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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478 Responses to “5 Car Myths Busted”

  1. Jesse James Reinke
    December 30, 2014 #

    And it takes more gas to idle for 10 seconds than to restart your car.

  2. Shaw
    January 14, 2015 #

    The reason to let a modern car engine warmup in cold weather is to allow the oil a chance to thin out and do its job of lubricating the engine parts.

    • Carl Hayse
      January 15, 2015 #

      Multi viscosity oil took care of this and unless the car has been sitting for an extended period of time the engine will still be lubricated from the last time it ran…

      • Dean Robb
        January 16, 2015 #

        Not true multi viscosity helps but if it's -40 good luck with that, not only that but transmission oil isn't multi weight. Numerous studies have shown that the vast majority of wear and tear on the typical personal gas engine happens in the first few minutes as the engine warms up, requiring the engine to work harder increases the wear.

        Which leads to another myth that diesels are longer living which comes from the fact that most diesels in the USA are in trucks which once started typically drive hundreds-thousands of miles never cooling off. (cold engine where most of the wear is)

  3. Gary
    January 16, 2015 #

    Warming up a car is more than just warming up the engine. You need to de-ice the car and warm the interior up. You can't defrost a windshield until the car is warm.

    • Chuck
      January 18, 2015 #

      All of the above is true. However your engine and transmission will warm up to its peek efficiency quicker under load conditions, thereby causing less wear. just do not over rev during this time

  4. Craig
    January 16, 2015 #

    Oh, and one other reason to warm your vehicle to some extent. Your transmission also has fluid in it. This fluid helps operate valves, those valves don't work well cold.

    • Richard
      January 18, 2015 #

      I can agree with that one Craig.I do live in New England and the winters are long, cold and nasty. My new Camry likes to hang in first gear until it's warmed up then shifts super smooth. Myth or not I hit the remote start every morning until the heat is coming out hot.

  5. Dan
    January 20, 2015 #

    I'm 50 years old. I have lived in NY state for almost all of my life….and have owned a lot of cars in my lifetime. When I was young, I learned that it was bad to idle a car when it was cold. Also, my parents didn't idle the family cars either. Neither did my grandparents. Nobody in my family ever had any mechanical trouble with their cars because of driving them when they were cold. Also, I had a Dodge diesel truck and now own a Ford F350. Both manufacturer do not require running the diesels in those trucks when they are cold…nor do they require it. Really, its a waste all the way around to do this. You are burning fuel without going any where. The alternator, fuel pump, water pump and other parts are getting "miles" put on them,but yet, the car isn't going anywhere. Finally, I have a friend that idles his car for ten minutes, the time it takes it to get warm. By that time, I have gotten 3 miles crown the road on my daily commute when the heater starts to put out heat. I work 260 week days a year multiplied by 6 miles each way equals 1560miles a year of distance that I'm not wasting. In 30years, that's more than45,000 miles. I wonder howmuchgas that is?

  6. Eddie Hall
    January 20, 2015 #

    A friend had a Ducati motorcycle ($$,$$$) with a little glass port atop the rear cylinder. It was to view and see if oil was being properly distributed to the valve train after start. The oil did not flow immediately in any quantity to the top end. He had to let the engine warm up a bit first. Then he could proceed. cars are no different. Cold oil flows more slowly than hot oil, multi-viscosity or not. Some of the super thin modern oils help with this. But, Until the cold light goes out, I take it easy.

  7. Gene Jordan
    January 20, 2015 #

    Mechanics love articles like this. They create more business. Different parts in an engine are made of different alloys, different materials. They don't all heat up at the same rate. Heating up a cold engine too fast can result in gasket failures. Head gaskets, intake manifold gaskets, etc. In the mid 1990s, some auto manufacturers started using plastic intake manifolds. They are notorious for cracking during fast warmups. I work in a natural gas processing facility. We have a row of large compressors that are powered by large gas engines (locomotive sized power plants). Our mechanics, run them for an hour or longer before "loading them up". This new advice of skipping the warm-up is for environmental concerns, reducing pollution, etc.

  8. cecil simpson
    January 21, 2015 #

    The only real reason people let thier cars warm up…..is to get it warm inside before driving…..Letting it warm up for "engine" reasons has nothing to do with warming up a car.

  9. Randall Whitted
    January 23, 2015 #

    Gene Jordan, you are spot on. And if you have to drive your car without a bit of a warm-up, at least take it very easy and keep revs low until the thermostat opens and the gauge shows normal operating temps.

  10. Greg
    January 24, 2015 #

    The biggest myth is urban myths. This one, if believed, will result in damage to a lot of engines. Even jet engines with few moving parts need to warm up before much power is added, and that has to do with oil temperature for best lubrication and metal expansion and seal fits as Gene has advised. Piston engines just have so many more moving parts. Moving a car before its transmission oil has warmed a little is hard on seals and does not flow as freely through fluid ports when it has higher viscosity. Cold oil also operates at higher pressure as it takes more power to pump it when it is higher viscosity. Not overloading your engine in the first few minutes allows all parts to warm up equally and helps to avoid metal stresses and wear due to reduction in thermal differential within and between moving and static parts. Treat machinery with respect and it will return the favour and respect your finances by having lower maintenance and repair costs.

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