Going to the auto service shop can feel like entering a foreign country after a 20-hour flight with minimal language tips (or, at best, a bulky phrase book) to prepare you for your arrival. An auto mechanic may attempt to communicate with you, but you just aren’t picking up all the lingo.
“Your exhaust manifold needs its tubular joints welded to the intake valve on the left tire.”
Exactly. Too bad Google Translate doesn’t have an option for translating “mechanic speak” yet. It’s almost impossible to separate car maintenance myths from services you actually need when it’s this tough to understand the terminology in the first place.
Understanding the inner workings of an automobile, especially a modern one, is no easy task. Cars haven’t gotten any simpler over the years. Some sources say that, in addition to the basic functional engine components in a car, most modern vehicles include about 3,000 semiconductor chips. That’s such a long way from the original steam-powered cars that began this industry in the first place!
Needless to say, there is more technology packed into today's vehicles than ever before! That’s why we bring our cars into a repair facility when they need fixing, especially if we’re not completely sure what needs to be fixed. Your certified repair technician may recommend a variety of services to maintain your car—we’re here to tell you what some of those common recommendations really mean…and if some of those are car maintenance myths.
1. 3,000 - 7,500 Mile Oil Change
Right away, we’ll attack one of the most common maintenance recommendations surrounding the automobile—the oil change. The 3,000-mile rule of thumb came about in the 1960s and 1970s when engine and engine oil technology hadn’t yet evolved into the science it is today. So, even if you’re trying to be extra mindful of your vehicle, you should not ever have to change your oil before 3,000 miles (any recommendations for doing it earlier may indeed be a myth). That original rule of thumb is extremely conservative.
Today, there is no reason a modern car cannot go about 5,000 or more miles before an oil change. The mileage before oil changes generally differs by vehicle, since some cars are more demanding on their oil than others. That said, many of today’s cars have oil life monitor systems that tell you when you should change your oil. If your car has an oil life monitor, simply pay attention to that. If your car was produced before these gauges were standard vehicle inclusions, you’ll just need to consider your car and the conditions you tend to drive it in.
Because most modern cars can go farther between oil changes these days, the 3,000 mile oil change is probably a myth (but remember to pay attention to your car's signals that it needs a change and act accordingly). That said, your car will definitely need an oil change at some point! It may just happen at somewhere around 5,000 miles instead.
2. Fuel Additives and Cleaners
A fuel additive is a liquid chemical which can be added to gasoline to improve fuel performance and reduce gunk buildup on engines. In some instances, a fuel additive may be necessary, especially when you are storing a vehicle for any length of time. A mechanic may also recommend a fuel cleaner to help an older car battle the problem of excess buildup and low fuel performance. Gasoline does produce nasty, gummy deposits, but since 1995, gasoline has also included detergents to clean those deposits. So, overall, you should not have to use a fuel cleaner unless your vehicle is seriously in need of it or if your car’s manufacturer recommends it.
NOTE: Be sure to consult a repair tech before you use a fuel additive. If you’re using this substance to combat a problem, you won’t want the fuel additive to accidentally make things worse. Generally, fuel cleaning additives don’t produce drastic immediate results, and may even take a few thousand miles to start producing results anyway.
For most drivers under standard conditions, it's a myth that extra fuel additives will be needed.
3. Engine Tune Up
An engine tune-up is a service through which your mechanic will inspect all components of your engine related to ignition and engine operation. If they find any faulty parts, your repair tech will recommend replacing it for recovered or increased performance. You would likely be provided with this service if your vehicle is serving up troubling performance, poor gas mileage, slow startup, concerning sounds, malfunction indicator lights or other general issues.
It's a fact that you may need this service if you're seeing some unusual behavior from your car. Completing a tune up may help your mechanic find out where the real problem is.
4. High-Octane Fuel
Most vehicles get by just fine on regular gas, but you might hear repair professionals or racing enthusiasts talk about “high-octane” or premium fuel. Octane numbers measure how much in-engine compression a fuel can withstand before igniting. The higher the number, the more compression it can take. You might have seen these numbers at the pump:
High-octane gas will therefore burn slower than lower-octane fuel because it takes more compression to make it combust. (Fuel needs to ignite in order to create the energy needed to get your vehicle moving. That’s where all the gas in your gas tank goes: combusting in small amounts over and over.)
Although premium fuel sounds like it could be a cost-saving measure, not every engine noticeably benefits from this. Sports cars are the general recipient of this expensive fuel grade. They compress fuel and air in a high-compression cylinder to extract the highest amount of performance out of it. This tight squeeze can cause lower-octane fuel to prematurely combust, causing detonation or knocking, and rob the car of power and performance.
Lower-octane engines (which make up the majority of most commercially sold vehicles to the average user) and fuel don’t use a high compression cylinder so engine detonation and knocking aren’t large concerns. Therefore, you probably won’t get more performance out of your car by using a higher octane fuel—you’ll just spend more money than you really need to.
For non-professional drivers under normal conditions, you probably don't need high-octane fuel. Needing it is a myth for most cars.
5. Tire Alignment
Although we may typically think about a car’s engine first when it comes to things that need fixing at a repair facility, your wheels will need attention at some point, too! You may therefore hear your technician talk about the “alignment” of your wheels.
Tire alignment (a.k.a. “Wheel alignment” or just “alignment”) involves the adjustment of your vehicles’ suspension. Suspension, then, refers to the system which connects your car to the wheels it rolls on. The alignment of this system matters because it affects the angle of your tires’ position, which affects how they touch the road, which affects wheel performance and tread wear.
It's a fact that your wheels should be aligned in order to minimize wear and tear on your tires!
6. Voiding a Vehicle Warranty
If you have a warranty or vehicle service contract on your vehicle, then there are certain modifications or services which may violate the terms of your contract. For example, your car’s protection may be in jeopardy if you modify your vehicle with performance enhancements like certain tuners, chips, programmers, headers, etc. If any of those components are not included in your policy, then you may accidentally lose your protective coverage.
No matter what you plan to have done to your vehicle to upgrade or repair it, you should have your protection contract handy. That way you can ensure you stay within bounds of the requirements for your vehicle service contract or warranty. That said, most repair technicians will not have a problem with helping you care for your vehicle while keeping your contract intact.
It's a fact that, if you have a warranty or a vehicle service contract, there may be ways to accidentally void your vehicle warranty. Be sure to understand what the terms of your contract are so that neither you nor your mechanic violate any terms of your contract.
7. Tire Pressure
All tires have a maximum pressure listed in pounds per square inch (PSI) on the sidewall. The more air you have in your tires, the higher the PSI will be. Although some may assume that more air in your tires is always better, having an over-inflated or under-inflated tire is dangerous. Both conditions may contribute to impaired driving safety, irregular tread wear, and even damage to your tires. If that damage happens while you’re driving, then that’s where the real danger lies.
Fact: tire pressure can directly affect the safety of your drive. Make sure your tires have the correct amount of air in them to avoid accidents or tire blowouts.
8. Safety and Emissions Testing
At some point in your vehicle registration process, you may be asked to take your vehicle in for a safety inspection and emissions testing. A safety inspection ensures that your car meets a basic functional standard in the interest of safety. Your inspector will look at components such as mirrors, windshield wipers, turn signals, brake system, and more to make sure that your car is capable of doing its job without malfunction. An emissions test is when an inspecting location checks to make sure that your vehicle emits an acceptable level of pollutants (or emissions) while it is running. One or both of these tests may be required by your state in order to fully register your vehicle.
Although you're probably required to pass these tests in order to legally drive your car, it's a fact that you want to make sure that your car gets good marks for the safety of your car's passengers as well as the environment.
9. Computer Diagnostics
These days (and increasingly so), computers largely contribute to the function of most recently produced cars. When something mysteriously goes wrong with your vehicle, your repair technician may run a computer diagnostic (a.k.a. “Car diagnostic” or just “diagnostic”) by running a scan on your vehicle’s computer to check for any issues. When the scan is complete, your car computer will deliver a list of codes to help efficiently point your mechanic in the direction of any real problem. This method of issue diagnosis increases precision and time efficiency, which saves you money at the shop!
Although it may not look like anything is happening while the computer diagnostic is running, it's a fact that it's necessary for getting a read on what's happening with the thousands of microchips in your car.
10. Flushing Coolant
Earlier in this post, we mentioned that your engine runs on repeated (though very controlled) ignitions of fuel in order to get going. Understandably, that generates a lot of heat! On its own, an engine would overheat and stop functioning properly. That’s why your car has a coolant system in it to circulate cooler liquid through your engine area and cool it off enough to stay strong.
Now, since that system is constantly functioning alongside your engine, your coolant system may experience some buildup inside the pipes and tanks that make it up. If that’s the case, you might notice that your car’s internal temperature rises too high or it just completely overheats and shuts down while you’re trying to drive it.
Flushing the coolant system can help clear up the gunk that might be stopping it from keeping your engine at optimal temps. You shouldn’t need to have this service completed for you unless you notice problems with your vehicle or if your repair tech advises you to do it for the safety of your vehicle.
Flushing your coolant is a necessary maintenance task, and that's a fact! However, again, it's only really necessary if you're seeing vehicle problems related to your coolant health.