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.

Related links

Car seat myths abound, too. Get the facts.
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439 Responses to “5 Car Myths Busted”

  1. Dan
    May 1, 2013 #

    I am warming my car so that its warm when I get inside. If I start up the car and then immediately start driving the heater takes a good deal of time to heat up the car (and yes my car is not old). Its for my comfort, not so the car runs better.

    • jason
      June 23, 2013 #

      Actually it takes longer for your to warm up sitting still then it does while you are driving it so your theory is bustd my friend. That goes for all cars also.

      • Rashan
        June 26, 2013 #

        I've tried starting my car (in different cars on multiple occasions), in New York, in the dead of winter and just pulling off. The car has stalled, shut off, and in some cases nothing happens. In my experience cars should be warmed up under certain weather conditions. Jeff, there is nothing wrong with your car. Every car that that had happened to me in has been 2000 or better. From a Mercedes CLK to a Dodge Charger that I've owned.

      • john
        July 1, 2013 #

        Not if I am sitting in the warm house while its warming up

      • Mashman
        July 9, 2013 #

        That is incorrect.

        In either case, standing still, or moving, the thermostat on the car will be restricting flow through the radiator until the engine reaches the temperature that causes the thermostat to open. So it's really a matter of how hard the engine is running, so it's basically a function of RPM's. Additionaly, since a car in motion will have fresh air flowing through the engine bay, cooling the engine a bit, a car standing still, will most likely reach operating temperature slightly faster than the same car moving at the same RPM.

      • Jeff
        July 12, 2013 #

        But Jason, you are missing Dan's point. It is about staying warm. While a car DOES warm up quicker when moving, the driver is still in there shivering. So while Dan and I do the automatic start from inside the warm house, others can drive while the car warms up while they shiver.

      • WS6Chef
        September 9, 2013 #

        Engines reach operating temperature faster when the vehicle is NOT moving. Common sense will tell you that. Allowing your engine to warm up has many benefits such as: allowing engine oil to heat up to properly lubricate the rotating assembly (really only necessary in colder climates), allowing emission equipment to heat up so it will function properly-this is very important for rear O2 sensors because they don't send the ECM info until the A.I.R. Pump disengages, allows for fluid pressure levels to reach optimal performance, and allows the ECM to make adjustments for the climate. The best way to know when your car is "warmed up", is to watch or listen to the drop in RPMs at idle………typically less than a minute in mild climates. Driving a car before its warmed up is just foolish. People can say that driving a car warms up faster until they are blue in the face, and they will always be wrong. Allowing a car to warm up is especially important for older carbureted engines so the floats will work properly and not stick. Jason is talking from a purely uneducated standpoint. Perhaps he's thinking about coolant temperature, in which case, he's incorrect as well. A moving vehicle (30 MPH and above) will ALWAYS run cooler than an idle vehicle. A moving vehicle will take longer to warm up because of increased air circulation in the engine bay. This is especially true in older vehicle and vehicles with fans that run off of a belt. Believing that an engine will warm up faster in a moving vehicle faster than a stationary vehicle is just ignorance. It's scary to think that a reply like that was even allowed to be posted.

    • Don Pastor
      July 12, 2013 #

      Dan,

      Good idea. Also, when started in very cold conditions, the oil is very thick and needs a while to warm and thin in viscosity in order to be distributed as designed. Not doing so can cause a catastrophic condition known as broken pistons & rods. Better safe than walking to work.

    • chris cap
      July 13, 2013 #

      Actually you are dead wrong that putting sugar in a gas tank will not harm the car. .. It I MOST CERTAINLY WILL… Starting at the fuel pump itself and all the way to the injectors. Sugar will blow a motor up

      • LordBono
        July 16, 2013 #

        Not so sure about the "blowing up" part, but the sugar-in-gas-tank trick can definitely muck up fuel pump, injectors or carburetors.

  2. Jeff
    May 1, 2013 #

    I moved to MN and just had my first harsh winter here. I came out of work in sub zero weather one day, started the car, threw it into reverse, and it went completely dead. Warmed it for 5 minutes and it was ok. It did it again a couple of days later when I forgot to warm it. If I only warm it for a minute or so, it runs very rough in sub zero. Warming for 4-5 minutes seems to work. It's fuel injected, but old…96 Taurus. Maybe the age of the car has something to do with it? Or the ultra-cold temps?

    • Mike
      May 14, 2013 #

      Jeff,

      Your car should not stall like this, even if its sub zero. It wont harm it not to fix it, but I just wanted to let you know there is something wrong.

      • jr23
        May 21, 2013 #

        you might have some moisture in the fuel common problem in the cold

      • Eric
        July 4, 2013 #

        Mike i also live in MN and it gets so cold here cars wont even start. You have no clue what you are talking about. I'm a mechanic here and it is wise to let your car idle in winter for a minimum for 30 seconds just to let the oil to start moving.It is like tar when it is frozen. So yes if you take off right away after starting you can stall out your car or even damage the engine from poor lubrication.

      • Barbara
        July 14, 2013 #

        Maybe a little condensation problem is the culprit.

    • DubStak
      June 14, 2013 #

      The cold temps make the oil thicker. That makes it difficult to pump thru the motor. As it warms up, it pumps smoother and run smoother. But you may have a dirty intake or air filter causing the motor to not get enough air to mix with the fuel

      • canuck
        June 22, 2013 #

        Dubstak is right. I grew up in Manitoba, and everyone there understands about oil viscosity and how it effects your car's abilty to perform in cold weather (we are talking 10 to -40 below)

      • rob
        July 4, 2013 #

        Dub, that's the main reason I warm my car here in the Connecticut winter. I've blown an oil seal and its not fun. Cold, thick oil being forced through a cold engine puts a lot of pressure on those cold, brittle rubber oil seals.

    • Ratt
      July 12, 2013 #

      Don't listen to them Jeff, in the mornings your oil is like syrup, you need to warm your car up before you take off, besides, shoving cold air into a cold engine you just started is asking for trouble.

  3. Phil
    May 1, 2013 #

    I live in one of those cold climates…
    The only reason I (and everyone I know) warm up the car in the winter is so I have a warmer car to get into before I start driving…

    • Drew Williams
      June 3, 2013 #

      That's why I do

  4. Mitch
    May 4, 2013 #

    You warm up your cars engine before driving to circulate the motor oil throughout the engine. This prevents excessive wear on moving parts as it takes some time to fully lu ricate all of the lifters, rocker arms, camshaft, etc. Oil in cold weather can be much thicker depending on the weight of the oil. Metal on metal is not a good thing.

    Premium gas (93) actually has less energy than lower octane gas (87). The octane rating is the ability to avoid predetonation caused by heat, friction, or engine compression. The higher compression in high performance engines is able to make use of the lower energy high octane fuel by compressing it more before the fuel is detonated.

    • Dave
      May 13, 2013 #

      But a car idling has poor oil circulation. If you start a car and let it idle, you're actually causing more engine damage, not less as it takes longer for the oil to fully circulate. You would need to hold the rpms up slightly to safely do what you're claiming.

      • Auto Engineer
        June 19, 2013 #

        Mitch is absolutely correct. The oil pump is a mechanical linkage actuated by a revolution of the engine. It moves oil from the sump to the top, where it returns to the sump by gravity, so the distribution of oil can't work faster than gravity can act. One actuation at low RPM will move the same volume of oil as one actuation at high RPM. So initially running the engine at high RPM will only result in a higher number of under-lubricated revolutions (and higher engine wear) than running a while longer at lower RPM to deliver the same volume of oil. Also, fluid viscosity improves with increased temp, so low temp increases stress on mechanical systems like oil pumps and bearing surfaces. It's just better (mainly in sub-freezing zones) to "warm up" at low RPM (or use an engine block heater overnight)…

      • Larry
        June 21, 2013 #

        Dave, my experience is contrary to what you say. I bought my 2002 Tundra in 2007 and every year when the weather turns cold my engine has loud clicking sounds if I don't let the oil heat up and circulate. It sounds like valves but it gets worse every winter. At first it had to be in the twenties and only did it when I started moving. Every year it does it at warmer temps and now it not only does it in the 40's it also will do it every time I put it in gear and does it some just by cranking it. I figure some day I'll find out what it is when I have to shell out a ton of money to fix it.

  5. Eric schultz
    May 7, 2013 #

    Not warming a car can be damaging if too much pressure is put on parts that are meant to be malleable. Certain parts need to be heated so they're able to expand and take the pressure of driving.

  6. David
    May 8, 2013 #

    You are wrong about not having to let your car warm up. The t.c.s. sences your engineering coolant and in return provides the correct data to adjust fuel mixture. When car starts, it reads it automaticly as -40. But as the engine coolant warms, then the sensor reads it and properly adjust the fuel mix, maximizing gas mileage.

  7. Gene
    May 8, 2013 #

    Warming your engine is not just about carburation. Warming the engine allows the fluids (oil mostly) to become more viscous so that they lubricate better. Better lubrication means less wear on moving engine parts. If you drive with an extremely cold engine the stress of driving is more than just when it is idling….so it makes sense to me to warm the engine in very cold climates. Maybe I have bought into this "myth" but it makes logical sense to me, having seen what cold does to motor oil. Peace out.

    • Gene
      May 8, 2013 #

      meant to say warming the engine makes the oil "less" viscous…meaning that it flows more readily. Sorry.

  8. nikhil
    May 8, 2013 #

    In places like Alaska where the temperatures drop below zero you have to idle your car for about 5 mins to thaw out the valves otherwise if you get moving they crack and your fluids spill out. It happened to my power steering and happened to a friends vechicle.

  9. rob
    May 8, 2013 #

    I also let mine warm up to defrost my windshield or in winter as if it dies it may not restart if its really cold

  10. Mike
    May 14, 2013 #

    Most owners manuals I have read in the past 10 years say that warming of the engine is not needed. Even in sub zero temps, they recommend only about a minute of idle time. They design the cars with climates in mind. Even the engine block heater and oil pan heater are becoming an option of the past.

    With all that in mind, it is important to remember this is with the manufacturers recommended fluids and fuels. If you bought some cheap straight 30 weight lawn mower oil when your car requires a 0w-50 Synthetic you are asking for trouble.

    Read your owners manuals. Notice none of them say "Don't warm your car up"

    We warm our cars for our comfort. I live in Northern Minnesota, Remote Starters are a gift from above!

    • Michelle
      May 31, 2013 #

      You are not correct. I have a 2006 Scion xB and when I bought my car new I was surprised that in bold my owners manual explicitly states not to leave the car idling to warm it up. (it does however have a light for when the engine is cold and it says to drive more slowly and not gun it until it does warm up — especially because tires person better when warm)

      • M S
        June 17, 2013 #

        How is he wrong, according to you, if you are agreeing with him?

      • Adam
        June 23, 2013 #

        Michelle is saying his comment that "Notice none of then say 'Don't warm your car up' " is incorrect. She said that her owners manual actually said not to warm up her Scion.

  11. Mike
    May 14, 2013 #

    Esurance – Here is a Myth you should bust.

    It is better to leave your car running if you stop for a few min, because starting it takes more fuel than idling.
    This is false

    • LennyK
      June 13, 2013 #

      I recall reading something like, starting your engine is approximately equivalent to 1 minute of idling time.

  12. Marvin
    May 15, 2013 #

    I have a brand new FJ Cruiser, live in NJ. I prefer to warm up the engine, and disagree with the author. If I pull right out, the car bucks when shifting between drive and reverse. I don't like this and it doesn't happen when warmed up a bit. Just in general, the engine is rough if not warmed u. I do believe it helps.

    • Mike
      June 6, 2013 #

      My ex girlfriend put sugar in my gas tank and it most def seized my engine.

      • Eddie Allen
        July 10, 2013 #

        Impossible. Sugar sinks to the bottom of the tank and doesn't dissolve.

      • Eddie you fool
        July 26, 2013 #

        Eddie you are afool, sugar that gets into the intake valve, even just a small amount, causes damage to the engine.

        Sugar, a carbon based material is NOT disolvable in an oil or alcohol base, such is the case with refined gasoline or ethanol fuels.

        Sugar, in its natural crystaline state will muck up the engine, scratch the insides of the pistons and valves, and completely render an engine useless.

        Bleach is another common deathtrap, putting gasoline mixed with bleach in an engine, it acts like a cleanser and will strip the gas apart at a molecular level to create a much more volitile chemical which WILL blow your engine apart. Mixing gas and bleach creates a nitrogen based gas that is MUCH more explosive than gasoline and will rip the engine apart.

  13. Jason
    May 16, 2013 #

    #3 is incorrect. "Premium gas has a high octane level, which means it requires more pressure from the engine to do its job." No, premium gas runs JUST FINE in lower compression engines WITH a spark plug (and that's all gas engines). Premium gas is more resistant to detonation without spark — meaning it can endure greater compression, and thus more energy can be efficiently extracted. Some cars actually will have a smaller total gas bill when using premium, ones that can auto adjust spark timing, and particularly turbo engines.

    Also #2 is not entirely true for high performance cars that need the oil to be hot for complete operation. For instance some M cars from BMW are rpm limited until warmed up, else damage would occur.

    @ Mike who said: "Read your owners manuals. Notice none of them say 'Don't warm your car up'"

    Actually, I have seen that in an Owner's Manual! It's reasoning was to start the car and begin driving it immediately, in order to get it to operating temps for best reduced smog output.

    • Tom
      June 20, 2013 #

      You are absolutely correct in that premium fuel is more knock resistant. An engine becomes more efficient as the spark timing is advanced. With premium fuel and automatic spark advance based on knock sensing, an engine will advance the spark more with premium than with regular. Thus you will get better gas mileage. It is a little bit tricky trying to determine if your overall cost is less. You have to keep good records of fuel costs and mileage to determine this.

      Manufacturers began using knock sensors to adjust spark advance in the 1970s. I believe all or almost all engines today use some sort of sophisticated system to advance the spark.

  14. Simply Six
    May 19, 2013 #

    The reason you warm your car is to improve oil circulation. When your car sits over night the majority oil drains to and collects in the oil pan at the bottom of the engine (gravity). When you start your car there is less oil actually lubricating the moving parts and so reving or driving the car will cause that slight amount of extra wear and tear. Let it warm at the lowest rpm level (idle) to get all moving parts well lubricated before moving them faster (revving) past each other and the oil does its job better by protecting these parts and reducing wear and tear.

  15. Azle Hill Beckner
    May 23, 2013 #

    Gasoline is delivered into a single tank under the pumps from a single tank truck. There is no real difference among the gasoline grades. Buy the cheapest.

    • Armed Texan
      June 2, 2013 #

      Most. Uninformed. Comment. Ever.

    • Ryan
      June 3, 2013 #

      Wow, I won't waste my time with the single tank part, but my car knocks if I put anything but 93 in it. I can't leave the light without knocking with 87. ( Lincoln ls v8)

      • verlene
        June 16, 2013 #

        try sea foam in you gas its amazing stuff ypu can get it at walmart or you local auto parts store ( 9-12 dallors )

    • Joe
      June 16, 2013 #

      Comments like this is where myths begin. There is definitely a difference in the grades of gas. Just because you saw one truck doesn't mean it was filing only one type of gas (or that another truck isn't used to full the other. jumping to conclusions is the fastest way to ensure you have no idea what you're talking about

      • Doug Miller
        June 18, 2013 #

        LOOK at the tank behind the tanker truck. See all those round thinks looking at you? Those are hose connections. Those are where the different grades of gasoline come out from the tank – it has separate tank sections (separate tanks) inside the outer shell of the tank assembly that you see. If you really want to get nervous, that tank could be haling just about anything – If you know how to read the Placard cards (diamond shaped) letters & numbers, you would know exactly what that one load is carrying – could be just about anything that isn't cross contamination sensitive : probably not milk, drinking water, beer, etc because it would cost too muck to get that inner tank really, really clean. Do you begin to get the picture? Smile , they may be taking your picture, if you are a terrorist…..

    • Phil
      June 18, 2013 #

      Gasoline is NOT delivered in a "single tank truck." It may look like a single tank truck, but they are usually divided into compartments inside the tank. Just because that's all you can see from the outside doesn't mean you should be making comments like this – that is exactly how silly myths start in the first place.

    • tom
      June 25, 2013 #

      Absurd!! Octanes differ and unbranded (cheap) gas doesn't have the 2 cent/gallon buffering agent to neutralize sulfuric acid which eats up engine metal. Sulfuric acid formation in oil is also why it needs changed. Fractional distillation can't get all the sulfur out of the gas or the oil. One thing I do after changing oil is pull the coil wire and turn the engine over until oil pressure shows to eliminate per oil pressure rattle and the consequent wear from it.

  16. MiknJoy
    May 29, 2013 #

    I don't agree with the author on not warming a fuel injected vehicle in winter. I have a '98 Explorer with a 4.0 EFI engine and 5 sp. auto overdrive transmission. We get mornings where I live in winter where it can be -35 standard air temp (not including wind chill) and when I start my truck, I always crack a window, drop both visors and put my defrost on full hot and max blow. Then I go inside and enjoy my coffee for at least 10 minutes. I look out, see all the frost has cleared my window, I know the inside is warming up good and I know my oils are flowing smoothly – HOWEVER – even so, the transmission fluid is still VERY cold and even though the engine is warm and the cab, I still go easy on driving to allow the tranny fluid to get up to temp. For any manufacturer to tell me "Don't bother warming your vehicle" is just a scam so that you will cause premature wear and tear on your mechanical systems requiring VERY EXPENSIVE maintenance. I've had this SUV now for 15 years and have done this since new. I now have 120,000 miles on it and with regular oil changes, transmission fluids changed, radiator flush, etc….Everything on my truck purrs just like it always has. *Sidenote: On the 'cracking the window thing,' why?, might you ask…If you turn your blower fan on high with the windows up tight, you will notice the fan is working against pressure and the air doesn't flow as easily as it could. Once you crack your window to allow the pressure to release, you'll hear your blower fan increase significantly in rpm and your air circulation increases dramatically, thus increasing the power of the airflow to warm the vehicle more effectively and efficiently…FYI. Try it. And the visors down, cause the defrost air from above the dashboard to 'roll' on the front window, vs. just blowing to the back along the roof.

    On the gang initiation thing…if I see anyone without lights on or coming at me with high beams, you BET I'm going to flash them. And if they don't respond, I will simply pull back and hold my brights, which activate BOTH my high and low beams. And if someone wants to turn around and get on my butt – I have a conceal-carry Glock .9mm which I am legally, lawfully allowed to use to Stand my Ground. If some jerk wants to come threaten me, they will have a final surprise.

    • DOJORODA
      June 4, 2013 #

      I like that you've just told the entire world you carry concealed. Do you also wear an NRA cap, and sport a GLOCK T-shirt when you go into the public eye? Also, Glocks are nice firearms, but really, a 9mm?

    • Blue
      July 10, 2013 #

      Mine is a 45 Ruger….if you live in Omaha, Neb….this is no myth….

  17. Koazter
    May 30, 2013 #

    Would I get better gas mileage if i used pure 93 premium gas instead of regular 87 gas that had 10% ethanol in it? And what if they change to 15% ethanol? Will it still be better to get regular with 15% ethanol or premium with NO ethanol??

  18. Armed Texan
    June 2, 2013 #

    I have documented mileage in my 2005 Accord for over 100,000 miles and I can say with absolute confidence that my car gets about 9% to 12% better mileage running on premium gas. This offsets the cost, plus the car runs noticeably better, and premium gas has a better detergent package which keeps the fuel system and valves cleaner.

  19. DOJORODA
    June 4, 2013 #

    You can blow up a car by shooting at it. You can also blow up a car by slamming into a tree. I warm up my car so that the windows remain clear as I drive. A warm person entering a cold vehicle will result in your exhaled breath fogging the windows. It's really not complicated, and why did I even read these stupid myths?

  20. Jim
    June 11, 2013 #

    I warm up a car until the defroster does enough that I can see.

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