Cars are something of a national obsession in the USA. Hardly surprising, given that 88% of Americans own a vehicle! Everyone has an opinion on what makes a cool car, so acronyms like hp and mpg are used casually in conversations. Let’s not forget the popularity of motor sports like NASCAR and Formula One, and of course the world-famous Indianapolis 500 race, which attracts over 300,000 fans every year.
The downside of this national obsession, is that everyone has lots to say on cars and motoring – and not all of these opinions are factually correct.
When it comes to cars, there is no substitute for doing your own research, and not relying on what your friends tell you as true. Believing a false rumor about cars could even end up costing you money – or at least make you look really dumb when you repeat it in more educated company.
Some of the most common motoring myths have already been well and truly debunked. For example, nobody believes that you have to change your car’s oil every 3,000 miles any more, just as nobody would seriously believe that if you put jet fuel in your gas tank then your vehicle will travel faster. However, it is not always so easy to get to the truth.
Check out the list below of motoring myths which have been proven false – and some which are actually true.
20 True: Car Insurance Is More Expensive For Men
When the time comes to get a new insurance policy for your vehicle, there are always a myriad if factors which the insurance company takes into account when calculating how much your policy is going to cost. The simplest way they decide who pays more and who pays less for their insurance is gender.
Over a lifetime, women will pay less for their car insurance than men – though the biggest difference in the cost of an insurance policy is evident in younger drivers.
Young, male drivers are considered to be high risk by insurance companies, who jack up the prices accordingly. Men also tend to choose cars which insurance companies believe pose a higher risk – so say goodbye to that high-powered sports car if you want to get a cheaper insurance deal.
19 True: Drinks Are Less Dangerous Than Cell Phones
The simple fact is that it is very dangerous to either drive while drunk or while using your cell phone, and you shouldn’t be doing either. However, several studies have shown that drivers using cell phones are more dangerous than those impaired by alcohol. In a 2006 study by the University of Utah, the reaction times of people who had been drinking and who were talking on a cell phone; all of the drunks managed to avoid crashing into the virtual pace car, but three of the subjects who were distracted by a cell phone conversation weren’t so lucky. If the cops catch you driving drunk or while using your cell phone, you’ll be in big trouble, but what is worse is that you are putting yourself and your family in danger.
18 True: The First Car Was Designed By Leonardo Da Vinci
Renaissance artist and all-round genius Leonardo da Vinci is often credited as the inventor of many 20th century machines and vehicles. His version of a helicopter is one of his more famous inventions, but he also came up with the design for what can only be described as an early motor car.
Leo’s version of the car wasn’t only the first self-propelled vehicle ever invented, but it was also the first programmable machine ever invented.
Granted, his version of the “car” didn’t have seats for either a driver or passengers, but that is just a minor detail. His sketches of a wind-up spring-driven vehicle were made in around 1478 – several centuries before the first recognizable motor car hit the streets in the late 19th century.
17 True: F1 Cars Can Drive Upside Down
This next vehicular rumor may sound more like something out of science fiction than science fact, but the truth is that Formula One cars can actually drive upside down. OK, so Lewis Hamilton and his F1 colleagues have never actually taken one of their cars for a spin on the ceiling, but the science behind these vehicles suggests that it would, in theory, be possible.
Current F1 cars are capable of generating three and a half times their own weight in downforce – which for those of us who don’t have a degree in engineering means that so long as the car was driving at a high enough speed (between 90mph and 120mph according to different studies), it should stay on the road, even if that road twisted upside down.
16 True: Cruise Control Was Invented By A Blind Man
Cruise control is one of the best-loved motoring innovations, making driving long distances much easier than it used to be – and helping you from accidentally going over the speed limit! Many people don’t realize just how long cruise control has been around.
It was actually invented by a man called Ralph Teetor in the 1940s, who noticed that drivers tended to slow down while they were talking and speed up again when they weren’t being distracted.
This Teetor had to be a pretty observant chap, right? Well, in some ways he was very observant, but Ralph was also blind, and would therefore never be able to experience his own invention – except as a passenger of course!
15 True: Holding Your Key Fob Close To Your Head Doubles Its Range
Picture the scene. You’re in a busy car park and you can’t quite remember where you parked your own vehicle. Modern key fobs make this task a little easier, as you can point and click, in the hope that you hear the tell-tale beep which lets you know that you’ve tracked down your car. But for that to work, you need to be at least in the general vicinity of your motor. You can always improve your chances of finding your car quickly by holding your key fob to your chin when you press the button. Amazingly, the cavities and fluids inside your skull act as an antenna, extending the range of your key fob by roughly a few car lengths, and hopefully helping you to track down your vehicle a little quicker.
14 True: Not All Speed Cameras Are Turned On
Speed cameras are the bane of motorists’ lives in the UK. They lurk at the side of the road, ready to pounce and flash as soon as they catch you going to just a few miles per hour over the speed limit. What many drivers don’t realize is that not all speed cameras are turned on. Some are there just to act as a deterrent; if drivers think they might be caught speeding, then they will slow down.
A study in 2017 suggested that just half of the UK’s 2,900 speed cameras are switched on at any one time – mainly because it is so expensive to keep them all activated. This information might be interesting to UK drivers but it isn’t very useful; there is, after all, no way to know which cameras are working!
13 True: You Can Get A Ticket For Driving Too Slow
Speeding tickets are a common occurrence, and even if a conscientious driver has never had one themselves, chances are that they know someone who has been caught driving too fast. Less common, but still a traffic offense, is being ticketed for driving too slowly. Each state has different traffic laws, but most will have provisions which allow them to caution drivers driving too slowly.
This is most likely to happen when someone is driving too slowly in the left-hand lane of a highway or interstate, blocking traffic and forcing other drivers into some risky maneuvers just to get past them.
The offense of “impeding traffic” can also be used where a vehicle is considered to be traveling so slowly as to pose a risk to other road users.
12 True: Where You Park Your Car Affects Your Insurance Premium
We have already heard that your gender can affect how much you pay for your insurance premiums, but there are many other factors which insurance companies take into account before they offer you a deal. For example, parking your car overnight in a garage gets you a better deal than those who have to leave it out on the street.
Of course, this doubly penalizes drivers who are less well off, and who are unlikely to have a garage where they can safely park their car and get hit with a higher premium as a result. Be warned; if you do tell your insurance company that you always park your car in the garage, they might not pay out if it gets stolen from the street!
11 True: Ford GT Broke Crushing Machine During Safety Testing
The Ford GT is a real beast of a car; a stunning lightweight supercar that has hidden strengths. One of those hidden strengths is its superplastic frame, which turned out to be so strong that it broke a crushing machine during testing.
When the 2005/06 Ford GT was released, it had to undergo all kinds of safety tests, including one to establish how much force it would take to crush the bodywork. Turns out that in the war between car and crushing machine, on this occasion it was the car that won. Not only did the roof of the Ford GT simply refuse to give way, but the crushing machine itself was never the same again. Look no further than the Ford GT if you want a super-speedy and super-safe sports car.
10 False: You Don't Need Snow Tires If Your Car Has AWD
Driving in difficult weather is an art in itself, and if you live in a part of the world that has lots of snow and ice come the winter months, you will soon find that everyone has an opinion as to how you can best tackle the elements.
In the past, it was only big trucks and SUVs that boasted all-wheel drive (or AWD), but it is increasingly becoming a standard feature on family hatchbacks and sedans.
Unfortunately, the myth persists that if you have 4WD then you don’t need snow tires to drive in wintry weather, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Four-wheel drive will do nothing to stop you from getting stuck in a snowdrift, and will be of limited help to get you out of it!
9 False: Electric Cars Are Slow
Electric cars are coming on in leaps and bounds. These days, if you want to be kind to the environment, you don’t need to sacrifice either style or speed. Petrol heads will insist on denigrating the reputation of electric cars, however, insisting that one of their main problems is that they are simply too slow.
Aside from the fact that any electric car can easily take you as fast as the legal speed limit in the USA, there are several top of the line electric cars that blow that theory out of the water.
The Tesla Roadster, which is due to go on sale in 2020, is reportedly able to accelerate from 0 to 60mph in 1.9 seconds – figures that would leave most petrol-powered supercars green with envy.
8 False: Cars Are Useless Past 100,000 Miles
Once upon a time, a car reaching 100,000 miles would be seen as at the end of its useful life. But as vehicles become generally more reliable, and as car owners spend more time and money keeping their motors well-maintained, that figure is no longer relevant.
Every car is different, and while some hard-living vehicles will be destined for the scrap heap after 100,000 miles, others will have many happy years of motoring ahead of them.
Save yourself the hassle and money of buying a new car by taking good care of your old one – and don’t make a dash for the dealership as soon as the meter hits 100,000. In fact, a well-maintained car from a good manufacturer can even last way beyond 200,000 miles these days.
7 False: Coasting Downhill In Neutral Will Save You Gas
This particular motoring myth isn’t just badly wrong – it could also be potentially dangerous! Wannabe car gurus are always telling other drivers that you can save gas by coasting down hills and inclines in neutral, where there is actually no difference in fuel consumption at all. In neutral, the engine is actually idling, which means it is using the same amount of fuel as it would if you were driving the damn thing properly. Coasting in neutral down a slope or on the approach to a stop sign means that you cannot use your accelerator in the event that you need to avoid any hazards, outing yourself and other road users in danger.
Make sure you correct and friends who try and tell you otherwise…
6 False: European Cars Don't Break Down As Often
European cars have something of a reputation as being more reliable, better built, and just better looking than those from elsewhere – including some so-called “American-built” cars that are actually cobbled together from parts shipped in from around the world. The German manufacturers of luxury cars – Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi to name but a few – all enjoy a global reputation for quality which is somewhat undeserved. While their cars are well-built and beautiful to look at, Japanese and South Korean cars are just as reliable and luxurious these days – and often come in significantly cheaper at the dealership.
While Asian cars have been improving in quality since the 80s and 90s, European manufacturers have become complacent, and the quality of their cars has gone backwards over the same period.
5 False: You Can Wash Your Car With Any Detergent
For some of us, washing our car is a chore to get over with as quickly as possible. Others spend hours washing and waxing their pride and joy to make it look beautiful. If you belong in the latter group, then you probably already know that this motoring myth is false. Whatever you do, you shouldn’t wash your car with any old soap or detergent, but with products specially formulated for use on vehicles. It might seem that the motoring industry is just trying to squeeze a few extra dollars, but household detergents are designed to remove grease; and the wax coating on your car which protects your paintwork is, of course, greasy! You could end up removing that protective waxy layer completely, leaving your paintwork exposed to the elements.
4 False: 1 Horse Does Not Equal 1 Horsepower
This particular motoring myth is a particularly confusing one. After all, why describe engines in term of horsepower at all unless one horsepower is the equivalent of one horse? The actual peak power production of a horse is around 14.9 horsepower – compared to humans who can manage just 5 horsepower.
The term “horsepower” was first coined by Scottish engineer James Watt, and was supposed to reflect the amount of power that the animal can sustain for a set period of time.
Just to make things even more confusing, horsepower has regional variations and can mean different things in different parts of the world. For example, James Watt’s imperial horsepower is equal to 745.7 watts while metric horsepower, developed in Germany, is equal to 735.5 watts.
3 False: Big SUVs Are Always Safer Than Small Cars
Safety is fast becoming one of the biggest selling points in the motoring industry. Car manufacturers spend billions of dollars every year developing new technology, and modern cars are fitted as standard with potentially life-saving devices such as airbags, airlock brakes and proximity alarms to warn drivers of an imminent collision. There is a perception that SUVs are always going to be safer than cars because of their size, which goes some way to explaining their popularity with families, but this isn’t always the case. For example, an SUV’s size can actually work against it, making the vehicle more likely to roll in the event of a crash. In addition, the bigger an SUV, the bigger the risk it poses to other road users and pedestrians.
2 False: Air Conditioning Affects Fuel Economy
How many times were you told as a kid that you couldn’t have the car’s air conditioning on because it wasted petrol? Turns out your parents were either lying to you, or they believed the myth that air conditioning affects fuel economy themselves.
If the weather is very hot, it can use a little extra fuel to get the vehicle to cool down in the first place, but once the temperature has dropped, keeping it that way makes almost zero difference to your fuel economy.
In fact, it can be a bad idea to keep your air conditioning turned off all the time, as any mechanical system left untouched is much more likely to break down – probably just in time for that unexpected heatwave when you actually need it!
1 False: Henry Ford Invented The Car
We have already seen how Leonard da Vinci invented the first self-propelled vehicle all the way back in the 15th century, but when it comes to the inventor of the modern motor car, a lot of people labour under the misapprehension that it was Henry Ford who has that honor. Ford certainly played an important part in motoring history, developing automated assembly lines that made mass production of his vehicles a possibility for the first time in history, but he was not the inventor of the modern car.
German Karl Benz, as in Mercedes-Benz, designed and built the first vehicle that would be recognizable today as a motor car in 1886. His car used a gasoline-powered internal combustion engine, as cars still do today, although its three wheels meant that it looked a little different.
Sources: dmv.org, jalopnik.com, markerstudy.com, popularmechanics.com, loc.gov