Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Car Myths Abound

Some cars, like my Saab 9-3, can go over 10,000 miles between oil changes.

We've all heard them, maybe even grew up believing them. Sadly some adults are still fully committed to them. I'm talking about car myths, of course. I've studied car culture on a collegiate level, and I have to say the myths about cars are some of the most fascinating things about car culture group dynamics. What really fascinates me is that there is such an abundance of information to refute these claims, but in some ways this proliferation of information has made people believe the myths even more (remember, don't trust the system!).

Here's a sampling of some of the most interesting and frustrating myths. I have to admit I have at one time or another believed a few of these, but then I saw the light. Enjoy.

1. Not changing your engine oil every 3,000 miles will cause engine damage. Oh as a new car owner I fell for this one hook, line and sinker! I also fell for all the additional oil treatments and other oil-related services places like Jiffy Lube threw at me. I wanted my beautiful car to run beautifully forever, like some sort of an immortal machine bathed in a the Fountain of Youth. The thing I didn't understand was I was wasting my money and lining the pockets of big oil companies. This point was especially driven home to me when I bought my Saab and read in the owner's manual that, using a specific brand of synthetic oil, the car could go well over 10,000 miles between oil changes! Read your car's owners manual thoroughly and follow the manufacturer's advice over the pushy "help" of an oil change place. Or better yet, ditch the oil change places and either do it yourself or hire a competent mechanic -- which leads me to my next point.

2. Oil change places (lube shops) are great for getting a quick oil change. I fell for this one as well, like I said above. The fact is that most of these places don't make much just off changing your oil. It's the add-on services these places push so hard that keep them in business. I am convinced that you are often made to wait longer than necessary for a quick oil change to wear you down so you'll agree to stupid servicing your car doesn't need. What really got me was once when I was at one of these places the guy had the balls to come out with a dirty stock air filter and tell me I needed a new one. The only problem was my car had an aftermarket high performance air filter you can wash and oil up again! The other problem with these quick lube stops: most of them do not have insurance. That means if Jimmy, the guy who makes minimum wage and has no mechanic training or certification, forgets to reinstall your car's oil plug or pan you're out of luck when the engine seizes. At a reputable mechanic shop your car is covered for such slip-ups by the shop's insurance policy, meaning you get a new engine free of charge.

3. Putting in a higher octane gas than your car needs gives it an extra boost. Putting in a lower octane gas than recommended will kill your car. The former of the two statements was never true. A car that needs 89 octane will not run faster or more efficiently on 93 octane. Save your money and go for the lower octane rating. As far as putting a lower octane than recommended in your car, it will likely affect the car's performance negatively. With computerized fuel injection, though, modern cars will adjust the air/fuel mix and spark to the octane rating of the gas, avoiding any engine problems. With older cars that don't have the benefits of a computerized fuel cocktail mixer, you need to always stick with the recommended octane rating.With newer cars that require premium gas, they likely will achieve poorer fuel economy with regular gasoline in the tank. That and they just won't go as fast, and where's the fun in that?

4. Four wheel drive/all wheel drive means you can drive like normal on slick roads. This one irks me each time it snows here! I have driven multiple four wheel drive and all wheel drive vehicles in snowy and icy conditions, as well as front wheel drive and rear wheel drive vehicles. When you're dumb enough to speed around in slick conditions, you can have all four wheels spinning at once but if your tires aren't getting traction it does you no good. The type of tires you have on your car determines traction more than how many wheels receive power, so invest in some aggressive treads, snow studs or chains. I will say that four wheel drive and all wheel drive help you keep from getting stuck in snow, if you know how to use it properly. That being said, I have driven a front wheel drive vehicle carefully through some horrible storms and passed many four wheel drive vehicles that have slid off the road or flipped over.

5. X Brand of vehicle is the most bestest brand in the whole world, amen thus saith the God of Cars! Another annoying one, but again it is utterly false. Sure, there are brands that have a better track record of reliability than others. The truth is that vehicles in general are improving greatly in reliability. I have known people who have purchased vehicles known for their reliability and had problem after problem. I have known people who have purchased vehicles known for poor reliability and had little to no issues. Reliability means different things to different people. Some people don't care if the turn signal stalk falls off the steering column as long as the engine runs, while other people will scream and throw fits over one cup holder that malfunctions. A huge factor that affects reliability is how you treat your car. I know people who just beat on cars like they're a stubborn mule, and they have problems no matter what they buy. If you buy a used car, beware that you are going to have to deal with how the car was treated before it came into your hands.