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

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450 Responses to “5 Car Myths Busted”

  1. LennyK
    June 13, 2013 #

    Is it possible to blow up a car by warming it up too much?

    • JoeyH
      June 28, 2013 #

      Brilliant!

  2. Leo
    June 13, 2013 #

    1. My Chevrolet Silverado owners manual says "use premium unleaded gasoline with a posted octane
    rating of 91 or higher. You can also use regular unleaded gasoline rated at 87 octane or higher, but the vehicle’s acceleration could be slightly reduced…". So therefore, one could infer that octane does make more power, My 6.0 gas engine runs fine on 87 octane, but if I am towing a heavy load I will fill up with 93 octane.

    2. A Chevrolet service manager told me that most of GM's engines are designed to run better on 87 octane. The engine control module relies on a knock sensor to adjust the spark timing. If you run high octane gas in these engines the knock sensor does not detect knock and therefore does not adjust spark timing properly to maximize engine power.

    • Dees_Nutz
      August 15, 2013 #

      Just an FYI, when your engine detects knock, it retards the ignition timing which in almost all cases, will reduce power. I say most cases, because if you over advance spark timing on an engine, you can lose power then also. Of course, in your case, there was hundreds upon hundreds of hours worth of ECU tuning that went into the creation of the tuning maps for your truck, so this would not be the case. You must have the higher output LQ9 6.0L engine as I don't think the lower output LQ6 recommended high octane fuel.

      • Dees_Nutz
        August 15, 2013 #

        Er, I mean LQ4, not LQ6.

  3. Dash
    June 14, 2013 #

    In regards to the headlight flashing and gangs. In the early 1990's an event where a lady did just that. However it was not an initiation. During the trial, the reasoning was the gang members thought she "diss"ed them. So they had turned around and chased her until she pulled into a well-lit shopping center and stopped. They just shot at the car, but killed her just the same.

  4. James Hatcher
    June 15, 2013 #

    The Gang initiation "myth" isn't a myth at ALL. I was living in Dallas, Tx when the California affiliates who ran the Texas gang chapters came down. They called in to K104 radio station and told everyone what was gonna be happening with the lights. Some folks ignored a few got shot. It might have been a myth where you are from….

    • Blue
      July 10, 2013 #

      Jim, They sit in an office….safe in their little perfect world….lol…The headlight danger is real….they tried it in Omaha…..let's just say they do not teach physics in the schools. An F 350, dually, with an old cowboy and a 45….is larger than 4this of them in a Honda Accord…lol

  5. Martha
    June 15, 2013 #

    When I purchased my '11 Nissan Frontier, I switched over to regular gas, after dismal ethanol mpg. It's worth it, bc NOW I get 20-25mpg city, and 28-30mpg highway. I am keeping THIS pickup for sure!!!

  6. Sig Retterer
    June 15, 2013 #

    Always let your car warm up when it's below zero deg F outside. Motor oil turns into honey, and it's real hard on an engine when you then put load on it.

    Regarding premium fuel, if that is the only one without ethanol, that is the one to buy. Ethanol plays havoc on fuel systems!

  7. Calven
    June 16, 2013 #

    This article is INCORRECT on three of the five points it makes.

    1) Although red cars are NOT more to insure, the color red was found to be the most likely color to be in a car accident.
    2) You don't warm your car engine for the carburetor, you warm it so that the metal doesn't shock-crack from the cold to hot change when you start up the car–duuuuh.ALWAYS gently warm your car engine up in the cold mornings.
    3) Shooting a gas tank can, does and has caused explosions–regardless if they couldn't get it done in their little tests. The possiblity of a spark isn't always there, but it's often there and can create just what is necessary to initiate an explosion.

    • Doug Miller
      June 18, 2013 #

      For the gasoline to burn / explode, it has to VAPORIZE , get into vapor form, the liquid does NOT burn, the vapor coming from the surface of the liquid is what is burning, and with enough surface area, lots of vapor, that has lots of oxygen attached to the surface – it will rapidly burn – EXPLODE …

  8. Vtwin
    June 17, 2013 #

    Putting sugar in the gas tank WILL cause the engine to seize up. This happened to a customer of mine after he broke up with his girlfriend and he had to wait 6 months for RevTech to send us new casings, cylinders and pistons.

  9. Linda Fortune
    June 19, 2013 #

    I just thought about having recently learned that Snopes was not the honest resource that we've all been told it is. So much for myth busting by Snopes…

    • Rick Sturm
      July 17, 2013 #

      Snopes might get something wrong occasionally but I can't remember anything they answered incorrectly. If they are ever wrong I would expect them to make the correction to their answer. I believe the republicans are spreading that rumor because Snopes has said that most of the republican rumors are fiction. They claim no political agenda and the proof is in the fact that a small number of democratic rumors are also fiction.

  10. Dmitriy
    June 19, 2013 #

    Shooting a gas tank shouldn't make a car explode. The Gas will need to get heated up first where it will have vapors. When these vapors are than under high pressure (such as inside a gas tank) than they will explode when exposed to fire, etc.

    Warming a car up or not really doesn't matter. What matters is how you drive on a cold engine. If you are keeping rpm's relatively low/normal than it is fine. Gunning a car however can and will cause some damage/wear and tear of the engine as pistons, cylinders, etc., are moving faster in the engine when it still may not be fully lubricated by the oil (since oil is cold it moves slower in the engine) and lets just say metal on metal is almost never a good thing.

  11. Nick
    June 22, 2013 #

    Running higher octane fuel makes your car run cooler. Just a FYI.

  12. Bank Norton
    June 23, 2013 #

    I warm my car up for two hours before I start driving. My owners manual says long warm ups are good to keep the engine tuned and to run smoothly. Everyone should do this. Running an engine without at least an hours warmup will permanently damage the roto cylinders.

  13. Fail
    June 23, 2013 #

    Terrible Post!

    Sugar will ruin your car. An entire bag of sugar was put into my 350z's gas gank. My car shut off in the middle of the highway. It would not start. It was towed and then I was even told, and shown, the sugar that was taken out …they had to remove the entire gas carraiage. The sugar crystallizes into your cylinders from the heat that's generated from your running engine. Terrible post.

    And as far as the gangs targeting people after getting flashed …. yeah … another epic fail of a post by this individual. How about doing more research on your posts. This was ALL over the news in Miami in the 90's, and actually happened.

    Epic FAIL of a post by this individual!

  14. Tim
    June 23, 2013 #

    I live in Minnesota. Believe me, we do have to let our cars warm up during the winter months.It can be 20 below .

  15. Mike
    June 25, 2013 #

    Get a block warmer like I have. Works great in the winter. I still let it warm up a bit. Also, don't forget about the transmission. I put my truck in gear but stay in the driveway for about a minute to get pressure up and fluid warm before taking off. 170,000 miles on first trans, 250,000 miles on current diesel engine. Valves still in tolerance at 200,000 mile. LET IT WARM UP A BIT!!

  16. Eric
    June 29, 2013 #

    I generally never warm my cars up and I have never had any problems. My car also heats up faster when I drive it instead of letting it idle. I guess it comes down to during whatever works for your car.

  17. Big Dan
    June 29, 2013 #

    On the gang thing… Doesn't it seem dumb to drive around with your lights off (likely attracting police attention) while armed and ready to commit murder? Seems like a good way to get pulled over and sent to jail.

  18. reinhart
    July 2, 2013 #

    So on the premium gas thing. Me and wife have 2008 mazda bought brand new. Heres the difference, here company provide their employees with gas BUT its 87. I always put premiums 91 on mine. Since we both work long distances 91 put up tiny bit better mileage, 11-15miles. But check this out, last year my wife check engine light came on and it was the 02 sensor. We took our car (I brought mine too I expected my 02 sensor gonna go bad also knowing my car n hers not far off in mileage difference) down to the mechanic to get it chance and they said that mine is good due to premium gas. By this said, premium gas only gonna cost u $3 more a full tank. But it can save u money and ur car in the long run. Also heres another myth that im still pretty confused n bothered with. Arco gas. One day I got lost in a city that the first gas station we saw is arco. Filled up 91 and found our way back home. My temperature is higher than regular and my mileage was lesser by at least 20miles than usual. Is arco gas different than shell or other gas? If not then why is my car reacted so n so?

  19. Tony
    July 4, 2013 #

    Headlights are my a myth. Gangs in Springfield, ohio do it. They started it back when I was 17. (2004) I would research in that time frame instead of just writing what you think are the top "myths". Lol.

  20. Tony
    July 4, 2013 #

    Are not**

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