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.

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451 Responses to “5 Car Myths Busted”

  1. Milo Tsukroff
    November 6, 2014 #

    #1 is not a myth, at least it wasn't around 1990 when I was in an insurance office in Willimantic, Connecticut to get a new policy. The insurance agent asked if my car was red. I said, No, why would you ask that? The insurance agent said, Because red cars are more expensive to insure. Lucky for me, my car wasn't red. Since then I have never bought a red car, because I don't want to pay the higher insurance cost. Snopes can be, and is, wrong.

    • Nope
      November 15, 2014 #

      Bold statement for one unique experience. Besides, your agent was probably messing with you. I have never ever been asked what color my car is, nor asked to provide that color for insurance purposes.

    • Mike
      November 15, 2014 #

      Red paint is generally the most expensive paint to buy and depending on the extent of the damage significantly add to cost of repair. A 3 stage red can be 2/3s more than a basic color.

    • BURKE
      December 8, 2014 #

      Misinformation is what gets the comment section rolling. Get it???

  2. Col Klink
    November 6, 2014 #

    Most cars that call for premium run fine on mid-level. And cars with carburetors NEVER needed to be warmed up – it has nothing to do with fuel mixtures.

    • jay d mcdade
      November 15, 2014 #

      Wrong, modern EFI will adjust itself to get the engine to optimum temps and a/f ratios according to gov standards. Carbureated engines utilized a "choke" for easier starting and a quicker warm up as gasoline pulled through a carb tends to puddle in the intake manifold when cold. When warm it vaporizes and atomizes with o2 in the intake manifold creating a much more stable air/fuel ratio. "hot rods have an attitude at diff altitudes" always need and adjustment. Efi just sees where its at and does not allow the average person to change its parameters, unless its a standalone, tunable aftermarket system with someone who knows what a efi system should run optimally with out user interference. " idiot proof".

    • Rich
      November 21, 2014 #

      You are correct, because cars with carburetors had chokes and if adjusted properly would run fine right from start-up. The reason for warming the car up is to warm the cold oil for a couple/few minutes, enabling it to flow better to critical parts. This is really only necessary in cold climates (such as northern New England) where temps in the winter can dip well below zero.

  3. Bob Reed
    November 11, 2014 #

    North of the Mason-Dixon Line :) we have this phenomena called frost. It's a good idea to be able to see through the windows – especially the windshield. Scrapping helps, but it's a whole lot easier and more effective when the defroster is putting out warm/hot air, which only happens after the engine has warmed up.

    Also, you never addressed sugar in the gas tank. In the past union folks around here have been know to put some into the gas tank of "scabs" – it did ruin a lot of engines. Someone put soap in my father's tank resulting in a trip to the mechanic to have the tank and carburetor cleaned.

    • pockets64
      November 22, 2014 #

      Not to mention the chill of sitting on frozen vinyl.
      I like to give the metal moving parts and their fluids a chance to warm up a bit before putting them under stress.

  4. jay d mcdade
    November 15, 2014 #

    All engines need to be warmed as metal changes its dimensions as temp changes which is the difference in 100k or 500k miles. How its warmed AND cooled has everything to do with longevity n dependability.

  5. michael
    November 15, 2014 #

    Thanks for the tips.

  6. Thomas Pettit
    November 16, 2014 #

    The warm up is for the heater, not the gas mixture. Carburetor, fuel injectors, does not matter in this case. It takes several minutes for the water in the engine to warm up enough to create hot enough water in the heater core which the fan can blow across to make heat inside the vehicle.

  7. Collins Straub
    November 16, 2014 #

    Winter here in Florida is like alittle chilly in Summer

  8. edsbar60
    November 18, 2014 #

    #5 was true in the 80's. I remember specifically of a shooting that occurred due to gang initiation and flashing their headlights. I met a few bangers that when through it at the time, too
    around 85-86, I think.

  9. Random
    November 18, 2014 #

    #4 was definitely real, as I had a cousin in the late 90's get followed home because she flashed them. Luckily she drove past her home and to the police station once she realized they were indeed following her home.

  10. Jamie Panetta
    November 19, 2014 #

    #2 is not a myth! The author is correct with the statements about carburetors and all but in a cold climate (I live in NY State where it's currently 17 degrees out on Nov 19th), warming up the engine is necessary to warm up the engine *oil* so it flows properly. If you do not warm up the car, the oil is very thick and will not flow as intended throughout the engine. This is one of the reasons why a cold engine idles a little higher than a warmer engine. It's actually a good tip to warm the engine up even when it's warm out. In that case, Most of the oil has settled back into the oil pan and just letting the engine warm up for a minute will help to reduce wear for the internals and help your engine to last longer.

    • Steve
      November 20, 2014 #

      You are correct. I'm confused why this writer would attempt to dispute "myths" without basic knowledge of the subject matter.

    • Al
      November 20, 2014 #

      Jamie is correct about warming the oil. Thick (cold) oil does not flow well and will leave critical parts like bearings unprotected, leading to premature failure. While multi-viscosity oils have better cold-temperature performance than the old "straight weight" oils, it's still important to let the engine warm for a few minutes before placing it under load (by driving the car). I even let my car warm for a minute or two in the summer months. You'll burn a few pennies of fuel but potentially save thousands in repair costs.

    • Patrick
      November 22, 2014 #

      Again more myths, first thing while extreme cold temperature (we are talking about far below 0 degrees F, will freeze or harden motor oil) there is not place in the continuous U.S. that will get that cold long enough to have any significant impact.

      As soon as your engine turns on it is at 800 to 1,500 revolutions per minute give or take, even if it was cold enough to thicken the oil the friction and best of the engine will stop that within a second.

      The only reason to warm up your car is heat, period.

      • Tom
        December 3, 2014 #

        Patrick, Just last year it got as far as minus 64 degrees in the norther plains. Pure 100%synthetice oils will flow at these temps, not the synthetic blends on the market, but mineral oils will freeze, and even 50/50% coolant freezes. In Alaska coolant mixtures are at 60% coolant to water.

  11. Lisbeh
    November 19, 2014 #

    Very interesting info and I love the non believer. lol

  12. Hukk LeBuk (@Hukklebuk)
    November 20, 2014 #

    where are the citations for these facts?

  13. DJ9r
    November 22, 2014 #

    The #3 "Premium gas" myth also has a basis in fact, at least in some cases in my car. I did extensive mileage testing when my vehicle was new, and again at the 5-year-old point, and both tests confirmed that non-ethanol fuel produced around 7%-10% better gas mileage than lower-octane ethanol-added gas. I used to be able to get non-ethanol mid-grade gas fairly easily; now, I often have to use Premium if I want a tank of ethanol-free gas, as it's harder to find the ethanol-free mid-octane even here in the farm country of the north-central plains. Now, even some Premium gas has ethanol added, so even sticking with high-grade isn't a guarantee of no ethanol.

    For those who have mid-grade ethanol-free fuel available, I encourage you to try it in your vehicle for a while and track your mileage, under both around-town and highway conditions. It used to cost me 12 to 15 cents more per gallon, but the increased mileage still made it a better deal. Premium, not so much; the greatly increased cost often offsets the slightly increased mileage, and I end up in the hole, cost-wise.

    And yes, here in the far northern plains, we do let our cars warm-up before driving them, but as said below, a lot of that has to do with safety (being able to see out the windows; your breath will ice-fog the INSIDE if it is cold enough) and comfort, not necessarily with engine problems. Although at VERY cold temps (minus 25 F and below), my experience (both here and in Alaska) tells me you may add stress to things like power steering belts and some transmissions (shift very roughly) if you take-off without allowing a decent warm-up period. I've seen several folks pop a belt when cranking the wheel to get out of a tight parking lot spot on a cold early morning, and I've experienced the rough transmission shifting myself.

    • Cheryl Carroll
      December 5, 2014 #

      You are not comparing octane, you are comparing ethanol to non ethanol fuel. The difference in fuel economy you see is due to ethanol having less energy per unit than gasoline. Everything else being equal you will need more ethanol blend gasoline to travel the same distance as non ethanol fuel.

      Octane has no bearing on the specific energy content of gasoline.

  14. Ned
    November 26, 2014 #

    Warming your car up has less to do with fuel and more to do with getting the oil up to a workable temp. (Trust me, I learned the hard way. Thats a pretty big deal.)

  15. takkun116
    November 28, 2014 #

    Just saying rosaries have to be warmed up no matter what

  16. Tom Buckley
    December 3, 2014 #

    Myth correct, red cars do in fact draw attention of police officers! In the early 1970's (pre oil embargo) the California Highway Patrol conducted several test on the color of cars. The test consisted of 5 CHP officers picking up replacement city and county fleet vehicles from a Los Angeles car dealer and transport them to Sacramento, San Fransico, San Jose, and Redding. As these were not to be used by the CHP, the colors of the cars varied, black, white, green, orange, yelow, and red. The officers were told to stay in a pack with 100 yards distance from each other, and to exceed the posted speed limit by 10 MPH. Each of the officers were given a Notorized letter by the CHP Commisioner stating that if pulled over that the officer was used in an Authorized CHP test, and not write a citation. The results, the red cars were 90% of the time pulled overed followed by orange, then yellow.

  17. Lee
    December 5, 2014 #

    Premium fuel has given me 10% better gas mileage in both of my vehicles and my work trucks over the ethanol blended fuels. This has been consistent in test we have done at work in nearly all of our trucks. Ethanol blended fuel doesn't last long either. In vehicles we had not driven in a month or more the drop off in fuel mileage was over 20% compared to 5% less mileage with premium in the tank.

  18. Joe
    December 21, 2014 #

    The use of proper oil in all but extreme temps negates the need for idle times more than what it takes to put on your seat belt. Your engine is already running if the oil is not getting wear it needs to be the damage is being done. When you get to -25 ambient temperatures and below you should be using a block heater. Fyi wind chill has no effect on liquids, so will not effect how mechanical devices work.

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