical as the previous automotive myths, but I honestly believed it for years and was relieved to learn it was nonsense.

The story goes something like this: a gang is initiating new members, telling them to drive around at night with their headlights off and kill the first person to flash high beams at them.

According to Snopes, this urban legend has been in circulation at least as far back as 1993. At the time, the rumor was pegged to a “blood initiation weekend” in late September. Several states were affected, from California to Texas to New York, but no incident ever actually occurred.

You may not have heard this particular car myth, but it’s important to include an example of scaremongering so you can know what to look for. That’s not to say you should discount anything that sounds suspicious, but at least do some research.

Car myth #5: Shooting the gas tank will cause a car to explode

If you’ve ever seen an action movie like Mission: Impossible or The Terminator, you’ve watched as the protagonist shoots a single bullet into a vehicle’s gas tank, causing it to explode.

The guys at MythBusters tackled this one in 2004 and again in 2005. And while they did admit that it could be possible to blow up a gas tank with a single tracer round (such as a flaming bullet) from a great distance, they also agreed that it’s extremely unlikely — and never a good idea.

Of course, car myths pop up every year. There’s bound to be a new generation of absurd anecdotes related to automated systems, smartphones, and sensors, but all it takes is a quick google search to set you free … and possibly save you money.

What are some of the other myths you’ve heard? Sound off in the comments section below.

373 Responses to “5 Car Myths Busted”

  1. Rene medlin
    February 21, 2014 #

    I read an article a while back about the exploding gas tank a nd a cell phone. Seems that women are more likely to get in the car while filing up. Then when they get out of the car and grab the pump handle it creates a static electricity charge that could react (explosion) with the gas fumes from the tank.

    • Heidi Reckel
      March 11, 2014 #

      Again, disproven by Mythbusters. It takes a heck of a spark and way more than average amount of vaporizer gas to create the explosion. Seriously, go to http://www.discovery.com/mythbusters and look for this one. I'm sure it's on the site, since this is such a popular myth.

      • Robert Miller
        March 25, 2014 #

        Mythbusters don't get it right all of the time. I worked with an gasoline delivery driver who use to deliver gas to stations very early in the morning when the air was very still. The guy smoked and one morning after he lit up he noticed just a few inches above the ground a glow. He realized he had ignited the gasoline vapors, which are heavier than air and latterly the ground all over the station was on fire. (A vapor fire.) He shut of the valve on the tank and they went out. He then opened the valve and finished filling the tanks. When he got home he noticed the bottom of his trousers and socks were singed at the level of the vapor fire.

      • FrankOK
        April 7, 2014 #

        I saw that "Mythbusters" episode also and being on the left coast, they probably didn't have access to the proper ammunition since they're based on the left coast..

        Tracers are iffy in regards to setting off a gas tank. The ammo they should have used is designated as "APIT" – armor piercing incendiary tracer. Yes, it exists. It not only has AP capabilities and a burning trace compound in the base but also a small explosive charge in the forward part of the projo.

        The trick is using the hydraulic effect of the projo hitting the tank to disperse/mist the fuel as it WILL NOT BURN without oxygen. A second round hitting nearby can detonate the mist if not set off by the first. This is the principle behind the fuel/air bombs our military uses on Pampers™-wearing rats in caves to great effect.

  2. supershiftsuper
    February 25, 2014 #

    In cold weather, engines should be let to idle for a minute or two to let the oil get pumped up to the cylinders etc. Cold weather thickens oil, and impedes it's flow.

    • jaylon willion
      March 2, 2014 #

      Pumped up to the cylinders? If you're pumping oil to the cylinders, overhaul the engine. Pump oil to the bearings and lifters, yes. Cylinders, no.

      • Chaser Eraser
        March 4, 2014 #

        Always allow you vehicle to warm up in cold weather – at least a few minutes – higher rpm operation with cold motor oil can wear the internals of the motor more quickly – (scoring of cylinder walls, etc) Once warmer oil is circulating through the engine you can be sure that operating at higher Rpms will not cause unnecessary wear on the motor. Also, the oxygen sensors don't adjust fuel trim until the vehicle is warm – the vehicle will operate in warm up mode – "open loop" ignoring oxygen sensor input until a predetermined temperature. You don't need a 1/2 hour idling in the driveway – a few mins will do. Because operating the engine at higher speeds (driving down the road to work or school) will put the vehicle in "closed loop" where oxygen sensors are watched and fuel economy is improved.

      • L.J.
        March 6, 2014 #

        Then why is the bottom piston ring an "oil" ring? It wipes the oil from the cylinders. No oil, ruined pistons and cylinders. Thinking or knowing before you speak would help!

      • John
        March 19, 2014 #

        Yes Jaylon, pumped into the cylinders. Oil provides the lubricant necessary to reduce/prevent wear between the piston rings and the cylinder walls. Seizure of the oil scraper ring, the uppermost of the piston rings, will result in significant but harmless oil consumption. Unless of course you do not add oil as necessary.

      • darrell
        April 5, 2014 #

        Oil does go to cylinder.. to keep pistons from getting hot and expanding in cylinder ..if no oil then engine will seize up and u need a new engine..

      • Billy Joe Jim Bob
        April 5, 2014 #

        Lifters? Must be driving an antique…

      • David Thomure
        April 23, 2014 #

        Yes cylinders. As the piston goes up the cylinder, oil follows. The Rings Keep The Oil Out Of The Combustion chamber. Without oil on the cylinders with each stroke your engine won't last long.

    • Greg
      March 20, 2014 #

      Low temperatures thickens petroleum based "mineral" oil. I use synthetic oil which is not affected by extreme cold temperarures.

    • Billy Joe Jim Bob
      April 5, 2014 #

      Again, you don't know what you're talking about. You must be an old wife, because this in an old wive's tale.

  3. vtxssy
    February 26, 2014 #

    Also letting a car warm up helps transmission shift properly in cold weather. Lots of cars out there don't shift like normal in cold weather.

    • 1rockola
      March 4, 2014 #

      vtxssy is correct. In extremely cold weather (polar vortex) fluids need some TLC in order to circulate and do their job. Every car I have ever owned (I've been driving for over 50 years) the Trans. needed time to adjust and if not given the time would shift with a "bang". Treat your vehicle nice and most of the time it will treat you nice.

    • Billy Joe Jim Bob
      April 5, 2014 #

      More like an excuse for you to waste precious natural resources. That's okay, neither one of us will likely see the end of oil before we die. Why not be wasteful?

    • Ron
      April 9, 2014 #

      Yes you don't need to warm your car in LA. But in WI you do. If engine is cold, and below 10° your windshield will frost up from your breathing.
      Also good to thin oil out.

  4. Heather
    February 27, 2014 #

    Its against the law to let your car idle unattened in Colorado. And with fuel injection the only reason to idle your car would be to defrost and warm the interior.

    • George
      March 1, 2014 #

      It's against the law to leave the keys in the ignition and car unattended. Remote start on the other hand would be fine, as the vehicle remains locked.

  5. me
    February 27, 2014 #

    5 car myths busted. You are fulll of it. If you don't think sugar will gum up your engine, pour some in your tank and drive it for a few days. I personally know it will turn to gummy syrup and eventually hard black crud. It will seize the engine or cause the valves to stick open which will cause big problems. Find an old lawn mower and try it. Same goes for old gas.

  6. CCA2011
    March 1, 2014 #

    Something else not stated is that in colder temps oil is thicker than usual so warming up the car helps thin the oil out. Now where that is useful is the fact that if you do not let the engine warm it works harder to push the oil through the engine. Over time that over working causes wear and tear on the pistons, cylinder walls and in some cases will even cause head gaskets to leak which will allow large amounts of oil out of the engine and cause it to fail. Now that is an extreme case but it can and has happened. So better safe than sorry on this

    • Billy Joe Jim Bob
      April 5, 2014 #

      More old wive's engineering. Most people run synthetic oil, and those in colder temps use a multi-viscosity formulation, which is formulated specifically to combat these problems.

  7. Ellen Hall
    March 3, 2014 #

    We appreciate your comments – thanks for making this such a lively discussion. But please remember to keep the dialogue civil. Comments which include name-calling or personal attacks will not be published.

  8. Ian
    March 5, 2014 #

    Are you all brain dead? Most people warm their cars up for the simple fact that they don't want to drive an ice cold car and shiver the whole way to wherever they are going. It's not about the engine or oil or whatever.

  9. randll
    March 5, 2014 #

    Went to car talk page. They say no more than a minute or two for idling then drive the car. So in this case, at least one of these myths are incorrect. So nice going.

  10. Don Mace
    March 8, 2014 #

    Ok I understand why not to leave your car idle for more that 2 minutes, but I live in Iowa it has been COLD the entire winter. I don't like going out and starting my car let it idle for 2 minutes and then driving of with an interior temp of -10 sorry, I always let my car run for 20 minutes in frigid temps just to warm up the car to at least 32 above zero!

    • Billy Joe Jim Bob
      April 5, 2014 #

      Thanks for wasting precious natural resources.

      • Dave
        April 22, 2014 #

        Billy Joe Jim Bob,
        Are you hugging a tree while typing this response?

  11. Frank
    March 8, 2014 #

    Warming your car up in cold weather saves wear on your engine. From my motorcross days I remember that a cold engine has more horsepower than a warm engine because of the tightness of cylinders… a warm engine allowed expansion of the cylinders and gave less compression. I got many hole shots by starting my engine at the last minute. In any case, the tighter the cylinder the more wear on the rings. My rings wore out faster but gave me an advantage.

    • Dave
      March 14, 2014 #

      You can accomplish the same thing by driving the car at high idle— not hitting the gas for a while. If you can get away with driving 20-30 mph for the first two minutes in your trip

  12. bryan moore
    April 12, 2014 #

    Im freezing. Foget that. Im going back in the house, let this car warm up 1st.

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