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6 Car Care Myths That You Need To Stop Believing Right Now!

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David Muhlbaum, Car Care Myths

With David Muhlbaum, Senior Online Editor at Kiplinger.com

Your Uncle Frank may have gotten 150,000 miles out of his Studebaker.  However, the advice he handed down on car care is probably out of date. Knowing the difference between myth and reality could save you a fair amount of money without compromising your vehicle.

To get the details on car-care myths, Steve speaks with David Muhlbaum, Senior Online Editor at Kiplinger.com.  David recently wrote a piece titled 6 Car-Care Myths That Need to Die. We’ve listed them below.

Car-Care Myth 1: Premium Gas Is Better for Your Car

The biggest myth is that premium gas is better for your car.  Descriptors such as premium, ultra, and supreme are just marketing terms to get you to buy more expensive gas.

Many car manuals also recommend premium gas so they can tune their engines for higher performance and slightly better mileage.  But most cars don’t really need premium gas.  So try using regular-unleaded gas and listen closely to your engine.  If you hear a persistent knocking sound, you should probably go back to premium.  If not, you’re on the road to fuel savings.

Car-Care Myth 2: You Should Change Your Oil Every X-Thousand Miles

Myth number two, which all car owners have experienced first-hand, is that you should change your oil every x thousand miles.

Nowadays, engines can go a lot longer between oil changes.  Plus, your owner’s manual will tell you when to change the oil.  So disregard what Uncle Frank told you about the frequency of oil change, and follow your manual.

Car-Care Myth 3: You Can Check Your Tire Tread with a Penny

Remember how Uncle Frank would stick a penny between treads on his tire to see if it was time to replace ‘em.  Well, the test works, but it tells you to change tires, like right now!

Instead, buy yourself some time.  Instead of a penny, stick a quarter head down between the treads.  If the top of George’s head is exposed, you have 4/32nds of an inch of tread left.   This also gives you enough driving time to look for a good deal on tires.

If you want to be more precise, buy yourself a tire tread gauge for under five bucks.

Car-Care Myth 4: You Can Wax Your Car by Going Through a Car Wash

You know how car washes offer more expensive options that promise to give your car a nice coat of wax?  Well, don’t buy into that because anything that sprays on and washes off in 30 seconds just isn’t going to protect your paint.

Instead, buy a paint sealant and spend 30 minutes rubbing it onto your car once a year for much better paint protection.

Car-Care Myth 5: To Preserve Your Car’s Warranty, The Dealer Needs to Service It

Dealers used to play on customers’ fears about voiding warranty if the car was serviced outside the dealer network.  Fortunately, that’s no longer the case.

If you have your services done regularly with quality parts and keep your paperwork, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act makes it illegal for a dealer to deny warranty coverage.

Independent garages are often cheaper and quicker than dealers’ service departments.  So look for a mechanic with a good reputation.  That said, dealers are the first to know about technical service bulletins that might benefit your car, so stop by the dealership from time to time.

Car-Care Myth 6: If Your Tire Pressure Light Is Off, You Have Enough Air

Cars sold since 2007 have Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) that warn you when your tire pressure drops.

The hitch, though, is that the warning light only comes on when the tire pressure is about 25% less than recommended.  A 25% drop in pressure significantly increases gas consumption, compromises car handling, and can lead to tire blowouts.

So buy a tire pressure gauge for under $10, and check your tire pressure at least once a month.

And if you want more car-related tips, head over to David Muhlbaum’s Kiplinger page.


Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily United Capital.  Interviewee is not a representative of United Capital. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions.  Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances.  The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by United Capital.

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Steve Pomeranz: Right now I’m going to talk about six car myths or six car care myths that need to die. Your great Uncle Frank may have gotten 150,000 miles out of a Studebaker, but the advice he handed down is probably out of date. There are many sayings and shibboleths to watch out for.

So if you want your car to have a long and healthy life, you’ve got to learn the new ways to handle your car. Even if you lease and your car’s longevity really isn’t an issue, knowing the difference between myth and reality could save you money. So I’ve invited David Muhlbaum, Senior Online Editor of kiplinger.com to join me because he follows the stuff like no other.

Welcome, David.

David Muhlbaum: Glad to be here.

Steve Pomeranz: So these six myths, in particular, continue to steer well-intentioned drivers off course. And you have used the word shibboleth, and I want to congratulate you for that word. For you word nerds, I looked it up, and Webster says it’s a word or saying used by adherents of a party, sect, or belief and usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning.

So for all you, you have a new word that you can use if you care to. So, David, great word. What are these six myths?

David Muhlbaum: Well, I’d like to give a little shout out there to my American literature professors for helping out with my car care knowledge, but no.

Steve Pomeranz: [LAUGH]

David Muhlbaum: I’d say number one, and, again, this is one that applies to you folks leasing out there, too, is that premium gas is better for your car. I mean, premium—it’s a word meant to—it’s marketing.

Steve Pomeranz: Ultra-supreme.

David Muhlbaum: But, too many people waste money on this stuff.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, so I have a car that they would say in the manual, only use premium gas. And I have a friend who’s owned many gas stations throughout his career. And he goes no, not so. What’s the word?

David Muhlbaum: Well, I’m always a little bit wary of going against a manufacturer requirement, so there’s a small percentage of cars that require premium fuel.

There are many more that recommend premium fuel to get just a little bit more gas mileage and performance. However, if you are required by your car maker to use premium fuel, if you want to try cheaping out, use regular fuel and just listen. You want to listen for that telltale pinging or knocking sound.

Steve Pomeranz: Okay.

David Muhlbaum: If it stays around a long time, you should probably go back to premium.

Steve Pomeranz: Okay.

David Muhlbaum: But again, that’s a small group of people.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, well, I used to have a car, but it wasn’t a good car. It used to ping all the time because for whatever reason. But I know that sound, so.

David Muhlbaum: Yeah.

Steve Pomeranz: But I know what you’re talking about. All right, myth number two, you should change your oil every X-thousand miles.

David Muhlbaum: Right, you remember the old Jiffy Lube jingle, every 3000 miles just bring your car into Jiffy Lube.

Steve Pomeranz: Mm-hm.

David Muhlbaum: Well, they don’t use it anymore. And you shouldn’t either. Basically, the recommendation or how often you should change your oil is written down right there in your owner’s manual. That’s what you should follow, not what great Uncle Frank said or some service manager who is trying to recommend a whole bunch of engine flushes to you.

Follow what it says in the book, that’s your interval.

Steve Pomeranz: So if it says 5,000 miles don’t worry about it. If it says 10,000 miles, then just follow it, especially, I guess, if it’s synthetic oil. They know what they’re talking about.

David Muhlbaum: Right, one of the things to pay attention to though with these longer oil change intervals, it’s still important to check the oil the old fashioned way, with the dip stick.

Steve Pomeranz: Okay.

David Muhlbaum: Especially when there are longer intervals, you might not be bothered as much.

Steve Pomeranz: Mm-hm, yeah, so you want to make sure you have the correct level of oil. All right, next myth, you can check your tire tread with a penny.

David Muhlbaum: Yeah, this is just the wrong coin. The idea is valid, and boy, this is a visual one, but here’s how it works.

Steve Pomeranz: It’s inflation, that’s the problem.

David Muhlbaum: Yeah, you take a quarter, you stick the quarter in the gap between the treads on your tires. You should be not be able to see the top of his head.

Steve Pomeranz: Okay, the quarter has to be head down.

David Muhlbaum: Head down, good point.

Steve Pomeranz: Okay.

David Muhlbaum: Good point head down. You should not be able to see the top of his head.

Steve Pomeranz: Okay.

David Muhlbaum: If the top of his head is exposed on that quarter that means that you’ve got less than 430 seconds—they use this funny measurement for tires—of tread left. That’s getting close to the legal minimum, which is 230 seconds, it’s time to go tire shopping.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, I know that

David Muhlbaum: The penny, the penny mark’s 230 seconds, which means you need new tires now

Steve Pomeranz: Got it, got it. So I know that when I turn my lease in, they require tires with so much tread, so that’s how I got sensitive to this whole tread thing. Going to kind of a store that sold used tires or something like that, and I would replace those tires. This was, yeah, when I had no money, I would replace those tires with kind of used tires as long as the tread was more than 330 seconds, which was the requirement.

And now, of course, the manufacturer says you can’t do that, you’ve got to buy a new tire. We want a good new tire. So, that’s gone. Okay, let’s go to the next myth. You can wax your car by going through a car wash.

David Muhlbaum: Yeah, well, you get up, you pull up to one of those car washes and there’s a little sort of menu and they really would like you to get the space age clear coat protectant or whatever the term of art is called.

Here’s why I don’t think that’s really the same thing or frankly worth your money. Here’s some product, you have to go in there and in 30 seconds it’s going to be sprayed all over your car and rinsed off. And that magic foam has to not smear your glass windows, not harm the rubber and vinyl trim, be non-toxic enough that you can sit there in the mist of the stuff, and it’s supposed to protect your paint.

By comparison, if you go into a car parts store, there are separate products for each of those and they all require a little bit of elbow grease to apply. I think it’s better to buy a cheap paint sealant and put it on once a year, even if you’re not a love to sit out in the driveway and polish your car, if you’re not a car nut, you know, just spend half an hour. It’ll be better and a better value for you.

Steve Pomeranz: Well, there is something about the person who takes your order as you’re driving through. You’ve got that board there. And the regular car wash is, let’s say, is it’s 15.99. Then they’ll have some kind of sale that brings all of the works down from 25.99 down to 18.99. And you go for three bucks.

David Muhlbaum: You’re not going to cheap out, are you? It’s little bit like ordering in a restaurant—is that all?

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, exactly, all right, myth number four: To preserve your car’s warranty, the dealer needs to service it.

David Muhlbaum: Right, now there’s actually a federal law about this, it’s called the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. And basically, what it means is that it if you’re doing the maintenance required in your service manual, it doesn’t matter who’s doing it as long as it’s done properly. It could be you.

Steve Pomeranz: Mm-hm.

David Muhlbaum: Now, and generally speaking, independent shops are less expensive and manufacturers are much less, they used to include some of the maintenance as part of the sale earlier on; that’s kind of going away. I would say one advantage of going to the dealer—at least, on occasion even if you have an independent that you’re happy with—is that the dealer often knows best about these technical service bulletins. This is something less than a full recall, which in case they are obligated to tell you.

But it’s still something that the manufacturer knows about your car that maybe ought to be addressed and sometimes they will do it for free. So I think it’s a good idea to check in with the dealership every now and again.

Steve Pomeranz: That’s good advice. Also, they’ll give you a loaner.

David Muhlbaum: Yes.

Steve Pomeranz: Many of them will. Now, of course, that’s going to be built into the price.

David Muhlbaum: That’s right and some independent shops will keep a few cars around too. Yeah, nothing’s free.

Steve Pomeranz: Nothing’s free. All right, last one. If your tire pressure light is off, you have enough air.

David Muhlbaum: Right, so it’s been almost ten years now that we’ve had these tire pressure monitoring systems in our cars, the light that comes on if there’s a tire under-inflated. That’s basically what they do. The hitch is this. That light won’t come on until a tire is more than 25% lower than the recommended pressure.

That’s just sort of how they’re set up. If you wait for that, you’re already into what could be a danger zone especially if it’s hot, the car’s heavily loaded. You’re putting your tires and thus your safety at risk because an under-inflated tire can compromise your car’s handling or even lead to a tire blowout.

It’s also wasting money because an under-inflated tire requires more gasoline and wears out more quickly. There’s just no substitute for owning a tire gauge and using it once a month, just get down there, check it.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, so get a very convenient tire gauge. Something that’s easy to use. And take care of your stuff.

David Muhlbaum: Yeah, they’re dirt cheap, ten bucks.

Steve Pomeranz: That’s right. Well, my guest, David Muhlbaum, Senior Online Editor of kiplinger.com has discussed the six myths. There are many many more myths and other things that you can learn from him. David, how can people find you?

David Muhlbaum: Well, you can go to Kiplinger.com and look up our car content, or you can follow me on Twitter, where my handle is @DaveyDog.

Steve Pomeranz: @DaveyDog?

David Muhlbaum: @DaveyDog [LAUGH]

Steve Pomeranz: I like that, I like that.

David Muhlbaum: I was pretty early to Twitter and wasn’t paying a lot of attention and now I got it.

Steve Pomeranz: [LAUGH] And now you’re stuck with it. This is what happens when you get a Twitter handle at age 14.

All right, if you have a question about what we’ve discussed, just ask us. Go to Stevepomeranz.com and ask us anything you like, Stevepomeranz.com. And while you’re there don’t forget to sign up for our weekly update where we’ll send you every commentary, all the interviews straight to your inbox. David, thank you so much for joining me.

David Muhlbaum: Thank you.