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Mechanics set the record straight

Auto mechanics hear it all -- folklore, urban legends and Internet advice gone bad. Jim Kerr, a master automotive mechanic in Saskatoon, Sask., and technical editor for, once had a customer ask him to replace the winter air in his tires with summer air (in case you're wondering, air is air -- it never goes stale or out of season).

He's also heard of people pouring boiling water over a battery to warm it in cold weather (you need to heat it the inside of the battery, not the outer shell) and using a pair of pantyhose in place of a fan belt (he's tried -- it doesn't work.)

Often these myths originate from well-intentioned but just-plain-wrong advice passed down from an older generation. "Cars used to be a lot simpler to work on," says Kerr. "People used to tinker under the hoods all the time. Now cars are a lot more sophisticated and people aren't even sure where to go under the hood in many cases."

Sometimes, there is a small element of truth to these motoring myths but technology has evolved to make the advice outdated. "In a lot of cases, these myths are based on things that people had to do with the technology at the time," says David Armour, president of the Canadian Automobile Association. So, while your dad may have had to pump the gas before starting the car in cold weather, fuel-injected engines mean you just turn the key and go today.

What's the problem?
Perhaps you're trying to cut down on costs by taking the DIY approach to car maintenance. Or maybe your next door neighbour, the self-professed expert mechanic who's never had any training, swears that premium grade gas is better for your car (only if your car manual says it's needed) and permanent antifreeze never needs replacing (permanent in this case only means longer-lasting.) If these scenarios sound familiar, just be sure you know the risks of heeding unskilled advice.

"If you're doing something you don't need to do, it's going to cost you money," says Armour. For example, washing your car with dish soap or laundry detergent will wreck the paint job. "There's also the safety issue," he adds. If you don't maintain your car according to its specifications, parts can wear out faster or even fail entirely.

So read on to find out the truth behind some common auto myths.

1. You need to warm your car before starting out in cold weather: FALSE.
Idling isn't an effective way to warm up your car in the winter -- driving away is. Today's engine and fluid technology is designed to start working as soon as you turn the key (or at lease once your windshield is defrosted). Not only does idling waste gas and cause pollution, it can actually cause damage to your vehicle.

If you're faced with severe winter conditions, you may want to consider a block heater, which warms the engine, or a battery warmer. A battery loses power as the temperature goes down, so warming it gives it that extra boost.

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-- Posted: July 11, 2007
See Also
Spring car maintenance tips
Buying a car?
Winter tires 101
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