WhichCar
Powered by
  • WheelsWheels
  • MOTORMOTOR
  • 4X4 Australia4X4 Australia
  • Street MachineStreet Machine
  • Trade Unique CarsTrade Unique Cars

Truth or Myth? We investigate some of the most common motoring beliefs

By Andy Enright, 17 Oct 2019 Advice

Car Truths and Myths

Wheels delves into a dirty dozen of motoring’s myths and maybes

Motoring, it seems, is a rich breeding ground for enduring myths. Some of them have a long-buried origin in fact while others are pure poppycock. We take a look at some of the more prevalent beliefs and rate them according to their veracity.

You still need to run your car in

This is one your dad probably warned you about. New cars have a ‘running in’ process during the first couple of weeks of ownership and should you fail to adhere to it, and you risk reducing the lifespan of your car’s powerplant – or worse. This usually involves gentle acceleration, staying below certain rpm, progressively introducing load and avoiding towing. Some new car manuals recommend it, others don't, and having seen how new cars are unloaded onto and from transporters at dock heads, they're generally not babied. We spoke to an ex-Honda boss who noted that they had to ask the factory to chock the front springs of S2000s because they were being driven out of car transporters so fast that front spoilers were being damaged. 

We spoke to a pair of mechanics who work at new car dealerships, for brands from both the mainstream and high-performance luxury ends of the spectrum. For mainstream marques, it’s unsurprising that little attention is required from new owners post-delivery. Our contact said he was not aware of any official running-in process: new owners simply pick up the keys and drive away. Provided you're sensible with the car initially and the servicing schedule is adhered to, all will be well. 

Toyota claims customers taking delivery of a new Corolla will see the car "unlikely to require any change in a person's normal driving style."

Mazda similarly say that "no special running-in is necessary"

Hyundai says "no special break-in period is necessary."

So, if you don't believe us, try the three biggest-selling marques in Australia.

VERDICT: MYTH (UP TO A POINT)

 

Read next: Everything you need to know about electric cars

Japanese cars are still the most reliable

Again, this is a belief that needs addressing. Hard, comparable reliability data is almost impossible to come by as cars tend to be driven very differently across marques. The JD Power survey is still perhaps the most accurate way of testing how well screwed together your car is. It measures the number of faults owners report during the first 90 days of ownership.

True, Lexus was the most reliable brand in the 2019 survey, but we took the data and crunched it to derive the average number of faults according to country. The best performing nation was Germany, with an average of 123.8 faults per 100 cars. Following close behind was South Korea with 125, and then the Japanese on 138.8. American cars registered 151.5 faults, British models 169.3, Swedish cars 204 and Italian cars 249 problems per 100 cars.

Those numbers do need to be qualified. They’re a broad brush average that, for instance, counts Volkswagen as a German brand despite the fact that it manufactures its cars in 21 countries around the world, with the bulk of its product emanating outside of Germany. But you get the point. If you simply rely on a Japanese badge as your guarantee of quality, you could be in for a nasty surprise.

VERDICT: MYTH

Reliable Japanese Cars

Taking your car on track voids your warranty

Talk about a can of worms. In theory, driving your car at a track day shouldn’t necessarily compromise your new car warranty. If the car isn’t modified, is maintained correctly and is driven within its mechanical limits, your warranty shouldn’t be voided by participating in a track day.

But there is a difference between a warranty being voided and one where the manufacturer won’t cover faults that arise on track. Any form of competitive driving (time attack, autocross etc) won’t be covered by a new car warranty. General trackday driving is a different matter. Hyundai, for instance, offers a trackday warranty for its i30N model. This means stress-free track excursions for the full length of Hyundai’s standard five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, as long as the events entered are non-competitive. Hyundai doesn’t even mind if you fit stickier track day tyres than the standard Pirelli P-Zeroes.

Read next: Which car manufacturers offer the longest warranties?

Don’t just assume that because you have a ‘track-oriented’ car that the manufacturer will cover any sort of mechanical glitch that occurs on a circuit. Many people buy a Porsche 911 GT3 specifically for its penchant for absorbing flat-out circuit sessions but look a little deeper into the nether reaches of its owner’s handbook and you’ll spot this gem.

Porsche 911 GT3 Handbook

VERDICT:  IT VARIES…

Warranty on track cars

You’ll get better fuel economy if you use 98RON ultra-premium petrol

For most of the people, most of the time, running their petrol car on 98RON will have no appreciable benefit in terms of fuel economy. If your car is engineered to run on 91 or 95, and that’s what it says on the filler flap, use that fuel. You’ll just be wasting money otherwise. The compression ratio of your engine is geared to the combustion properties of that particular fuel and using a higher octane fuel won’t offer economy benefits. Where 98RON fuel does offer a benefit is if you own a very high performance vehicle that stipulates that this fuel is required to avoid pre-detonation of the fuel, or ’knock’.

VERDICT: MYTH (MOSTLY)

98RON ultra-premium petrol

You’ll reduce fuel consumption in your ute if you fold the tailgate down

It would seem to stand to reason that smoothing the airflow at the back of your ute would make it more aerodynamic and, by logical extension, more fuel-efficient. Somewhat counter-intuitively, driving with the tailgate up is more efficient than folding it down. Why?

When the tailgate on your ute is closed it helps create a high-pressure bubble of air in the cargo tray, known as a “separated bubble effect”. Air flowing across the roof of the ute is deflected by this bubble of air, and is gently guided over the tailgate, separating a long way behind the ute into vortices.

Drop the tailgate and you lose this bubble, a low pressure zone sucking the air to the bed of the truck, creating drag in the try and onto the wheelarches and affixing these wasteful vortices to the rear of the vehicle. The difference tends to be around 8 percent in terms of fuel efficiency. This gets even worse if you use an aftermarket net rather than a tailgate.

General Motors’ US aerodynamics team discovered that fuel economy could be improved by fitting a soft tonneau cover instead of a hard lid, as this helps shape the airflow over the back of the truck, in effect creating a spoiler at the rear.

VERDICT: MYTH

Ute Tailgate

Read next: Huge fuel guzzlers

It’s safer to drive a monster SUV or American-style pick-up than a passenger car

That’s true, to a certain extent. Physics tends to dictate that when a big car hits a small car, the big one ‘wins’.  The IIHS has compiled data on crash rates and the lowest rate of occupant deaths per 1000km travelled is undoubtedly in large SUVs (see table below).

Driver deaths per million registered passenger vehicles 1-3 years old, Source: IIHS

 

Vehicle Size

Rate (2005)

Rate (2015)

Cars

Mini

144

64

Small

106

46

Midsize

70

38

Large

67

48

Very Large

44

22

SUVs

Small

60

24

Midsize

57

18

Large

48

14

Very Large

24

13

Pickups

Small

122

27

Large

104

39

Very Large

101

40

 

That was in 2015. What’s interesting is that vehicle newness is also a significant factor in death rates. “A large 10-year-old vehicle that does not have side airbags or electronic stability control (ESC) would not fare as well in an accident as a small vehicle from today equipped with modern safety equipment and collision avoidance technology,” said Becky Mueller, senior research engineer for IIHS.

Read next: American-sourced trucks are booming down under

It’s also worth reiterating that occupant safety is not the same as safety for other people. Between 1989 and 1992 SUVs were 132 percent more likely to kill the driver in a passenger car compared to a crash that included another car. For the period between 2013 and 2016 this had fallen significantly to 28 percent, due to the increasing popularity of smaller SUVs and crossovers. Pick-ups were particularly egregious offenders here, and have remained the vehicles most likely to kill another driver in a crash, with almost no decrease since 1989. When the study began a pick-up was 159 percent more likely to kill the driver of a passenger car, while in 2016 the figure stood at 158 percent. In its conclusion, the IIHS study describes pick-ups as remaining “disproportionately aggressive toward other vehicles”.

VERDICT: TRUTH (BUT WITH CAVEATS)

American pick-up vs. car

Two cars travelling at 50km/h crashing into one another head-on is the same as one car hitting a wall at 100km/h.

Physics is your friend here, unless you’re the one driving into a wall at 100km/h. Then it’s certainly not. Two cars approaching each other at 50km/h each have a closing speed of 100km/h, but neither possesses the kinetic energy of one car travelling at 100km/h. So, against all initial logic, the two cars driving head on into one another have the same kinetic energy as one driving into a wall at 50km/h. The only difference in practical terms is that the car coming the other way has a deformable crash structure and walls don’t tend to be built with that in mind.

VERDICT: MYTH

head on car crash

Read next: ANCAP might be flawed, but it's also vital

Letting your car run low on fuel drags the residue out of the bottom of the tank into your engine.

Nope. What do you think a fuel filter does? And where do you think your fuel pick up sits in the tank – at its top or its bottom? Next.

VERDICT: MYTH

Windscreens will crack if you pour hot water on them. Every winter, without fail, there's a thread on here.

This old chestnut has legs. It began in the days when most windscreens were made of toughened – or tempered – glass. Pouring hot water onto these screens could thermally shock them and cause them to shatter. Modern cars have laminated windscreens, with a sheet of polyvinyl butyral between two or more pieces of glass. These have a far greater temperature latitude and will not shatter when hot water is poured over them.

If, however, you have a stone chip in the screen, hot water can seep into the crack and then refreeze later causing a crack. So while you theoretically can, it’s better to clear ice with cold water or better still a can of de-icer, a heated windscreen or your car’s heater vents. And yes, cold water takes longer to freeze than tepid water. Again, sounds utterly counterintuitive but Google the Mpemba effect.

VERDICT: MYTH (BUT DON’T)

Your mobile phone can cause an explosion while you’re refilling your car.

Plenty of people tend to ignore this rule, much as plenty of people are singularly unconvinced that their mobile phone will bring down a passenger jet. Thing is, if it has a battery in it then it's a potential ignition source. Just ask Samsung Galaxy Note 7 users.

As for your mobile phone? No, not really. Robert Renkes, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, said, “We have not found a cell phone responsible for any fire since the beginning of mankind”. Mythbusters, the popular TV show, even tried to provoke an explosion by placing a cell phone in a chamber packed with petrol vapour and couldn’t manage it.

Practically speaking, the electric field created by your phone (typically 2-5 volts/metre) is too small to create a viable explosion on a forecourt. In the UK, both Texaco and Shell petrol stations often have mobile phone masts secreted inside their fuel price towers, a handful of metres from the pumps and those things pump out a heck of a lot more power than your measly handset. Some industries, such as oil refineries nevertheless take a belt and braces approach and insist that employees in high explosive risk areas use what’s called an ATEX-rated handset that’s sealed and runs lower power draw operating systems and such like.

A bigger problem than your phone is your clothing. The vast majority of petrol station fires are caused by static electricity and if you’re sliding across synthetic car seats wearing synthetic fibres, you could easily build up enough charge to create a viable spark. Should the earthing wire in your car be broken, and you’re insulated by rubber-soled shoes, touching the nozzle of the hose to the neck of the fuel filler could create a sizeable spark. But your phone? No. It’s never been done.

VERDICT: MYTH

Read next: How to (safely) use a phone while driving

The Mitsubishi Starion was so-called because executives at Mitsubishi were trying to call it a Stallion and something was lost in translation.

Casual racism or a genuine mistake?  The story goes that in order to rival the Mustang, Mitsubishi came up with a sports coupe that was going to be called the Stallion, but pronunciation difficulties between Japan and a European marketing agency scuppered the execution. Proponents of this story even point to an equine theme in Mitsubishi’s naming policy with their evergreen Colt, Canter and Lancer nameplates. They also use the Mitsubishi’s Pajero badge – which is a crude term for a gentleman pleasuring himself in Spanish – as evidence that even the Mitsubishi marketing machine can get the nomenclature catastrophically wrong.

The company’s own explanation is that it’s a shortening of ‘Star and ‘Orion’ which sounds even weirder, but given that the other sporting cars launched at the same point in the early 80s were the oddly-named Cordia and Tredia, there’s no reason to doubt them.  Add to that the fact that Mitsubishi have long had a tradition of naming their engines after astronomy and mythical themes (Astron, Neptune, Saturn, Sirius, Vulcan etc) and we’re prepared to give the Starion the benefit of the doubt.


VERDICT: LIKELY MYTH

Mitsubishi Starion

You’ll never get booked for speeding if you’re less than 10 percent over the posted speed limit

If you still believe this and have never been booked for speeding count yourself extremely lucky, especially if you live in Victoria. As a professional road tester, I’ve heard some colleagues claim that you’ll be safe from getting pinged if your speed is within 10 per cent of the limit, so 88km/h in an 80- zone is fine, as is 121km/h on a 110km/h highway.

Having been sent a speed camera fine for 4km/h over the limit, the tolerances for fines can be extremely low in Victoria.  New South Wales has less of a reputation for draconian speed enforcement than the Garden State, and we notice that our colleagues from the Sydney office tend to spend less time inspecting their speedos and more time observing the road ahead.

Read next: We need to rethink the way we fine drivers for speeding

Speeding

Police forces are generally reluctant to publish threshold speeds for ticketing as this then creates a new de-facto speed limit. South Australia Police did admit in 2017 that some motorists were able to go past speed cameras travelling as much as 7km/h over the limit without getting fined, but the threshold wasn’t in any way uniform. In other zones, 1km/h over would result in a fine.

As part of Wheels’ performance testing procedure, we measure vehicle speedometers for accuracy. For instance, a Kia Picanto might read 100km/h when it is, in fact, travelling at 95km/h, whereas a Mazda CX-8 will be dead on the money at the tonne. So it’s best not to rely on an element of speedo error in a car that hasn’t been accurately verified. As an aside, we’ve yet to find a car that under-reports its speed.

VERDICT: MYTH

Sign-up here to get the weekly Wheels highlights