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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450 Responses to “5 Car Myths Busted”

  1. Sean fuhlman
    July 29, 2013 #

    I drive a red 02 z24 cavalier apple red. I also pay 180 a month for full coverage. However on my driving I have a speeding ticket from my 3rd car at 17. I've never been in an accident while I was driving. I drive 2.5 miles a day. So your fake car myth busted is a joke. Also in the early 2000s gangs in the quad cities did that nonsense however the news warned everyone about it so no one flashed they're lights. Also being a mechanic higher octane gas does get better gas mileage but not at 2 percent. Your common 91 octane compared to 89 reg doesn't show great difference however if you add octane buster to the high grade you do see the difference. The warming your car up in cold weather get out of California and experience real cold. Iowa here sometimes -30 degrees. We warm the car up so the heater works better it also helps with getting thicker oil warmed up so it does the job properly. Gas tank one is dumb give me a pinto and I'll show you how easy it can be done. I imagine since you live in Cali you drive a Honda hybrid that requires 0w20 or 5w20 full synthetic. I doubt you change your oil so you pay around 70 to 80 each time. Maybe instead of taking an English glass you should have taken a shop glass too so when you wrote this article you'd have a leg to stand on. This is the dumbest thing I've ever read and I hope you don't get paid to write this.

    • Jssaab
      July 30, 2013 #

      The temps in the combustion chamber reach operating temperature in less than 20 seconds no matter how cold it is. If you think Iowa cold makes a deference, I dare you to hold your hand on the exhaust manifold or pipe near the engine for 20 seconds after starting it on your coldest Iowa morning, look at your 2nd degree burns and tell me the engine is not warmed yet. All the metals expand/contract in that time frame. Warming up of an engine's rotating assembly ( where the oil is needed ) is not how long it takes for the coolant to get warm, it takes a few minutes for that to happen but does not effect the oil viscosity or wear. Modern Synthetic oils are liquid to under 30 degrees F. I am a Saab Master Mechanic from Minnesota, never let it warm up ( cool down yes since a turbo gets real wear) Have one with 267K Miles original engine, 165k original engine, 145k original engine never warmed one once.

      • Ignorant Guy
        August 10, 2013 #

        i think this is the greatest response I've ever seen.

    • Lu Johnson
      August 13, 2013 #

      ** their lights **

    • dave
      September 16, 2013 #

      You nailed it. It warms the heater and let's the oil get flowing. Thank you.

  2. A lonely mechanic
    July 30, 2013 #

    I would like to clarify myth #2

    Although you may think that temperature will not affect your engine, you are wrong. (assuming it is cold out like -20 Celsius) Of course you do not need to warm your car up each day just to do the groceries, but you need to wait until it is hot before getting more revs out of it. As a mechanic, i have seen manifolds crack because a dude went wide open throttle while his engine was still cold. This said, i have mostly seen this happen on performance cars. I actually have a friend whos turbo broke because it was cold out and he submitted it to high temperatures while his engine was still cold. Of course, 50 degrees ferehiate isn't really enough to do damage ( unless you have a very high end sports car). Sorry for the mistakes im not english.

  3. Sue
    August 2, 2013 #

    #4 did happen to a neighbor of mine. 2 young African-American men were walking in the street. The African-American lady flashed her lights to let them know she was coming by.
    They moved over but after she past by, one pulled out a handgun and shot at the cat. It went thru the back window and landed in her shoulder. She is self employed so she couldn't afford a go
    od surgeon to fix her arm so it took about 6 months before she could work again.
    You can check this out with the Akron Police Dept. and the Beacon Journal. That is how I found out. They finally caught the shooter!

    • raven1462
      August 8, 2013 #

      Wait, how is it a gang initiation ritual if they were shooting at a cat and hit her by accident?

      • Dees_Nutz
        August 15, 2013 #

        I think Sue misspelled car and said cat instead…

    • Dog lover
      October 6, 2013 #

      Let's hope her cat is doing better.

  4. marco esquandolas
    August 5, 2013 #

    While it may not require more than a minute, warming up the car does accomplish a few thing.Even with computer controlled fuel injection, the O2 sensor must warm up to generate a current, so in the interim the mix is adjusted to a default setting. You will not get an optimum mix until the sensor comes online. Even on a warm day, start the car and listen to the idle or watch the rpms change after the first minute.

  5. Mark
    August 8, 2013 #

    Growing up in Alaska when I had to park my car outside, I idled the engine to get the heater wake up so I would have hot air blowing instead of cold air. It was a comfort thing.

  6. george (@carrerageorge)
    August 10, 2013 #

    Deeply misleading article.
    Sugar in your fuel tank WILL destroy the car's fuel system and even the engine itself.
    Fuel tank leaks WILL cause an explosion since most car exhaust systems
    are located under the tank. Fuel vapor escaping from the tank and hitting
    the exhaust pipe will cause the explosion.

    • Dees_Nutz
      August 15, 2013 #

      Ummm, no.

    • Bobby
      September 19, 2013 #

      Mythbuster put everything they could think of in a gas tank and nothing, including sugar, had any effect except bleach. That was only because it corroded the gas tank and particles traveled into the engine.

  7. Bryan Bowlin
    August 12, 2013 #

    My young grasshopper, thou should learn to keep your ignorance to thy self until you have proved yourself truly unable to learn, as by showing ignorance in all areas gives one the impression your have a learning ability. I have never heard the light flashing death story, but cars can and do blow, as for premium gas, engines knocking , better milage , and warming engines, while you don't u derstand the meaning of any does not mean they should be ignored. It only means we sometime are vague when attempting to communicate an idea, and that you have no clue to the stress and forces an engine is subject to at various times and in reoccurring conditions. Letting an engine warm up, is still a good practice if you want to use it 300000 miles. Give it time to get oil pumped to and flowing though out all the engine and let the engine warm and components expand at an even rate with each other. Less stress, less wear. But you go ahead and fire yours and put your foot to the floor and let's see who walks first.

    • ShunkW
      September 5, 2013 #

      Can you give us one example of a car blowing up from a bullet? The Mythbusters did a very good job of showing how unlikely that is of occuring.

  8. Ed
    August 12, 2013 #

    My car adjusts to lower octane fuel to run without knocking. I get more horsepower (very noticeable) and better gas mileage with high crane fuel. I have noticed with lower performance rental cars that octane has less effect on performance. In my car, the small price difference iis more than offset by the improved mileage (about 10%).

    • Alex Grover
      August 18, 2013 #

      This is an interesting report, a couple of things confuse me though. Why would the woman be flashing her lights at a couple of pedestrians? And even though it seems to back the myth on the surface, there is a problem since the myth is based on the idea that the gangs are encouraging people to flash lights. There is no indication of this in the report. Without more evidence, I would be inclined to think that the light blinking was incidental, or even a misreport rather that real proof.

      I will continue researching the subject, however.

  9. James B
    August 14, 2013 #

    Car myth #2: Warm your engine when it’s cold out:

    It's always a good idea to let your car warm up before you put it under a load. Calling it a "waste of time" is very ignorant, and misleading to people that don't know better.

    Some cars (especially newer ones 05+) have a cold rev limiter that's only active when the car isn't up to operating temperature. Like someone here mentioned before, there are sensors that don't come online and provide the ECU with accurate readings until they are warmed up. ie. O2 sensors. The Honda S2000 for example will not engage VTEC, and will not rev to it's full potential unless the engine is at operating temperature.

    Car myth #3: Premium gas gets better mileage

    Another piece of misinformation. I know with 100% certainty that higher octane fuel will give you better gas mileage. I specifically tested this myself when I was making a regular 150 mile trip between MD and PA 12 years ago. The majority of the trip was interstate driving, and a bit of mountains when you're close to PA.

    I was driving an '88 Honda. I would top it off with 87 and start my 150 mile trip from Maryland to Pennsylvania. By the time I reached my destination in PA, my fuel gauge would be sitting on a quarter tank.
    Topping off with 93, making the same exact trip, using the same exact route, I would arrive at my destination with a hair over a half tank left. I've tested this multiple times with the same exact results.

    • maninpain
      August 17, 2013 #

      Premium gas absolutely gets better mileage.
      I tested out with 88 Honda Accord, 98 Lexus ES300, and 06 ES330.

      For those of you don't believe in it, do the math, I challenge you to test it out in your car. You should go at least one gas tank, same interstate driving condition, same gas, and especially same speed both times. Of course, you don't drive an average of 65 mph on regular and then an average of 85 mph on premium, this would defeat the purpose of testing out since the speeds are differences.

      I go home every weekend, sadly about 350 miles each way, so I had plenty of testing on this. The '88 Accord gave me about an average of extra 4-5 mpg. For the '98 ES300, I gain about 3mpg, and for the '06 ES300 I gain little bit more than 3 mpg.

      Here is an intersting part that I want to point out. The money I saved, or "wasted", would offset for the miles I gained. Let's see, at about 30 cents to 40 cents extra on premium, it will cost extra $4.50 – $6.00 to fill up 15 gallons. Hence, at just extra 3 mpg, for the above 15 gallon tank, I would go 45 miles further. So the $4.50 – $6.00 extra cost for the premium gas, if I use regular gas, the money "wasted" would be needed to cover the additional 45 miles.

      The bottom line is no matter if you're using regular or premium gasoline, it costs somewhat about the same after all. I did not mention the feeling of power, or the smoothness of engine with premium because those things are .. feeling, no concrete proof.

      To premium or not to premium. :) . I admit , it hurts to pump premium gas. Everytime I pumped, I am in pain, lol

  10. saintstephen
    August 18, 2013 #

    Sugar is not soluble is gasoline, if it even makes it to the fuel filter, which is unlikely as it is not solute, the engine will sputter and die. There will be no sticky residue. at all.Try it at home. Pour sugar into your engine, and drive away. It will run normally, and you will never even notice.

  11. Robert
    August 20, 2013 #

    I never warm up my car. 206,000 miles and going strong. Just normal wear and tear from age. NJ is not Alaska but still…

    Driving and driving conditions hter effect on mpg than the fuel, especially between 87 and 93. The first part of that came from a service manual for my son's '69 Buick Skylark. Car companies new this back then! Even the EPA tests for milage lead to bogus answers.

    The only reason you need higher octane rating for higher compression engines is that the other components of gasoline will ignite earlier (and burn quicker) under the increasing pressure from the rising piston instead the spark initiating the burning. It is suppose to be a burn, not a bang. Don't believe me, put gasoline in a diesel engine. I dare you. BTW, It's almost impossible to ignite diesel fuel with a match.

    One myth I didn't see mentioned, and should be, was that tires should be filled with pure nitrogen for "better handling", "performance", "tread life", and whatever. Too bad the fools who get the nitrogen treatment have, as a result, a lesser load due the missing dollars in the owner's wallet, Air is 80% nitrogen! Now that is a scam if I ever saw one!

  12. Greg
    August 21, 2013 #

    Years ago I made many trips across Ohio using one of three different vehicles. Speed limit was 55, the highway had lots of cops using the instant on radars. Red Ford Mustang GT was zapped every time even if I was driving only 45MPH. Old red beat up pickup truck was never zapped even if I was running 70. Ford van in good shape was almost always zapped if I was in the left lane and hardly ever zapped if I was in the right lane. It does make a difference what you drive and red or yellow sports cars draw more attention from the police.

    • disco
      September 27, 2013 #

      it certainly appears that the make and model not the color are why a mustang gt would get zapped and not a beat-up old pick up truck.

  13. Greg
    August 21, 2013 #

    The headlight happened at least once in Atlanta. High octane fuel does not combust slower it is harder to ignite. This allows for high compression ratios. Using low octane fuel in an engine that requires high octane will result in pre-detonation or pinging. modern cars will detect pinging and adjust the timing to stop it but you loose performance and economy. Pinging is hard on an engine.

    • WS6Chef
      September 9, 2013 #

      Your comment on Octane is a contradiction. High Octane does burn slower. It becomes more combustible under compression. I have 3 high performance cars in my garage that can easily prove my point. One of my vehicles requires 110 Octane Racing fuel to run it. A lot of racers who drive imports put 110 Octane in their cars thinking it will improve performance. However, it only destroys performance and burns up O2 sensors and catalytic converters. Please research before you comment.

  14. Pledge
    August 21, 2013 #

    I was shot and killed for flashing my headlights at a gang in Florida, or was it Texas. here's a link http://www.shotbyagang.com

  15. Birdman
    August 27, 2013 #

    You writers can keep saying what you want about how premium gas makes no difference in cars that only require regular gas, but I have had several economy cars and I have seen as much as a 75 mile increase in the mileage per tank of gas. As well as improved acceleration. I now drive a 98 Honda CR-V and its a night and day difference in the way it performs with 93 vs 87. And for only a few cents more. It also keeps my engine cleaner.

  16. Michael
    August 27, 2013 #

    The only problem I have ever encountered with cold engines is an oil pump shaft being twisted in two due to too heavy a weight oil being used for the time of the year. Vehicle's owner swore by 10w 40w, well parking it outside facing into the north wide in -30 degree weather changed his mind. As for the fuel octane, I drive a 07 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4×4, on the 89 octane my daily commute back and forth to work I averaged 12.7 miles to the gallon. I changed to 91 octane due to most of our lower octane around here switching to 10% ethanol content. I then noticed I was now getting 16.7 miles to the gallon. There does seem to me less horse power but then again it is a factory v6 in a box shaped brick with the name plate jeep plastered on it.

    • Buzzer
      October 15, 2013 #

      I agree about the octane/ethanol statement. High octane in SOME gas stations have 0% ethanol, which means that it burns more efficiently! I've gotten somewhere between 3 to 7 mpg more on ethanol-free 91 than with 87/89 E10. My motorcycle has jumped from 39mpg to 45 on E0 Premium!

  17. Scott
    August 28, 2013 #

    Sugar in your fuel tank will not destroy your engine. It will simply plug the fuel system compoents. Fuel vapor hitting theexhaust pipe causing an explosion? A fire maybe but not an explosion. You sir, have been watching too much Hollywood.

  18. Robeson
    September 5, 2013 #

    It's good that you cleared up #4 but you got something MAJORLY wrong! First, why would gangs shoot people who try to help them by flashing their lights? In fact, they WILL shoot people who don't care about others and DON'T flash their lights. That's why you should always flash your lights when the situation calls for it (plus it's good manners).

  19. TheTruth
    September 5, 2013 #

    The thing I find most amusing is that people place so much faith in snopes. Snopes is expressed opinion based on questionable research. Worse when presented with evidence to debunk the opinions expressed on their site, much like spookiewon here they rapidly become angry and childish in their own false belief.
    As to the proposed urban myth of gangland flashing light slayings…the devil is in the details. Few reports meet the specific criteria as outlined by their site. This is by design. It has to be that way for them to say several reports over time are not these things. The key detail is gang member initiation. They exclude angered drunk drivers, road rage and incidents in which a person's brights were left on causing a danger to other drivers. Even when as in Akron a seasoned gang member shot, it was neither initiation nor was it a case where the victim was baited.
    Anyone that understands the internal combustion engine or electronics knows that there is a warm up period needed to reduce wear. It's why your led or LCD TV does not magically spring to life, and your car doesn't go from start to greased lightening. Top fuel dragsters are indeed warmed as they sit idling (if you ignore that they are being revved to entice the crowd) waiting on the light tree.
    Tracers aren't exactly flaming bullets. A single bullet causing an explosion is unlikely, but not impossible. Physics is funny that way. 999 times out of a 1000 you can get away with throwing matches in a bucket of gas too.
    Now comes the one thing that will get this comment edited or removed. I underwrote for a well advertised auto insurance company. There are hundreds of rating factors and it is untrue to suggest paint is not one of them. There is a reason beyond the initial 6 month policy discounts that customers see a significant increase upon rate revision. More detail has been learned about the customer and their vehicle. As vehicles age certain components become more rare causing potential increases in price, untimely back orders causing more time in rental vehicles and often require full paint instead of blending due to environmental wear or fade.
    The big car paint red flag? Candy apple red. Why do you think a good agent will ask if you have aftermarket parts or paint? Everything counts. It is disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

    • WS6Chef
      September 9, 2013 #

      Insurance agents ask about aftermarket parts and paint because they are wanting to know if anything is custom. Custom paint jobs are most costly. Custom rims, grills, bumpers, etc. are more expensive to replace then OEM factory parts. Naturally this will cause you to have higher premiums. A good agent asks those questions to avoid potential discrepentcies (sp) in the future if parts need to be replaced/paint job.

      • 07StangGT
        October 2, 2013 #

        This is true about some insurance companies. Also, there are a few out there that offer aftermarket parts insurance which is additional, up to $2000 for about $4 a month.

    • WS6Chef
      September 9, 2013 #

      Also, Top Fuel Drag cars are NOT running their engines to "warm them up". They rev their engines not to entice crowds, but rather to do a last second check for oil pressure and boost pressure. Ever notice that they are ALWAYS towed or pushed to the water box (burn out pit)? They want the engine as cold as possible. Everything they do at the track has purpose, NEVER is it to "entice the crowd".

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