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.

RELATED: The Great Marijuana Myth: Is Driving High Dangerous?

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.

RELATED: 5 Gas Myths Busted

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.

Related links

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517 Responses to “5 Car Myths Busted”

  1. Avatar for Anthony Larsen
    June 18, 2015 #

    I'm nitpicking here and you were mostly correct. But also perpetuating another myth. Premium and race does not actually combust more slowly and often far more quickly. Octane rating is resistance to premature combustion only, once the spark is lit the combustion event generally has to be faster in higher rpm higher compression performance engines.

    • Avatar for Anthony Larsen
      August 31, 2015 #

      No, along with the increased resistance to precognition there is a slower burn rate. That rate is still several orders above the rate necessary in a high rpm engine.

    • Avatar for Anthony Larsen
      Guy Gordon
      September 26, 2015 #

      The act of combustion is uniform across all types of gasoline since they all share the same cetane rating (flashpoint). Now, octane is the measure of compression resistance. The higher the octane, the higher compression the fuel can withstand before combusting. The spark event, as you put it, is uniform across all types of gasoline whether we're talking race-grade 108 octane fuel or E85 in a Prius. Performance engines make their horsepower through higher compressions and/or a mix of high compression or forced induction (turbo, supercharger). The internal atmospheres inside performance engines often run at very high compressions or elevated pressures caused by boosting air/fuel flow. Thus, higher octane is required so that the fuel can be delivered to the combustion chamber and ignited at a precise moment for optimal power delivery. Commuter engines running a low compression, low efficiency engine don't need that type of combustion management. Their internal pressures aren't very high and lower octane doesn't cause a preignition. Still, the actual flashpoint of the cheaper fuel is the same as it is with premium and race grade fuel.

      Think of it like a jet making a sonic boom when it breaks the sound barrier. If it breaks the sound barrier over the ocean and you're some distance away, you might hear the boom or feel a small shockwave. Now, if a sonic boom is created in a closed tube under pressure, it will generate a massive, directed energy shockwave that could do tremendous damage if allowed to exit in a controlled fashion. This is how race engines work. They narrow the tolerances and control the ignition under high pressure to produce more power. Both events above are generated by the same forces. Like cetane values in gasoline, the speed of sound is a constant… but how that force is harnessed can produce variable results.

      • Avatar for Anthony Larsen
        October 4, 2015 #

        I just want to add that under some circumstances you may need higher octane fuel that was not originally specified if the engine is old engine and suffers pre-ignition from carbon deposits or in some newer engines that knock under high or quickly changing loads because of the manufacturer's calibration.

    • Avatar for Anthony Larsen
      September 29, 2015 #

      Until the government mandated the adulteration of gasoline with alcohol, this mileage thing was true. Adding 10% alcohol (or whatever happens to be mixed, there is no quality control) reduces mileage considerably. My 1990 Ford F150 with a 351 and automatic transmission gets 7mpg on "regular" gas containing alcohol, and 12.5mpg on "off road premium" without the alcohol. The adulterated "premium" containing alcohol gives me 7mpg.

  2. Avatar for Anthony Larsen
    June 26, 2015 #

    It is truly amazing to me that people who read these articles beleive the author word for word and do not bother to use their built in sense that we are all born with. If you want to test this theory yourself , put a rubber gasket in your freezer and let it freeze . Take it out and see if you can cause damage to it by simply bending it slightly. Take the same type of gasket and warm it in the direct sun for an hour. Bend this gasket and you will find it not only bends without cracking but can be stretched without any damage to the integrity of the product. I have been a aerospace toolmaker for 30 plus years and I can tell you for a fact that we do mot run any machines under load for a minimum of 15 minutes until all seals and gaskets are up to temp nevermind the metal forming parts nor the actual machine itself . Cars are machines and need to be brought to a warmer temperature to reduce devasting frictions and heat shock that occurs when suddenly put to full load.I f you truly do not care about your engine as another poster had mentioned, then by all means ,follow this advice. I have not acheived 200 to 300 hundred thousand miles on every car I have owned by listening to these "experts"

    • Avatar for Anthony Larsen
      October 28, 2015 #

      As soon as this author mentioned they were in LA I knew they had no idea what was meant by warming a car up.

  3. Avatar for Anthony Larsen
    Allan DeGroot
    July 20, 2015 #

    As a long time gun enthusiast the Hollywood myth of exploding gas tanks has been a long time
    issue with me that has caused a loss of "suspended disbelief" (a phenomena that is required to enjoy televised fiction).
    to the point where I have literally put fresh gas into the tank of a vehicle we were going to scrap
    (I also owned a tow truck) and invite friends to shoot it up on a holiday weekend.. it's cheap amusement because shooting a junker full of holes does not harm the scrap value of the junker…

    We used conventional ammunition (no effect except holes), tracer ammo (rarely starts fires)
    and some WW2 surplus "Incendary ammo (Less than perfectly effective even though it is specifically intended to start fires)

    What was very effective on a 1970's full size GM car (a 1973 Oldsmobile 98) was shooting through the bumper into the gas tank with armor piercing ammunition. this generates a spray of glowing fragments that create multiple punctures in the tank… some letting AIR in as well as fuel out… REMEMBER any fuel requires oxygen from air to burn…. and fuel tanks are generally full of fumes that reduce or eliminate the air (and thus oxygen) required for combustion

  4. Avatar for Anthony Larsen
    August 10, 2015 #

    Starting a cold engine and putting it under load is obviously stupid. For instance, the rod bearings and crankshaft journals will have a slight bit more clearance and this has a negative effect on the rotating parts. Once it is warmed up, it is a tighter clearance and loses its tendency to "knock"

  5. Avatar for Anthony Larsen
    August 24, 2015 #

    I can document better fuel milage burning primium non ethenol gas in my 2000 F350, at least 20 miles per tank

    • Avatar for Anthony Larsen
      August 31, 2015 #

      Non ethanol is the reason

  6. Avatar for Anthony Larsen
    September 14, 2015 #

    The whole flashing your lights myth is actually true. In Miami anyways. This was a definite way for initiation I knew two kids I went to school with that died by something like this. You shouldn't shrug this one off.

  7. Avatar for Anthony Larsen
    September 27, 2015 #

    Was saast.

  8. Avatar for Anthony Larsen
    October 3, 2015 #

    Sorry but it I true that sugar can destroy an engine , point in fact , years ago someone was going around stealing gas from my father's truck , they went to the expense of fabricating a double tank one saturated with sugar the other normal , what do you know ? the business next door had to get the engines replaced on several trucks within a month ……when it became known he could put a full gas can overnight no on ever touched it . , it was in the days when they were making real car …..

    • Avatar for Anthony Larsen
      roy bass
      October 24, 2015 #

      From my experience sugar does not desolve in gasoline & the fuel filter catches every granular, thus a new filter & removing the gas tank for a good cleaning resolves the problem. I did the work myself. If your car had no fuel filter of course there would be damage. Roy

  9. Avatar for Anthony Larsen
    October 10, 2015 #

    You didn't bust any myths. You confirmed that they are myths. Busting them would show that they are not myths.

  10. Avatar for Anthony Larsen
    November 16, 2015 #

    If you want credibility, don't reference Snopes

    • Avatar for Anthony Larsen
      April 21, 2016 #

      …especially on political topics.

  11. Avatar for Anthony Larsen
    November 23, 2015 #

    Warming you engine on cold days is good for the vehichle, not because of aor and fuel mixture but oil thickness and bare metal. The oil is very thick and needs to warm up to lubricate the engine. Synthetic and semi synthetic are better for the vehichle in the cold because they do not gel as bad and thin out to lube the engine quicker.

  12. Avatar for Anthony Larsen
    December 2, 2015 #

    No offense here but dead wrong on the prewarm thing. Auto overdrive trannies have sensors that hold it down in drive until warmed up therefore I travel 3 miles longer at 65 via higher rpm's in winter verses summer. Also all we need to do is give crazy's more ideas ref headlights….. bad form

  13. Avatar for Anthony Larsen
    April 29, 2016 #

    The red car is a 1968 Pontiac Firebird. You know this because the parking light is outboard. Where as the 1967's are inboard. And of course the 1969 had a new body design.

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