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

Car seat myths abound, too. Get the facts.
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493 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)

      • Steve Bailey
        February 25, 2015 #

        In Northern Wisconsin we run our cars for a few minutes so they are nice and toasty inside when we get in. Common sense…

    • l122333444
      February 22, 2015 #

      The Myth of Warming Up Your Car
      BY ANTRANIK – FEBRUARY 11, 2011
      Lets get something straight. Car engines DON’T benefit at all from being warmed up before driving. You’re actually hurting your engine and polluting the environment the most by letting your cold engine idle.
      The best thing to do is to turn the engine on, wait about 10-30 seconds (put your seat belt and music on) and start driving it lightly. That way you are warming up the engine to it’s optimal temperature as fast as possible.

      You see guys, the car engine is just a MACHINE and this MACHINE operates most efficiently when it’s running at a certain temperature range. The faster the engine reaches that temperature, the better. Until the car is warmed up, the engine is wearing out much faster than normal because the engine oil provides the best protection against friction between all the moving metal parts when it’s it’s completely warmed up. Until it reaches that state, the engine is wearing out much faster than normal. Turning the engine on and immediately driving lightly warms the car up much faster than idling.

    • Kurt S.
      March 31, 2015 #

      Also, the oil settles in the bottom of the oil pan when the engine is off. It takes a few seconds to work its way around the engine when you first start it up. This is true even in warmer weather. I'm not buying the multi viscosity theory either.

  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

      • rfxcasey
        February 19, 2015 #

        Letting your car warm up allows all the seal, gaskets and metal expansion to happen more slowly and putting less stress on them and helping to prevent drying out and cracking of seals or warpage and metal fatigue. Some cylinders actually start out as more of any ellipse and then round out as they warm up to accommodate expansion.

    • Eric C Taylor
      February 9, 2015 #

      Gary, turning on the windshield defroster on a cold window after your engine is hot will certainly crack your windshield. Ask anyone who lives in Wyoming, Montana, Dakotas, Kansas and North Texas…

      • Robert Hutchinson
        February 14, 2015 #

        Eric, I'm guessing that you don't live in any of those states….or in Wisconsin either; here, we leave the heater on when we shut the car off so that, when we auto-start it, it warm the interior AS the engine warms up!!!

  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.

    • Dustin
      January 31, 2015 #

      As has been explained before, modern oil, while multi viscosity, flows, lubricates, and "sticks" to metal very slowly when it is cold. Synthetic oil does a much better job of flowing and lubricating at low start up temperatures than conventional oil. If you go to some of the more popular oil forums online you can find very good tutorials on the science and physics behind modern oils and why it is a good idea to let your oil warm up before putting the engine under load. Unfortunately most car manufacturers have removed oil pressure and oil temperature readings from most vehicles besides sports cars and trucks but letting your car warm up for 5 minutes before driving will definitely reduce piston ring wear, not to mention transmission wear from cold transmission fluid. And remember, just because your coolant is to temp doesn't mean your oil is, I've seen 180* coolant in my Corvette with 50* oil temps, I generally shoot for 100* oil before driving.

  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.

  11. riplar65
    January 27, 2015 #

    oh please……the absolutely only reason we idle the truck in the winter is to warm up the inside. I couldnt give a wit about the motor; my butt does not sit in a cold car! LOL

  12. Gene
    February 7, 2015 #

    Gotta disagree with the premium gas. You have to do the math on your car. My 99 suburban was much cheaper to run on premium. I got enough better mileage that it more than offset the price of the premium. Bottom line cheaper per mile to run on premium. My newer one it snot true. My advice run a couple of tanks of premium see if it's cheaper or not

  13. Stapley
    February 16, 2015 #

    I feel like i have to warm up my 05 Jeep CRD Diesel in the Salt lake winter when theres no where to plug in and its below freezing because it will shutter to a stop if i don't, also my also i had to have the turbo re built and they suggested letting it warm up. so it seems more circumstantial on that one.

  14. rick ambrose
    February 18, 2015 #

    With older cars especially – warm up is the better option regardless of temperature. It gives the fluids and lubricants time to heat and do the job they are intended for – not just the engine, but the transmission, linkage, driveshaft and differential. In colder temperatures, greases that are old have already hardened – and a little warm up at idle certainly helps.

  15. corky
    February 25, 2015 #

    Ok, we have talked about engines and automatic transmissions.What about differentials, manual trnsmissions …..It is important to drive slow for awhile when it is -40 below zero. Argue this one!

  16. Augie
    March 12, 2015 #

    To warm up my car engine, I keep in California and drive rentals out of the area. All modern cars will run on regular gasoline. The computer will adjust the fuel and ignition. Premium is recommended for best performance. Pre 1995 cars that require premium had labels that said "premium fuel only".

  17. Richard
    March 27, 2015 #

    My 13 speed behind my 625 caterpillar won't shift cold. Won't pull at 100%. Has to be warmed up.

  18. Jerome
    May 14, 2015 #

    Hot or cold outside, give your engine a chance to move all the oil around inside the engine and a chance to adjust and stabilize the air/fuel mixture and idle speed. In summer months, 10 seconds should be enough. In winter months, 30 seconds should be enough. In all months, drive it easy for the first couple minutes or miles.

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