Many drivers go their entire lives without learning even the most basic car maintenance, and they get around just fine. But even motorists who are blithely ignorant to the forces that carry them down the road can appreciate a good tip, as well as some clarity around habits that have worn out their welcome.
Surveying the question and answer community at Quora.com, BBC Autos compiled the most thoughtful responses to long-held suppositions about cars and how to treat them. So leave the tire changes to AAA, and heed these simple rules of thumb.
Your engine doesn't need to warm up anymore
When the mercury falls, motorists are conditioned to allow their vehicles’ engines to run for a few minutes before setting out on the road. But unless you're just trying to heat the cabin, modern engines are typically ready to go once awakened.
"In older cars, carburetted engines absolutely need a warm-up because they are designed with a constant air-fuel ratio,” Quora user Garrick Saito, wrote. “If the engine was not warm enough, older engines would tend to stall." But fuel injectors and the engine control unit (ECU) have made things much simpler for drivers.
In the 1980s, car manufacturers moved away from carburettors to fuel-injection systems, and more recently have adopted direct-injection solutions that spray gasoline precisely into cylinders, right where it is needed. When paired with the ECU, most engines so equipped run fine straight away, no warming required. Saito added that with their sophisticated ECUs, newer cars "are able to change the settings to the required ratio, based on ambient air temperature."
And don't fuss over warming up the oil, either. Though oil flows better when warmed, it reaches optimum temperature sooner when the car is in motion – just don't drag race right out of the gates.
‘Premium’ does not equal ‘better’
The engines of high-performance vehicles may require it, but for the vast majority of cars on the road, premium gasoline does not keep an engine cleaner, yield improved fuel economy or unlock dormant horsepower when compared to lower-octane formulations.
"In reality, unless the car is specifically designed for premium fuel (as some high-performance cars are), this is simply a waste of money,” Quora user JG McLean said, adding that most grades of gas available in the developed world “contain the proper additives and detergents to keep the engine clean."
And McLean is right. Lower-grade fuels have the requisite agents to keep engines and fuel lines free of particulate build-up. Performance cars generally achieve better response from their engines with higher-octane fuel, but most cars reap no benefit.
Scrap old tires, even if the tread is good
You may have heard about the penny test: the one in which a penny is placed upside down in a tire's tread to gauge the tire’s worthiness. If you can see the top of the figure’s head, it’s time to replace the tire, right? But what if the tread appears good, but the tire is old?
Saurav Salil suggests replacing tires after five or six years. "The rubber will start to crumble after this point, and the tire won't be as reliable as when it was new," Salil wrote.
While the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the body charged with issuing safety recommendations to the automotive industry, makes no note about the perils of crumbling tires, it does cite recommended replacement cycles of six to 10 years from most vehicle and tire manufacturers. Even the spare tire should not be spared, NHTSA notes.
Pumping the brakes is useless – except for when it’s not
What is the best way to regain control when tires lose contact with the road surface, such as when a car hydroplanes? There are a few legitimate responses, but one time-worn approach can be all but ruled out.
Quora user Carol Frome recommends tapping the brakes "if you find yourself skidding on ice or hydroplaning on water. Never slam them on." Indeed, slamming brakes could send a car off its line of travel. But light brake pressure, as Frome recommends, is a relatively recent remedy. In the past, brake application would have been an ill-advised course of action.
Before anti-lock braking systems (ABS), drivers might have lifted on and off the brake pedal, in a pumping motion, to keep the brake drums from seizing up. But with ABS, the car does the pumping for you, and does it much faster and more effectively. If your car has ABS – and most cars built within the last 15-20 years are so equipped – then light brake application combined with calm steering are enough to rescue a car. Without ABS, a motorist’s best way to regain contact with the road is by steering out of the skid (that is, in the direction of the skid), without touching the brake pedal. (Watch this video for a demonstration of self-rescue from a skid.)
These habits and assumptions die hard. But with each technological breakthrough, the old, ingrained ways sink further into the back seat, where they belong.
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