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6 Common Car Care and Driving Myths

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The 6 Worst Car Tips (Avoid at All Costs!)

As any car owner can tell you, we are bombarded with all kinds of "facts" about how to take care of your vehicle, or get out of a sticky situation. Some are true, some are half-truths, and some are completely false. They all seem to contradict each other.

In this article, we will explore six of the most common things we are told.

Myth #1: Let the air out of your tires if you’re stuck in sand or snow.

It depends on the situation. If you’ve already “panicked,” and tried to gun your engine and power your way out, you’ve probably already buried your vehicle up to the axles. In this case, it’s too late for any remedial measures to have an impact. You’ll just have to get out the shovel, dig out, and lay down some positive-traction aids in front of your wheels.

If you find yourself in sand, try to move forward, and nothing happens, STOP! IMMEDIATELY! Now is when you can let some air out of your tires, down to as low as 10 or 15 psi. Next, shift your vehicle to a low gear, and gently give it some gas, and you may be able to move forward.

If you have something available to aid traction, put that in front of your wheels as well, and you may avert an expensive tow. In a pinch, carpet scraps, wood, bricks can work, and carpet can be light enough to carry and have on hand. Bricks are less practical from a weight standpoint.

There are also manufactured traction devices molded from heavy-duty plastic, which have tall “pins” molded in, for the tires to grip. A jack is another option, if you have some wood on which to sit the jack to give it stability so it doesn’t sink as well. Then you have clearance for putting your traction aids directly under the stuck wheel or wheels.

(By the way; I found out the hard way that the AAA service will not pull you out of sand!)

Just because you can put sand on the road in front of your wheels to aid traction in snow, doesn’t mean you should drive in the stuff at the beach, or anywhere else where there is deep sand. It’s not the same thing at all.

If you’ve let air out of your tires, don’t forget to air them back up immediately upon getting back on a solid surface. If you don’t have a portable air pump with you, then stop at the very next service station or tire center you come across, whichever is first.

Myth #2: Turn on the heater if your engine is overheating.

This is not something most people would think of doing, or want to do on a hot summer day. You want the A/C running instead. However, running the A/C puts additional load on the engine, and if you have overheating problems, that’s the last thing you want to do.

Yet, this is not a myth; it can actually work. You probably want to open your windows in this case, to allow that excess heat to escape instead of bottling it up and roasting you and your passengers.

The reason this works is because the engine coolant is additionally routed through the heater core, which is like a secondary miniature radiator.

That said, stop as soon as possible and have the car checked out to discover why it’s overheating in the first place.

Turning on the heater is a short-term stop-gap measure, and you need to find out what is wrong with your engine and fix it before you end up with a really expensive repair or worse, a blown engine.

Myth #3: Driving with the windows open reduces fuel economy.

This is another one of those “it depends” scenarios. If you’re driving a huge truck, or big van or if you’re pulling a large trailer, it really isn’t going to matter that much.

The reduction in gas mileage is going to be more noticeable in a smaller, more aerodynamically designed vehicle, and even at that, the effect is measurable at the computer level, and it will have some effect.

Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage of TV's Mythbusters tackled this one.

Mythbusters: A/C or Windows Down?

Myth #4: Put plain water in your radiator in the summer.

Not only is this wrong, it can seriously damage your engine! Engine coolant is designed with special chemicals that reduce corrosion and rust, making your power plant last longer.

Before this product was available, yes, we used plain water in our radiators. It was also common to see rust in the radiator, and rust-colored water when the radiator was drained for any repairs.

Most coolants are designed to be a 50-50 mix with water: read the label carefully. Some of them are already pre-mixed to the correct solution, and can be directly poured in.

Be Careful With Coolant Spills!

Automotive engine coolant tastes sweet to animals, but it can be deadly if they drink some, so be sure to clean up any spills at once! If your pet shows signs of looking drunk (staggering, etc.) get them to the vet ASAP!

A Funny Story About Radiator Leaks

An aunt and uncle of mine had at one time, an older car with a somewhat leaky radiator. Why they didn't get it fixed, I don't know, but they routinely carried a jug of water along. (This was in the days before coolant, when water was all you used.)

This one day they were out on a drive, and my aunt, a smoker, foolishly tossed her cigarette butt out the window. However, it didn't go outside; it fell down inside the window track, and began smoldering inside the door.

They pulled over, and my uncle, who was quite angry about this, took his jug of water, and began slowly pouring it down inside the door. My aunt thought it was funny, and the more she laughed, the angrier my uncle became.

Another motorist happened along, slowed down, observed what was going on, and helpfully called out, "Hey buddy! Your radiator is up front!"

Myth #5: Replace your transmission fluid every 30,000 miles.

In reality, many of today’s cars are good to go with changes only about every 100,000 miles. The shorter limit applies if you are rough on your car with your driving habits, or if you regularly tow heavy trailers.

Older cars might need more frequent changes. Also, in older cars, be sure and check for leaks, and get the issue fixed pronto. A leaking transmission is a recipe for disaster. Your transmission could seize up, and stop you dead in your tracks.

You can easily tell the difference between an oil leak, a coolant leak, and a transmission fluid leak:

  • Oil is a golden amber color when new and clean, and a brown to black color when it’s old and needing to be changed.
  • Transmission fluid is red. The color has nothing to do with its condition: it’s a dye added to aid identification of the fluid.
  • Coolant is a yellowish-green or orange in color, depending on the base chemical

Regardless, find the source of all leaks, and get them fixed at once.

Myth #6: Get your new car serviced at the dealer or void your warranty.

This one is just plain blatantly false. Any qualified mechanic/service shop is capable of doing routine maintenance.

The warranty is dependent upon getting these maintenance issues done, not upon where they are done.

Some unscrupulous new car sales personnel might perpetuate this myth in an attempt to make more money for the dealership. But they would be lying to you. Besides, it costs a lot more at the dealer than at an independent mechanic. Find one you trust, and stay with them.

Further Reading

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 disallows any restriction on where warranty service is performed. The full text of the law can be found here.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Liz Elias