Top 12 Most Common Myths About Car Care – Busted!

Top Car Care Myths Busted - Featured Image

As long as cars have existed, people have had to deal with car repairs. A lot of misinformation was spread about car care, but it tended to spread rather slowly. Today, car care myths can race around the world online in a matter of hours. Separating car care fact from car care fiction isn’t always easy, even for auto repair professionals.

Here’s a look at the 12 most common myths about car care. You’ll learn what’s true, what’s phony and what’s the best way to keep your vehicle running safely and smoothly.

Myth #1: Premium Gas is Better than Regular-Grade

premium 91 octane gas pump

After all, the word “premium” is right there in the name. But are the more expensive selections at the pump really better for your car or your gas mileage? In most cases, not really.

Gas stations typically offer at least three octane levels:

  • 87 – Regular
  • 89 – Mid-Grade
  • 91 to 93 – Premium

Stations will vary the specifics. You might see 89 octane gas referred to as Plus or Special. Calling 93 octane gas Super Premium is also pretty common.

Octane rating is a way to measure the amount of knocking inside an engine. During combustion, fuel can create a knocking or pinging noise inside the engine. The higher the octane level, the less pinging which is likely to occur.

While that’s technically true, almost every modern-day car and truck has a recommended octane level of 87. Using gas with any higher level of octane will result in a slightly more efficient burn, which will give you slightly better fuel economy.

But the numbers almost never work out. You’ll almost always spend more on the higher-octane fuel than you’ll save in fuel economy.

High octane gas is typically only recommended with high-compression engines where power output is monitored electronically. Otherwise, if your owner’s manual says 87, there usually aren’t any benefits to going higher.

Myth #2: Cars Need to Warm Up

driving a car without warming it up first

Before you start driving, you should give the engine a few moments to warm up, right? Actually, there’s often no need. Modern engines warm up the quickest when they’re in use.

Starting the car and then hitting the road is the fastest way to warm the engine. A warm engine operates at peak performance and fuel efficiency. Idling the car actually keeps the engine cool longer than simply driving down the road.

Of course, you’re not fleeing a bank robbery. You don’t want to start the car up and put the pedal to the medal. Be easy on the car and avoid revving the engine for the first few miles of travel.

Cold weather can cause an exception here. Your engine still warms up best when you’re driving, even in the coldest temps. But you might not be able to start driving right away. If you need to idle for a while in order to have a warm car where the windows are free from ice, that’s okay. While it’s not great for your fuel, you want to make sure you have complete visibility before driving.

Myth #3: Having Your Car Serviced at Anywhere but the Dealership Voids Your Warranty

random local mechanics shop

Your car needs regular maintenance. The dealership will naturally urge you seek out their authorized service centers for all of your maintenance needs. But what if you want to visit a different service center? Will that void your warranty?

While you want to check the specifics of your warranty, in the vast number of cases you can go to any reputable auto body shop, even if they’re not specifically authorized as a service center by your car manufacturer.

However, make sure all regular maintenance is performed according to the recommended schedule listed in the vehicle owner’s manual. Be sure to keep all proper documentation including receipts and all other records. Failing to keep accurate records actually can void your warranty – because otherwise you can’t prove the maintenance was performed – so store those records safely.

The one exception here is during a factory-issued recall. If any part of your vehicle needs service due to a recall, you will have to take it to a dealership or other authorized service center.

Myth #4: Dealerships are More Expensive than Independent Car Repair Shops

car dealership

Dealerships have a reputation for charging high prices, while independent repair shops are usually considered the cheaper option. While that might be true in some cases, it’s certainly not a rule.

Shop around and compare prices before committing to any one repair place. When comparison shopping, consider both the cost of parts and labor.

All types of repair shops will charge retail prices for parts. But the markup can vary wildly from shop to shop. Dealership generally don’t mark-up retail prices too much, but labor is often more expensive than independent shops (under the theory that dealership technicians have more experience with the specific make of car).

Myth #5: Mechanics Want to Trick You into Repairs You Don’t Need

is this a trustworthy mechanic

Mechanics at both dealerships and independent repair shops have a reputation for gouging customers. Certainly not every mechanic is honest. But they’re also not all sleazy hucksters. How do you know when you’re dealing with a mechanic you can trust?

If you take your car in for an oil change or other basic issue, you certainly don’t want to hear about any unexpected major repairs. Reacting with suspicion is only natural. After all, the situation seems like the mechanic simply wants a bigger payday.

But a quality mechanic is obligated to tell you about any problems he or she finds, especially if the issue poses a potential safety hazard. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t investigate the issue a bit before committing to any repairs.

First, you’ll want to consult with the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual. For example, if the manual says your transmission fluid is good for 100,000, but your mechanic wants to change the fluid at 50,000 miles, you can probably safely pass on the repair suggestion.

You’ll also want to ask to see any damaged parts. Anything severely worn down or broken should be pretty obvious. You can also pull up pictures of the part in question on your cell phone in order to get a better idea of what the part should look like.

An honest mechanic will identify any potential issues with your car and explain what they recommend and why. Don’t automatically assume you’re being scammed if you hear unexpected news about the state of your vehicle.

Myth #6: The Appropriate Inflation Pressure is Printed Directly on the Tire

blown out tire from over inflation

This is a common mistake. The side of any tire will have a number expressed in PSI, which stands for pounds per inch. Because PSI is used to measure tire pressure, many people think the number printed on the tire is the proper pressure level.

However, the number is actually the maximum pressure which the tire can hold. The ideal tire pressure is listed both in your owner’s manual and a placard on the inner door. Different makes and models of vehicles require different tire pressure, so always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines precisely. Be sure and check both axels because the recommended pressure for the front tires is often different than the rear.

Overinflated tires affect the ride and safety of your car. The ride will feel bumpier and more jarring. Plus, overinflated tires make the car harder to control.

Myth #7: You Should Replace Your Tires When You See Tread Wear

tire tread without wear and tear

This myth is a bit tricky because in some ways it’s true. If your tires have visible tread loss, they should probably be replaced. But the safest option is to replace your tires before they’re noticeably worn.

The minimum tread depth is 2/32. By the time your tires are at the minimum safe levels, you’ll be able to see there’s a problem. The tire’s ability to grip on snowy and wet roads is very limited. The risk of hydroplaning is significantly increased.

Check your tire tread even when your tires look fine. Also, check the tread before mounting any seasonal tires, such as winter tires from storage. Treads with 4/32-inch depth or higher will provide the best grip and traction.

Be sure to rotate your tires according to the recommended timetable. Rotating tires allows the wear to be distributed evenly. When you do replace your tires, replace all four at once.

Myth #8: You Need to Winterize and Summerize Your Car

engine coolant

Many auto shops offer services where they’ll get your vehicle ready for winter or summer. This might include checking the oil, wipers, brakes, tires and more. You’ll usually see winterize offers starting around Thanksgiving and summarize ones around Easter.

As long as you have a reputable mechanic, there’s nothing about a seasonal check-up which will harm your car. But it’s not always necessary, either.

Modern cars can handle changes in the weather without needing special preparation. As long as you keep up with your car’s recommended maintenance, it’ll handle even rapid changes in the weather.

However, there’s really nothing wrong with any reason to give your car a basic health check-up. As the weather grows wetter or colder, make sure you have working wipers and plenty of antifreeze. If you live in an area with even moderate amounts of snow, snow tires will provide the safest and most secure ride.

During the summer months, you’ll want your air conditioner to operate as efficiently as possible. Most coolant will last up to 100,000 miles. Your owner’s manual will provide details. If your A/C isn’t working avoid those canister products which offer a recharge. Instead, the problem will likely require professional service.

Myth #9: Change Your Oil Every 3,000 Miles

change engine oil soon alert

You know those clear stickers most quick-lube shops place in the corner of your window? The ones which tell you to get an oil change every 3,000 miles? Well, for the most part those are less of a helpful reminder and more of an advertisement.

Modern vehicles can typically be driven for at least 7,500 miles before needing an oil change. You’ll want to check your owner’s manual for the details. But in most cases, you’ll be able to go well beyond 3,000 miles before needing an oil change. Some cars only need an oil change every 10,000 to 15,000 miles.

Your car’s monitoring system is actually very reliable. Pay attention to the dashboard indicator more than the mileage. While needless oil changes won’t hurt your car, they are a waste of money.

Myth #10: Tire Gauges Aren’t Useful

electronic tire gauge

The air pressure in your tires shouldn’t be too low or too high. Underinflated tires increase the risk of blowouts while overinflated tires make the vehicle hard to control. You want your tires to be the exact pressure level recommended in the owner’s manual.

While almost every modern car will have a dashboard indicator for low tire pressure, it typically will only display a warning when the pressure is 25% below the recommended level. Ideally, you want to identify pressure changes well before that point.

A pressure gauge lets you check the tire pressure easily and accurately. You should check the tire pressure at least once a month. Many car experts recommend checking the tire pressure after every other fill-up at the gas station.

A digital pressure gauge gives you a reading fast. Be sure and check each tire. The front tires and rear tires will have two different recommended pressure levels.

Myth #11: Dishwashing Liquid is Safe for Washing Your Car

dish washing liquid for car

Can you add a few drops of dishwashing liquid to a bucket of water when its time to wash your care? Washing your car this way once or twice isn’t likely to cause major problems. But don’t use dishwashing soap to wash your car too often.

Dishwashing soap accelerates the oxidation process. Regular use will harm the paint. The effect is actually similar to how too much soap on your hands will dry your skin.

Your local auto parts store will have plenty of car-friendly suds to choose from, as well as various waxes and sealants. Using the right products will not only improve the look of your vehicle but also increases the time you can go between washes.

Myth #12: Interior Care Products Cause Damage When Overused

using product to clean leather seats

Do car products designed to clean your seats, dashboard and other interior components actually do more harm than good? There’s a common myth out there than interior conditioners and protectants will damage the interior of your car. Regular use will dry leather, shrink plastic and cause other damage.

Who knows how this myth got started because the truth is completely the opposite. Leather and plastic will shrink and dry without regular use of specialized conditioners. Over time, key softening ingredients in the leather and plastic components fade away. You need conditioners in order to keep the materials pliable.

INFOGRAPHIC: Top 12 Myths About Car Care – Busted!

Car Care Myths - Infographic

Share this Infographic On Your Site

Final Thoughts

Car care can be confusing, especially if you’re not an expert in the subject. The twelve myths above are all pretty common. Simply recognizing them when you hear them should help you avoid a lot of misinformation online.

All cars have different care needs. The best way to keep your car running smoothly is to read the owner’s manual and follow all of the recommended service guidelines. Small, regular maintenance and service is a quick and affordable way to prevent major, unexpected car problems – and that’s no myth!

Brett Gordon

The engine behind editing at DigMyRide and the brains behind its build. During the day, Brett is a thirty-something dude from SoCal climbing the corporate ladder, but by night, he spends his time contributing to the online world of automotive tech & trends.