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Car Maintenance Myths

Car maintenance myths are everywhere both online and off. In your day-to-day, you might be misled by friends, well-meaning family, or even random know-it-alls. Usually, these myths aim to save you money, whether that’s in an effort to improve cosmetic appeal or mechanical performance. Many of these myths are outdated and based on common sense that may have once been true. Times have changed.

Nowadays, some of these “tried-and-true” tricks still work, but others might actually damage your vehicle and your wallet.

Read on to learn about 10 Common Car Maintenance Myths, plus how to avoid the bad ones.

Myth #1: You Don't Need to Drive Far After a Jump Start

If you’ve been driving for at least a few years, chances are you’ve tried to start a car with a dead battery. Most likely, after figuring out that your battery died, you flagged down a fellow driver for a quick jump start. Once the car gets started again, the other driver pulls away and you get back in your car to continue your drive. However, you accidentally turned off the car. You try to start the car again, but it’s dead. What gives?

The Truth:

You should drive at least 20 minutes at 50MPH to reliably charge your car’s battery with the alternator. If it doesn’t start after this period of driving, your alternator likely needs replacement.

In the past, cars didn’t need as much juice to start and run. After getting a jump, a simple spin around the block would have been enough to create enough energy for the car to start again after turning off. Today however, our vehicles have a slew of multimedia and convenience features that drain the battery. This can happen even when your car is sitting in the garage turned off.

"What if I don't drive it a lot?"

Good question! The best way to avoid losing power and keep a charge is to take your car for a drive a few times a week. It doesn't have to be a long odyssey, about 20 minutes to an hour is enough for most vehicles. If you do notice the battery can't hold a charge, take the car in to get it tested. Most batteries should last anywhere from 3-5 years but if yours’ is failing to keep power, get it tested.

Myth #2: Warm up Your Car's Engine Before Braving the Cold

You're about to head out when you take a look at the temp. Under 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Maybe you remember your uncle telling you to warm up your car before cold weather driving. Is he right?

The Truth:

Truth is, in most climates, even if it feels cold to you, you don’t need to pre-warm the car. Newer cars will actually warm faster during driving than sitting idle -- but it’s still a good idea to take it easy on the gas pedal during the first 15 minutes of driving.

If your car is covered in snow and ice and has sat in sustained cold temperatures below freezing, especially if the temp drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it is a good idea to let the vehicle warm up. See your owner’s manual and follow manufacturer recommendations for cold-start driving.

Myth #3: Replace All Your Tires at Once

It's been a few years since you've bought your used car and it's time for some new tires. As you pull into the shop to buy, a tech suggests replacing all four.

"Why not?" you think, "I could save some money, right?"

The Truth:

The best course of action is to have your current tires examined by a professional. If one tire is damaged but the others are relatively new and evenly worn, a single tire or two tire replacement could be best. Tire wear is complicated, and if you add a brand new tire to three unevenly-worn tires, it can wear out all four tires more aggressively. This is because the smaller diameter of the worn tires actually cause them to spin faster than the new tire.

On that note, make sure you get your tires rotated and balanced every other oil change.

Myth #4: Flush Your Transmission Fluid Every 50,000 Miles

If your car has recently reached the 50,000-mile mark, you might think it's time to flush the transmission fluid. That's what everyone says, right?

The Truth:

There’s no one-size fits all anymore. At one time flushing your transmission fluid at 50K miles was the standard advice because that's what most cars needed. But the newest vehicles today could go for 100,000 miles (ca. 160,934 km), or even its whole life, before needing a flush. This is particularly true for CVTs from manufacturers like Subaru. They recommend that you don’t do any transmission maintenance at all. And if you do need transmission maintenance, they prefer that Subaru performs the maintenance. The best way to know for sure is to check your Owner’s Manual for manufacturer maintenance recommendations.

Myth #5: Refuel in the AM to Save Money

On the way to work you see that you're due for a fill-up. You could make it to work and get gas later. But then you recall hearing that filling up now could save money. So why not?

The Truth:

The myth contends that since gas expands with heat, getting gas in warmer weather equals getting less overall. Refueling in the AM when it's still chilly would, in theory, get you more gas and save you money. But there's one hitch to this idea.

Gas is stored underground and is insulated from the outside temp. In most cases, gasoline is the same temperature no matter what time of day you pump it into your car. However, on extremely hot, sunny days, especially if there’s an Ozone Warning, many municipalities recommend not refueling until later at night or in the morning. Just don't wait until you're running on fumes to refuel.

Myth #6: Roll Down the Windows For Better MPGs in the Heat

It's hot -- super hot. The kind of heat that makes you wonder if you’re living in the right place.

In effort to save gas, you opt to roll down the windows instead of blowing the AC.

The Truth:

Rolling down the windows increases wind resistance. That means that, if driving above 35 miles per hour, any fuel you would be saving likely goes towards compensating for the car's new aerodynamic drag. In general, use AC at high speeds and on the freeway. Driving at slow speeds with the windows down might actually save more energy than using the AC on full blast.

Myth #7: Premium Fuel is Better for Your Car

At the pump you might think it's better to go for the high octane. If it makes sports cars and NASCAR perform well, it could do the same for your car right?

The Truth:

It is tempting to use premium fuel, especially after watching NASCAR for a while. Before you grab the premium pump handle though, consider a few key facts.

High-end sports cars and racing cars use premium fuel because they are designed to use a particular mixture of air and fuel. Their engines are sport-tuned for it. A typical non-sport-tuned vehicle should stick to mid regular 87 octane gas.

"How can I be positive I'm using the right fuel?"

Check your Owner’s Manual to see the fuel type it recommends.

Myth #8: Change Your Oil every 3,000 Miles

You're driving around one day when you notice that it's been about 3,000 miles (ca. 4,828 km) since your last oil change. Should you just go ahead and get the oil change done?

Before you do, here's some key facts to think about.

The Truth:

Was your car made within the last ten years? If so, you might not need to change it every 3,000 miles (ca. 4,828 km). Depending on the make and model of your car, you could wait until 5,000 or 7,500 miles (ca. 12,070 km).

Like we’ve mentioned before, check your Owner’s Manual to see what oil type, viscosity, and recommended replacement interval your manufacturer recommends.

Myth #9: Wash Your Car with Dish Soap

Ah, dish soap. If it can get off the caked on Thanksgiving or birthday dinner grease, surely it can handle your car's dirt?

"What's the worst that can happen?" A lot, as it turns out.

The Truth:

There's a reason dish soap is best for flatware. It can cut through grease with ease. It can also cut through wax with ease. Using dish soap, or any soap not made for cars can damage the wax finish and expose your clear coat and paint to potential damage. Always use soaps designed to protect your car's wax and paint job.

Myth #10: Bigger Cars are More Unsafe

Looking for a new family car? Maybe something in a safe midsize sedan to save money.

"Those clunky SUVs look too dangerous," you might think. If this sounds like you, there are some things you should know.

The Truth:

According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, mini cars have the largest overall death rate in crashes. Small and mini cars actually accounted for 15 out of the 20 models with the highest death rate for 2017. SUVs had the lowest death rate.