Our car guy clears up a few automotive misconceptions
In a recent debate with Pulse managing editor Gary Poole, he claimed someone said they never washed their car because it “wastes resources.” Gary said he kept his car washed because it “improves your gas mileage and thereby cuts down on the emissions and air pollution.” The discussion ranged into oil change intervals, premium gas and the like. Interesting, the number of auto myths out there. Here’s what’s right.
Washing Your Car: Yes.
You know what wastes resources? A cup of coffee. Is it fair trade Kenyan? Good for you. You had dry beans transported across at least one continent and an ocean. A modern automatic car wash is actually very environmentally friendly—they have serious water recycling and reuse capabilities. And amazingly, if you get enough dirt on your car, it really can increase drag and cost you several MPG. Washing will also really extend your car’s life, which is way eco-friendly. If your radiator is clogged with mud and wasps and you spray enough out, I suppose your mileage would increase.
Oil Change Intervals: Have them.
Synthetic oil used to cost a fortune, which is why we changed our oil all the time. Now it’s cheap. It’s good stuff, too, and almost all modern engines require it. Change it every 5,000 miles or so. Don’t stress about 6,000 miles. Or 8,000. The thing to watch out for, however, is that there’s now a lot of opportunity to burn some oil in the interval. You should probably, you know, check it.
Premium Gas: Maybe.
There’s been a funny curve, high-test ethyl-wise: “When we all had carburetors, the more high octane gas we used, the better our performance. Then we all got fuel injection, and almost everything ran fine on 87 octane. But now we all need premium again.”
That’s not quite true. If your car says “regular” on the gas cap, anything more expensive won’t really help you. Your engine and engine computer are designed to perform optimally on the cheap stuff. There might be a miniscule benefit to better gas…or there might not. You won’t notice. All these new high-efficiency engines are another story, and they want premium more and more. They’ll run on cheap gas, but not as well and their engine computers will drop your power—and mileage. Incidentally, the gas in your favorite station and Auntie Germaine’s Pies-n’-Gas? Same gas, from the same tank back at the fuel depot.
Warming Up Your Engine: A little.
Five-minute warmups were another product of the carbureted era. But do give it 45 seconds or so to let that sweet synthetic circulate. The best way to warm up a car is actually driving it gently. Driving it hard is another matter entirely. Engine, transmission, wheel bearings and differentials would like a few miles before you hammer it.
Manual or Automatic Transmission: Yes.
Automatic transmissions have made up essentially all their deficiencies. They no longer sap performance or decrease mileage as they once did. They still have issues, which is they cost more to make and have more moving parts. If this were 1962 and everything could still be had with manual, then those are the cars you’d logically pick. Most cars don’t even offer one any more, so it’s a moot point.
Can You Kill A Car With A Gun Like They Do In The Movies: Yes.
I know this keeps you up at night. You won’t get a huge fireball, but put a big hole through the bottom of the gas tank of a running car, and that’s a recipe for a spectacular fire. Gas vaporizes fast, so to be really certain, let it drain for a few minutes then hit it again with an incendiary round. Of course, the bad guys/good guys will have calmly exited the car and called the fire department by then.
Maybe it would be faster just to shoot the engine block. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, we know that if you have a Ford pickup with the 5.4-liter Triton V-8 that’s already misfiring, it takes three .50 BMG rounds—you know, the ones army snipers use for targets a mile away—to put down the engine. So to sum up: start taking alternating shots at the gas tank and engine with a .50-caliber Barrett, and in a matter of minutes you’ll have a dead car.
The More You Know.
David Traver Adolphus is a freelance automotive researcher who recently quit his full time job writing about old cars to pursue his lifelong dream of writing about old AND new cars. He welcomes the inevitable and probably richly deserved kvetching about Airbag and anything else on Twitter as @proscriptus.